Do you know what mindmapping is?  The concept is pretty self-explanatory; it’s a way of organizing all the thoughts that are chaotically bubbling around in your head, putting them into a visual map so that you (or others) can come back to them later.  You’ve seen them on TV – the big crime solving boards on most police procedurals are one form of mind map…and you know they always solve the case, in about 50 minutes, so they must work, right?

Cool, you say.  So, I should be trying that?  Yes, but if this isn’t something you’re in the habit of doing these days, chances are that it seems hopelessly daunting, even if I tell you how useful it can be for some people.  Let’s see if we can break it down into easy to try pieces.  

Why mind mapping is awesome

Look, there are many tricks to getting your thoughts out of your head, or taking notes on something that’s happening so you can come back to them later.  Mind mapping is what you use when you want to guard against being prejudiced by hierarchy.  If you were to take linear notes, you’d wind up with an implicit (and often not so useful) hierarchy to the information…also, you probably don’t think totally linearly, so if you’re putting things down so you can problem solve, using a format that groups information around concepts (which mind mapping does) rather than having to flip back and forth around a word processing document (or running out of room in the margins on a piece of paper) can help you focus on the content and information that you’re putting down instead of getting frustrated with the very act of putting stuff down in writing.

Situations where you could try mind mapping

Brainstorming/Creative work: This is where the non-hierarchical piece comes in handy – you can get ideas out and organized before applying the judgment needed to sort through them and create your draft.  Sometimes I will use mind mapping software for my own creative work – brainstorming my reactions and memories and images around a particular idea before I sit down to write a poem.

Problem Solving: Problem goes in the middle, then you can think about all the facets of the problem in a surrounding map.  The visualization does wonders for system level thinking – the last thing you want is to create a different problem by “solving” the first one, and a good map will let you see all the pieces interacting  Discussing the map lets groups share their individual perspectives (again, non-hierarchically).

Project Management: You’ve got your project, branch out to all the elements you need to complete to successfully break down the project, branch out to the sub tasks for those, map the connections/interdependencies, etc.

Notes at Meetings: If meetings at your place of work don’t particularly follow the agenda rigidly, you’re in good company.  But it means that taking notes chronologically is a recipe for having to reorganize afterwards if you want to make sense of them later.  Taking notes in mind mapping format means that you’re organizing as you go.  Good for efficiency, and may even help you draw new connections during the meeting as you see things falling into place.

How to make a mind map

You can always use a pen and paper (pencil and paper if, like me, you’re not big on hubris), but I suggest you try out one of these software solutions.  You probably do most of your professional work on a computer anyway, and the benefit of using a software designed for mind mapping is that it will guide you in the ways that most people use the system, which will help you follow the herd until you’ve got the hang of it.

Try these:

Mind42 (pro-tip: it’s pronounced Mind For Two…yeah, I didn’t get that on my own.)
MindMup (my biggest complaint about them is my knee-jerk aversion to their tag: “zero-friction”)

Four of these tools are reviewed here, by the good folks at MakeUseOf.  MindJet is well liked by some folks I know, but it should be noted that their access is paid for by their employer.  It’s definitely a well designed tool though, so it deserves a mention…and secures its place on this list by hosting a separate resource that I want to share:  Maps For That.

If you want to see good examples of how other people use maps, check out the gallery at Maps For That.  Hopefully you’ll be inspired to try it out for yourself.  Mind mapping isn’t all purpose, but it’s a great tool to have in your box – and many people never bother to learn the technique…which means you’ll not only be making yourself more efficient/productive, there’s a good chance you’ll really impress the folks around you.


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