I love mind maps. Ever since I first discovered them, I started using them for all kinds of things. They offer so much more flexibility than lists or outlines. I’ve always felt that the linear format of lists and outlines attempts to limit thinking to a linear format and I’ve always been more of a non-linear thinker.
I use mind maps for almost everything. I use them to plan and track progress on complex projects. I use them for brainstorming. I use them to plan out all my presentations. I use them to keep track of my progress toward achieving my quarterly goals at work.
What’s a mind map? It’s a visual way of organizing thoughts and concepts. Mind maps have been around forever but were popularized in recent times by Tony Buzan.
How does one create a mind map? Well, you could always go old school and use paper and pencil. I tend to use whiteboards a lot. For maps you’ll want to keep and share, there are several options for mind mapping software.
I used to use the FreeMind software. It’s free, it runs on my desktop, and I can export its maps in a format that a free Android app understands.
More recently, I’ve moved over to MindJet. A subscription comes with Cloud storage for maps, and has clients for all the platforms I use (Windows, Android, iPad, and MacBook).
If you’re still not sure what mind maps are or how they can be useful, take a look at the map below. This is a map of the GeekFluent site (created in FreeMind) and how I foresee using it.
The map starts in the center with the main GeekFluent page.
The first nodes out from the center are the major categories I’ll be posting about.
Within each category is further categorization. Some branches take this more than one level deep.
You can see how with one single image, it’s easy to convey a lot of information in an easy-to-follow format.
I think your mind map serves as a good example for 80-90% of most mind maps out there, and as such also a great argument for why mind maps usually aren’t better than lists.
Your mind map is completely hierarchical, and the only difference between a mind map and a list is that in a list, the main point is at the top and not in the middle.
Mind maps only truly have an advantage when dealing with nodes that have multiple incoming arrows, or circular references or things like that.
Of course I can understand that mind maps are easier to use on whiteboards, but yeah, that is the only advantage I can see in every-day use.
In this particular case, the hierarchy of the map was forced by the hierarchical nature of WordPress Categories, but that makes your point no less valid: I do often use mind maps even when a list or an outline would suffice.
To me, mind maps have three main advantages over lists:
1. As you point out, mind maps allow for multiple arrows, references, and other “cross-hierarchy” notations that straight lists don’t.
2. Again, as you mention, easy on whiteboards, but also easy for brainstorming. There’s no need to scroll to the “right point” to add something new — just add it immediately before the idea fades.
3. Even for straight hierarchical lists, a mind map allows me to see it all at once, in a single visual, in a way that I can’t do with lists. It lets me see the overall big picture.
The key thing with any tool is to find the one that works for you. For brainstorming and planning out a presentation, mind maps work really well for me. What tools do you find most useful for these tasks?
Until now I’ve been using plain lists (usually in digital form, using org-mode in Emacs) for brainstorming and the like, but I actually am evaluating mind maps because I am about to get my first whiteboard, and I understand that lists have quite some downsides on that medium.
Part of my dislike for mind maps is based on how I was introduced to them: In school, strict rules were enforced, describing how a mind map had to look, and that pretty much got rid of the whole brainstorming aspect.
I also never really found a satisfying program for Linux to create mind maps, so whenever I really had to create some, I used plain lists and a small script to convert it to a graphviz file…
So I guess I’ll see how it works out with pen, paper and an unrestricted mind.
Strict rules and mind maps just don’t seem like they’d mix well. The lack of rules and freedom of format is part of the appeal for me.
The mind mapping tool I use, FreeMind has a Linux version. You might try that. It’s freeware, so if it turns out you don’t like it, all you’ll have lost is time.
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