I do some of my best thinking on walks while listening to some combination of silly pop music and songs from my son’s favorite movies and tv shows. Something about that scenario gives me the mental space to think clearly and deeply about creative projects.
Sometimes on these walks, I can write a whole script for a video in my head; other times, I generate a few unstructured fragments that need to be worked into something better. My favorite tool for building out those fragments is a mind map.
What Is a Mind Map?
A mind map is a visual organization of hierarchical information. Put another way, they are the prettier version of bulleted lists. So if you are working on creating something that has a few main ideas and each idea has some details, you will probably benefit from a mind map.
All you need in order to get started is a pen, paper, and an idea.
Borrowing from my days as an anatomy teacher, I’ll make a mind map about the three types of muscle tissue. Starting with the main idea of Muscle Tissue, I’ll make three branches, one for each type of muscle tissue.
From there, I can add some detail to each muscle type by making smaller branches.
I can even draw connections between the smaller details that the different types of tissue have in common.
As you can see, my skill with pen and paper is lacking. I am also a terrible speller, so analog mind maps are not my preference. I also feel like there is not a lot of room for error when working on a physical artifact but to each their own.
Digital Mind Maps
There are also many digital tools specially designed to create mind maps. When I need to collaborate on them, I love Coggle, but these days I don’t do much collaboration with mind maps, so I prefer using a local app called Mindnode.
Whichever tool you use, mind maps are great tools for organizing information, especially in the early creative stages.
Why Do I Use Mind Maps?
I am not a very good artist. I struggle with committing something to paper without knowing how the end product will turn out. This is a Catch-22 because I rarely have the fully formed creation in my head at the start, so I can quickly get stuck in the ideation phase.
I Can Be Messy
I think this is a big reason why I like digital content creation so much more than physical. For some reason, moving pixels around on a screen is something I do without hesitation versus the idea of erasing or crossing out something written. Mind maps, especially digital ones, are excellent tools for me to build out an idea because I can be messy.
I Think in Outlines
By default, I write (and think) in bulleted lists. Narrative writing (like this post) requires more effort and is less comfortable for me. Since a mind map is just a visual version of an outline, they easily fit into my brain. With the added benefit of being easier/more fun to edit and revise, to me, mind maps are an upgraded version of outlines.
The Work is Transferable
Specifically, Mindnode is great for me because I can work on a mind map from any device, refine it to my heart’s content, and I can easily copy the finished structure into Drafts as markdown.
What Do I Mind Map?
Not only do I use mind maps to organize my creative pursuits, like blog posts and videos, but I also use them to help with the planning stages of presentations, academic papers, and work projects.
It took quite a while for mind maps to stick for me. I kept resisting them, thinking they were just fancy visuals that looked like work but were actually a form of procrastinating.
Eventually, it because clear to me that they are terrific tools for the messy early stages of the creative process. Doing them digitally made it so much more approachable for me. Doing them with Mindnode fits into my existing workflow so well that I am frustrated with my past self for taking so long to come around.
Regardless of the tool you use to create them, I highly encourage you to give mind mapping a try if you are doing any type of complex knowledge work. They are more powerful than you think.