Productivity Toolbox: Mind Mapping

What Is It?

Mind Mapping (also known as "brainstorming") is a creative way of putting thoughts and ideas onto paper in a semi-organised manner. There are a multitude of uses for this technique, from generating ideas to organising notes and articles. It's a great place to start if you want to create a lot of ideas, or if you want to explore different ways of doing things.

When Do You Use It?

The great thing about mind mapping is that it's so free. There's no right or wrong way to use it. For some people, it's useful when trying to come up with a list of ideas, but for others it's a good way of organising and idea they've already got and clarifying the various pieces.

As a general rule, if your task involves ideas of any kind, creating a mind map is a good place to start.

How Do You Do It?

mindmapexample.jpg

If you can draw on it, you can pretty much mind map on it. I prefer to use paper as it is more flexible (you can doodle or use colours to add extra context easily), but there are some good software solutions out there too.

The PAPER method

The best way to get started is to take a piece of plain paper. Draw a bubble with your topic in it in the center, and then add anything that comes to mind in bubbles surrounding the main one. Add more related items as you go along, and add lines to them to signify relationships.

There's no real "end" to this process, so go as long as you need to. I find it helps to rewrite the diagram later in the day when my subconscious has had time to stew on things, but it's purely optional.

REMEMBER: Mind maps are as individual as the people that write them, so if you feel drawing emoticons next to something would add meaning, go for it. If you feel something is in the wrong place, it doesn't really matter. Either draw some extra lines or scribble it out and move it somewhere else. The whole process is very organic, so just go where it takes you.

The DIGITAL method

There are plenty of great mind mapping applications out there, but here's a few to look at:

  • Freemind – It's free, cross-platform and easy to use, and you can produce good looking mindmaps easily. It's also quite keyboard friendly, so you can get ideas onto the screen quickly without having to fiddle with the mouse.
  • XMind – A little more heavyweight than Freemind, but still good.
  • LucidChart – An online charting app that supports mindmaps and multiple users at the same time, so good for teams.

There's a much larger list on the wikipedia page "List of mind mapping software".

What Are The Benefits?

In some ways, mind mapping is like a form of exercise for your creativity. It allows you to explore new ideas quickly and easily, and is good for overcoming mental blocks or finding alternative solutions to problems. More importantly, because there's no set structure you don't lose any creative juice trying to stick to a methodology or set of rules. Just grab a pen and paper and go for it!

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