Mind mapping: What it is and how to do it

Updated on:
January 26, 2023
Created on:
November 21, 2022
Mile Zivkovic
By:
Mile Zivkovic

In an age when so many businesses and people around us fight for our attention, staying focused is becoming an art form. And when you factor in the vast number of productivity tools launched every day, creating that tunnel vision for your next task becomes impossible.

One way to achieve better productivity, get inspired, organize your ideas and create a better workflow is to create a mind map. Today, we’ll show you what mind mapping is and what practical steps you can take to create your mind map.

What is a mind map?

A mind map is a visual representation of an idea or a concept. Instead of trying to wrestle with a discombobulated mess of words and notions in your mind, you put them down (on paper or digitally) in writing in a way that makes it easier to process.

Mind maps bridge the gap between analysis and creativity. Think of it as a way to turn lists, tables and spreadsheets into content that your brain can comprehend more quickly and easily. Here is an example of a mind map, just so that we’re not running on empty here:

One of the biggest benefits of using a mind map is that they are organic by nature. When creating them, you don’t need to worry about any type of structure or order. As ideas come to your mind, you add them to a sheet of paper or your screen.

Humans aren’t exactly wired to think of ideas in terms of logical hierarchies and lists. Instead, we think through association and a mind map is a better way to display ideas compared to artificial formats such as lists or tables. As you think of a new idea, you add it to the map.

And unlike these other formats, mind maps can be much more colorful, organized, and easier to remember. Here’s what you’ll need to start creating one.

The elements of a mind map

If you do a little bit of research online, you’ll find that many authors have different ideas about what a mind map should include. However, most of the information boils down to a few elements, albeit with different tiles. Here are the elements you need to include.

  • Central topic — usually the title of the mind map.
  • Main topics — topics that are close to the central one and define it.
  • Subtopics — one level below the main topics.
  • Floating topics — those that are not directly connected on the map and you use them as a way to temporarily store ideas before connecting them in a map.
  • Arrows — to connect different ideas and show the relationship between them.
  • Colors and design elements — to differentiate ideas from one another and make them stand out.

You can have as many or as few elements as you want, depending on the complexity of your mind map. You can use different colors for idea bubbles, fonts, images, smileys, different types of arrows or connectors — anything goes. The beauty of mind maps is that they are completely adaptable to your own preferences.

Mind maps vs. concept maps

One term that is frequently mentioned along mind maps is concept maps. And while they are somewhat similar, there are inherent differences between the two that you need to be aware of.

1. Mind maps are centered around one concept

On the other hand, concept maps are focused on a multitude of concepts, notions, and ideas. In other words, concept maps are usually more complex.

2. Mind maps are spontaneous

Concept maps come about when you’re trying to solve a specific problem and a lot of thought goes into the design.

3. Mind maps are simpler in terms of structure

Ideas are linked with arrows in concept maps and those arrows signify the relationships between different concepts.

In short, mind maps are something you need when you want to get some quick ideas from your head onto paper. Concept maps are complex, require time to create, and you should use them when you want to show more elaborate intricate ideas.

The origins of mind maps

As an idea, mind maps have been around for centuries. You can trace back the first concepts of mind mapping all the way back to ancient philosophers such as Aristotle. But if we’re talking about the modern mind map, it starts with the psychologist Tony Buzan in the 1970s.

He took an ancient concept and turned mind maps into a way to systematically organize ideas in an intuitive way. To get to that point, Mr. Buzan introduced three main rules for mind maps:

1. All ideas start from the center (which should be large and attractive to the eye).

2. Add thoughts outwards from the center (and link them with lines).

3. Use a variety of formats, such as text, colors, and images.

Of course, things have changed a bit since the 1970s and there are now different apps and tools that allow you to create mind maps, whether locally or online. Some examples include Miro, Lucidchart, MindMeister and others.

The benefits of mind maps

Thinking about whether mind maps are worth your time? There are plenty of benefits to using them, no matter if it’s for work, a hobby or just as an exercise in creativity.

1. Improved productivity

You can achieve more within your day-to-day work once you have all of your ideas sorted in a way that makes the most sense to you. For all of us doing creative work, it means a nice way to arrange ideas and concepts. For someone else, it could be a more creative way to arrange a to-do list.

2. A better way to brainstorm

Instead of just taking notes, draw a mind map to get a logical flow of ideas from one central concept. This is especially useful in a group setting.

3. Faster studying

Don’t force yourself to memorize anything by heart. A map with logically arranged items is a surefire way to remember things in a way that makes sense for you.

4. An easy way to display complex ideas

It can be hard to understand complex theories or narratives, which is where mind maps come in.

5. They’re flexible

Don’t like a mind map that you saw online? No worries, you can change the elements you want to and make it completely your own.

6. Improved creativity

Instead of thinking about ideas in terms of bullet points, lists and tables, mind maps force you to structure data more naturally, adding new bits as you recall them.

Who can use mind mapping?

Anyone who has some ideas that they need to sort in a structured and organized but creative way can use mind mapping. From students looking for a faster way to learn, to parents looking for a fun way to structure monotonous bits of info for their kids, there are countless use cases for this tool.

For brainstorming: When you’re trying to figure out what you want to write, design or add somewhere, a mind map can be a way to get your thought process going.

For planning a project: From something as simple as planning your kids’ birthday to preparing a launch of a new product, the sky's the limit. The more complex the project, the more elements you include.

For taking notes: if you have some spare time and you’re in a lecture or listening to a webinar or some other type of recording, you can use mind maps as a visual representation of notes.

Read next: How to take effective meeting notes

For creating a to-do list: Did you know that you can do your grocery shopping with a mind map? It won’t be as quick as writing down a list, but you can get inspired and remember some items you would have left out.

For studying: No matter what the subject or the education level, mind maps can be used to show some complex notions more simply, and more importantly, make them easier to learn.

For showing complex notions in a simpler way: If you’re a teacher or you’re just trying to explain something to your kids, a mind map can tell a lot more than a long conversation or a lesson.

How to create a mind map

Now that you know what mind maps are all about, you’re probably eager to create one. Let’s walk through the process, step by step.

1. Choose your central idea

This is the key topic that your mind map revolves around. It can be a new lesson you’re trying to learn, an article you’re writing, a vacation that you’re planning or some type of goal you want to achieve. To make it stand out, you can add a different color or an image to this bubble.

2. Add some branches

From your central topic to your main topics, add some branches to show how they are related to each other. You can first add smaller topics and then draw the branches to them. In the ideal mind mapping process, this is where the magic happens - you keep thinking of new topics as you keep adding them around the central idea.

3. Color code your branches

No matter if you’re creating a mind map by hand or using a piece of software, you can and should use different ways to signify the relationships between ideas on your mind map. For example, you can use red for something that is urgent to do, yellow for something that can wait, green for something that is in the planning stage, and more.

4. Add images where necessary

Images are a superb way to say a lot without putting in much effort. For example, if you’re thinking about the ingredients for your next recipe, add a photo of some bananas for a quick visual cue rather than trying to show everything with words.

You can, of course, add more steps to the mix, but these are the very basic ones you need to cover to create a functional mind map.

Wrapping up

A mind map is not only a tool that can break down complex ideas into simple elements. It’s also a tool for learning, planning, creative thinking, and any process that comes to mind. If it can be described with different notions and elements, it can be turned into a mind map. And thanks to modern mind mapping tools, creating one has never been easier.