Why, How, and What to Mind Map

Posted on August 2nd, 2013

If you have been following my work, you’ve noticed that I often publish visual summaries of ideas that I write or talk about. Not only does mind mapping helps me organize and present my ideas, it also helps me remember them and understand them better.

Mind mapping is a method of taking notes, brainstorming ideas and projects, creative thinking, and connecting ideas together. Much of the Mind Map’s usefulness comes from the mindfulness needed to create the map. Unlike standard linear note-taking, you can’t Mind Map on autopilot. You have to think how to condense the key ideas into as few words as possible to maintain the meaning of the idea. You also have to be mindful about how to organize the information in your map.

Slowing down and being mindful about how you jot down and organize information is what gives Mind Maps advantage over standard note-taking. Does this mean that mind mapping is slower than regular note-taking? I don’t think so. Once you get used to mind mapping and find your own style, you’ll be able to quickly capture key ideas and organize them in a meaningful way.

Another advantage of using Mind Maps is that when you come back to review the information, it is much easier to find an idea on a Mind Map compared to reading through long text notes. Every time you review your mind map, you also reinforce the learning of new information in your memory. Eventually, you’ll be able to see the actual picture of your Mind Map in your mind, which is something that is hard to do with standard linear notes.

Nowadays, I mostly use digital Mind Maps because I don’t write much on paper anymore. I also find that searching, editing, and organizing digital Mind Maps is much more convenient than Mind Maps created on paper. Brainstorming on paper has its own advantages and I sometimes do solve problems and plan some things in my life. When I’m done with the Mind Map, I either take a picture of it or convert it into a digital Mind Map but again, I rarely do this anymore.

Over the years, I have tried many different mind mapping apps including MindJet, XMind, NovaMind, iMindMap, and other apps. However, in my experience, no app is as easy, fast, simple, and fun as MindNode. I think that MindNode is the closest app to paper Mind Maps because it does not get in your way with complicated menus and functions. MindNode has the most essential components for creating Mind Maps:

  • Speed
  • Simplicity and fun
  • Keyboard shortcuts
  • Colors and support for pictures
  • Export to PDF and PNG
  • Sync with iPhone and iPad
  • Excellent support from the developers

As you can see from the screenshot below, I have configured my MindNode to hide the toolbar so that I can only see the blank sheet and start organizing my ideas.

What do I use Mind Maps for?

Until recently, I used Mind Maps for most of my notes with some notes made in plain text format. However, recently I have switched to a new approach. Nowadays I use Mind Maps to:

  • Organize ideas
  • Brainstorm ideas
  • Life goals and planning
  • Planning counseling programs for clients
  • Converting long-form articles or books into Mind Maps

Examples of my work using Mind Maps

What about the rest of the notes? I found that organizing information into smaller chunks and using plain text notes works best for me. The idea is to maintain one detail/fact/item per note. For this, I use nvALT app developed by Brett Terpstra. Notational Velocity’s strength comes from speed and simplicity. I have about a 1000 notes in plain text Markdown format.1 Using searchable titles and “#tags” I am able to quickly capture and retrieve information. I used plain text notes for:

  • Notes
  • References
  • To Do lists
  • Short-term writing
  • All kinds of useful information

How To Mind Map

Decide on the topic of your Mind Map - this can be anything at all. A topic of a Mind Map forms your central idea. It can be also very useful to add an image at the center of the map to represent your topic. Starting your Mind Map in the middle of the page gives you more room for creativity and organization of ideas.

Remember to use thick, colorful branches spanning out from your Mind Map. Unlike some other mind mapping apps, MindNode creates curvy and colorful branches that are easier to remember. You can also disable the colors or configure them in any way you like. Using colors in your Mind Map will help your brain to be more alert compared to when you use straight, monochrome lines. Add your main ideas as you add branches to your Mind Map.

Traditional mind mapping guidelines suggest that you should use one word per line. However, I find the with digital Mind Maps it is OK to use more than one word. Just remember not to put complete sentences into your branches.

Adding images and sketches related to your Mind Map ideas, is a great way to strengthen your memory of your notes. Sometimes I’ll add an image to the central topic and sometimes to one of the main branches.

Although, there is no limit to the number of child branches you can make in a digital Mind Map, I would recommend that you keep one topic or idea per Mind Map. If you’ll begin to notice that you Mind Map is growing to big, I would recommend splitting topics into sub-topics and creating a new Mind Map.

Mind mapping guideline summary

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.

  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.

  3. Select fewer key words to keep things simple.

  4. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and thinner as they radiate out from the centre.

  5. Make the lines the same length as the words/image they support.

  6. Use multiple colors throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also to encode or group.

  7. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.

  8. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.

  9. Keep the Mind Map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

  10. Most important of all, remember to keep things simple and have fun.

Additional Resources


  1. Markdown is a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to HTML. 

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