This article explains how to mind map using free tools and popular software, with an expert interview.
Do you want to get your ideas onto the page faster? Or do you need to arrange your ideas for an article or a book before you write?
If so, I recommend trying mind mapping. This creative technique is easy to learn and apply. And you don’t need expensive tools or software to get started unless you prefer this option. It’ll help you outline an article, story or a book.
You can also mind mapping to capture ideas from meetings, interviews and other types of research. It’s even useful for business planning. This guide reveals more.
- What is Mind Mapping and How Does It Work?
- Why Use Mind Maps?
- What to Use Mind Maps For
- What are the Disadvantages of Mind Mapping?
- Best Mind Mapping Software for 2021
- Step 1. Pick a Mind Mapping Tool
- Step 2. Write Down Your Main Topic
- Step 3. Create Connecting Ideas
- Step 4. Add Color
- Step 5. Add Images To Your MindMap
- Step 6. Prune Your MindMap
- Step 7. Iterate Your MindMap
- Step 8. Store and Review
- How I Used a Mind Map to Write This Article
- Mind Mapping: The Final Word
- How to Mind Map With Anthony Metivier [Interview]
What is Mind Mapping and How Does It Work?
A mind map is a diagram of visual information, based on a single concept or idea.
Mind mapping is a proven and practical, creative technique for remembering and organizing ideas and research. It’s also useful for coming up with new and better ideas for creative projects.
(If you want to learn more, read Mind Map Handbook: The Ultimate Thinking Tool by Tony Buzan.)
It works by writing down a single word and expanding on all related ideas through the creation of connections or branches.
Why Use Mind Maps?
The artist and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci said,
“Everything is connected to everything else.”
Mind maps will also help you connect unrelated ideas, outline your work, and save time writing. They also serve as useful memory aids, and they’re ideal for visual thinkers.
What to Use Mind Maps For
Mind maps are ideal for almost any creative work. You can use this technique to:
- brainstorm a book chapter, character or scene
- see the overall structure of your book
- outline a blog post, article, or book chapter
- outline a speech
- think through an idea before you write
- organize research
- review what you learnt in a book
- organize areas of your creative life
- create a plan for finishing your book
- for studying and learning
- for elaborating on questions and answers
What are the Disadvantages of Mind Mapping?
As creative techniques go, this one comes with few downsides. However, some new users may find think visually a change from their preferred brainstorming techniques.
It’s also less useful if you don’t review a mind map from time to time to reflect on your ideas or what you learnt. Finally, some dedicated software has a learning curve.
Best Mind Mapping Software for 2021
Although analog tools work just fine, you can pick from a plethora of digital software too, both free and premium. The below options are popular:
- Mindmeister (what I use most often)
- Ayoa (a premium type of software based on Tony Buzan’s approach.)
- Diagrams.net (free mind mapping software)
- MindNode (for Apple fans)
- Mindly (a mobile option for Mac, iOS and Android)
- MindMup (for collaboration)
- Lucid Cart (a business-focused option)
All these tools will get the job done. Some include a template for getting started faster. They also enable documents, collaborating and presenting.
If you want to learn more about the above options, read our guide to the best mind mapping software. However, I like advanced digital features as much as the next person, but the tool is less important than the process.
I picked MindMeister, as I wanted a mind map I could include with this article that looks presentable. I also picked it, because the free version of MindMeister is feature-packed. I also like this tool as it’s fast and easy to use.
Ayoa is another popular choice that’s suitable for small businesses and advanced mindappers. I explain more in this Ayoa review.
Step 1. Pick a Mind Mapping Tool
I recommend using pen and paper until you become familiar with the process. All you need is a large sheet of paper and some multi-coloured pens or markers.
Place the sheet of paper in front of you on a table and layout any markers or pens.
A gel roller pen, paper, and multi-coloured pens are affordable, available, and difficult to tinker with.
Like the writer James Clear notes, limits encourage you to become more resourceful, and in this case, focus on a single idea.
I also like using a whiteboard because I can use an eraser to redraw and rearrange parts of it as I go. Again, I find it impossible to tinker with the settings of a whiteboard.
That said, feel free to use one of the options in the list above.
Step 2. Write Down Your Main Topic
Think of your diagram as like a tree; the central idea is the root, and the related ideas are branches.
Turn the paper on its side and write your idea or topic in the centre of the page. Circle it and draw the connecting ideas.
If you’re using software, create your central topic by clicking on the screen.
Alternatively, use a central image. Stick the photo on a piece of paper or upload it to your software of choice.
Step 3. Create Connecting Ideas
Now comes the fun part: brainstorming.
Without questioning yourself, draw lines from your main idea, outwards. Each line should connect to a corresponding secondary idea or another key word. It’s kind of like creating a spider diagram that you can review at a glance.
If you’re using software, simply click or tab to expand on the central idea and write down child ideas. You can drag them around the screen, add related ideas and even copy and paste.
Work for 10 or 15 minutes, without interruption.
Need help? Read our brainstorming tips.
Step 4. Add Color
Mind mapping is a visual creative process.
Include colours on your creation, so it’s memorable.
Using pens or markers, fill in the connecting ideas along the branches, shooting out from the central idea. These branches or lines should be thicker at the root and grow thinner as they move out from the central idea.
You should see the central idea, the overall structure, and how everything is connected at a glance.
Software like Ayoa or MindMeister will take care of this for you and color code the branches based on a template of your preferences.
Step 5. Add Images To Your MindMap
Don’t stop with color codes.
Include drawings images on your mind map, so it’s memorable.
You don’t have to be great at drawing, either. It’s enough to sketch simple images, representing keywords.
Again, if you’re using software you can upload JPG files or photos.
Step 6. Prune Your MindMap
As you populate your diagram with associated ideas, it will grow rapidly and in many directions. After all, your goal is to unlock creative thinking.
Like the artful gardener, prune the tree by shaping the diagram.
Don’t fear mistakes or obsess about the structure. Instead, simply re-order branches or draw another one if needed.
If you’re using a whiteboard, rearrange the drawing as you go. Again, premium and free mind mapping software can quickly and easily apply colors and images.
When you’ve finished, rearrange or remove what you don’t need, so it makes sense later.
Step 7. Iterate Your MindMap
Is your diagram intended for once-off use or would you like to refer to again? If the latter applies, it’s a good idea to spend a little more time refining it.
If you’re using pen and paper, consider creating it again and transferring your version to a computer app.
This time, consider the order of related idea and where they belong. Use markers and pens to add life to your creation.
A whiteboard is ideal for this stage too as you can wipe away branches and draw a new idea in a different color quickly and easily.
If you’re using a dedicated tool, drag and drop the branches and re-order them, so they make sense. Sometimes, this means editing a keyword or uploading an image. Alternatively, you can create child branches off a main branch of ideas.
Step 8. Store and Review
Many of the tools in this guide enable exporting a mind map as a JPG file or PDF. If you drew one, consider taking a picture of it with your phone.
You may also want to share it with others on your team if relevant. A mind map is only useful if you refer to it again at some point.
When I complete a mind map, I usually add it to my digital Zettelkasten. I also like putting these in apps like Evernote and Day One, so I can review the main idea at a glance.
How I Used a Mind Map to Write This Article
Before writing my first draft of this article, I created a mind map, using MindMeister.
My central idea was to explain ‘What Mind Mapping Is’.
After coming up with a central idea, I wrote down the main points of my article, based on what I’d read and researched.
Next, I expanded these main points and branched them out into sub-topics. I paid little attention to the order or structure of my ideas until I was done. After completing the first version, I added colours and images.
Next, I reorganized my diagram in a clockwise fashion. I put the introduction to the article at 1 o’clock, the ‘Why Mind Maps?” section at 3 o’clock, and so on. It’s easy to do this, using a mouse with MindMeister.
Then, I pruned or removed what I didn’t need for the article.
Creating one took about 20 minutes. Finally, I dictated this article by looking at diagram and speaking into a microphone about the topics I’d mapped.
Tip: Some put their central idea to the far left of the screen or page. Then, they branch out their ideas in a horizontal or a linear fashion, much like a Fishbone or cause and effect diagram.
Mind Mapping: The Final Word
Mind maps are a simple, but proven, creative technique everyone can use. They are useful study ideas, planning tools and a great help for expressing ideas.
You probably already have everything you need to create one, so pick one idea and start.
What 3 Things Must a Mind Map Have?
Firstly, you’ll need a central idea or theme to work on during a brainstorming session. Next, you’ll need, associations related to the central idea. Finally, you’ll need colors, images or drawings so it’s more memorable.
How do I make a mind map for free?
The easiest way to make one for free is with large sheet of paper and some multi-colored pens or markers. A whiteboard is another popular and affordable alternative. Diagrams.net is an example of free software. Similarly, software like Mindmeister enables users to create up to 3 mind maps for free also.
When would you use a mind map?
You can use this creative tool for several purposes including: remembering ideas from a recently read book, a topic for study and for brainstorming. You can also use them to outline blog posts, articles, book chapters and even books. It’s also a good tool for arranging, organizing and planning anything with some complexity
How to Mind Map With Anthony Metivier [Interview]
Anthony Metivier is the author of more than a dozen best-selling non-fiction books that help people improve their memory and learn new languages.
He’s also a popular blogger and a professor. I’ve known Anthony for a few years and his approach to creativity can help writers of all types create better books that readers love.
In this podcast episode, Metivier explains:
- How to use a mind map
- Why he believes every writer should embrace creative techniques like this one
- How self-publishing non-fiction books helped him build an online business
And lots more.
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