How to plan better with mind maps

“Mind maps — what a load of New Age nonsense.” That was my harsh (and incorrect) assessment the first time I encountered mind mapping. I was an outline guy and didn’t see any reason to change. The technique appeared on my radar often enough for me to accept that there might be something to it. Mind maps have since become an essential tool for planning projects and organizing my ideas.

Mind map (photo credit: Pietro Zanarini via flickr cc)

photo credit: Pietro Zanarini via flickr cc

Mind maps start with a central idea. Sub-points and associations radiate from this main point. They are a more visual way of organising information and may employ color, imagery and spatial relationships.

Mind mapping earned a permanent place in my toolbox during my MBA studies. I summarized each lecture as a single mind map, writing out the key points and including diagrams to illustrate the concepts. At the end of each unit I condensed all the maps for each subject (usually 12) into a single mind map as part of my exam preparation.

The visual nature of mind maps help me process, organize and recall information more effectively than outlines. Color, imagery, diagrams and spatial relationships make the content more meaningful. Mind maps also remain compact and usable even with dense information. My single-page subject summaries could have run to a dozen pages in outline form. Mind mapping helped me achieve excellent grades by making information easier to recall during exams.

Example mind map from a financial planning case study. This was created in Mindjet MindManager.

Example mind map from a financial planning case study. This was created in Mindjet MindManager (click to enlarge)

Getting into mind mapping

MindNode and David Sparks (aka Macsparky) teamed up to create some excellent videos on getting started with MindNode on the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. They are worth checking out even if you don’t use MindNode.

The first screencast (Why Should You Mind Map?) provides a rundown of the process. If you’ve never tried mind mapping this video is a great starting point. You can apply these ideas to any mind mapping tool — even pen and paper. David describes the advantages of using mind maps and explains how to build your ideas over the course of a few days or weeks. I’m constantly intrigued by the brain’s subconscious ability to form connections and solve problems once you feed it some starting points.

Other videos in the series explore topics including how to:

  • add to your mind map on any device;
  • restructure the mind map;
  • view your mind map as an outline and manage tasks; and
  • export your ideas to other applications.

I’ve used MindNode for several years and not more than a few days pass where I don’t dive into it. Even with that experience, I picked up a few tips from these videos.

Wrap up

There are plenty of options when it comes to mind mapping software. MindNode remains an excellent choice. It’s beautifully designed and does everything I need without being bloated with unnecessary features. Check out my earlier review for more details.

MindNode is available from the Mac App Store and iOS App Store. A free trial of the Mac version will let you kick the tires and see if MindNode is right for you.

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