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Using Mind Maps for Creativity, Note-Taking and Productivity

Posted by on Tuesday, August 28th, 2007 mind mapping tool screenThat headline makes a bold promise, doesn’t it? Creativity, note-taking and productivity? Mind Mapping really is that useful. Read on and I will explain!

What Are Mind Maps?

Mind Maps are a visual diagram with lines and bubbles representing ideas and relationships between them. The core idea sits in the middle with related topics branching out from it. Ideas are further broken down and extended until your page looks like an impressionist painting of a spider colony.

That is my description. Here is a video direct from the source!

Why Are Mind Maps Useful?

There are lots of reasons Mind Maps beat other note-taking methods, not least of which I find drawing Mind Maps fun, here are some more serious reasons.

  1. Mind Maps are fast to create and no effort is wasted
  2. Hierarchy and categorization are visually and clearly defined
  3. Rather than writing out lots of superfluous words only the key ideas are represented.
  4. As well as using words you can draw symbols and diagrams to illustrate ideas
  5. You can read back a Mind Map at a glance, jumping right to the part you need

What are Mind Maps Useful For?

In the headline I mention three categories that Mind Maps can be used for, let’s look at some examples:

  • Brain Storming – Mind Maps allow us to quickly get ideas from our heads and down on paper. Another benefit is they lend especially well to free-association. By recording then reviewing rapidly and freely generated ideas we can find connections and new relationships between concepts that we otherwise might have missed. Of course drawing your ideas is also ideal for staying in a creative mode where more logical and rigid methods might take us off track. Put your central theme or goal in the middle then add ideas or thoughts around it, further adding or relating concepts as you go.
  • The Long Tail: Chris AndersonNote Taking – As you listen to a lecture or read a book you can very quickly create notes using a Mind Map. You can use large branches for chapters or key points, with detail added from them. A whole book can be summarized on one page and it is remarkable how well you can recall the information later with only the map as a guide. This method is used by Sean D’Souza for his book reviews, an example of which can be found here for his review of The Long Tail. LifeHacker did an excellent piece on using Mind Maps for taking notes at meetings.
  • Productivity– I would argue that if you can generate ideas and take notes quickly and effectively you are already more productive, but Mind Maps also help in other areas of business.
    • Planning can be helped a great deal with Mind Maps, in one diagram you can represent everything that needs doing, the relationships between tasks (eg. what has to be done before something else can be), and the relative priorities.
    • I have used Mind Maps many times for outlining reports, books and talks. Even a couple of times using the Mind Map itself as my only notes to read from.
    • When building a website now I always use a Mind Map to plan the site categories and content.

There is an interesting description of three categories of Mind Maps at the “Beyond Mind Mapping” blog.

Mind Mapping Software

Traditionally Mind Maps were drawn with coloured pens and paper. Tony Buzan recommends you use at least three colours. Of course computer technology has become a more popular method, bringing in searching, import/export and archival benefits, and since the rise of the web the ability to collaborate over distances.

  • – My favourite because it is free and online!
  • IMindMap – The official software from the man himself
  • MindJet – A commercial desktop tool with free trial
  • Inspiration – Another popular desktop tool, especially with students
  • FreeMind – A free and open source project

More packages are listed and reviewed at a blog all about Mind Mapping software.


You might tell I am a Mind Map fan! Do you ever use Mind Maps? Have any links you can share? Let us know in the comments …