Mind maps: a visual thinking tool to structure information

I am a lover of lists. Always have been. Always will. But often, this is a secondary step to my real love of mind maps. 

Mind maps are a graphical way to get creative and play with ideas and concepts before you get to that list level of detail. It's a visual thinking tool that helps structure information. It helps you better analyse, comprehend, synthesise, recall and generate new ideas. When you really need some clarity on all those ideas in your head, this is a great way to get focused and also a great way to see how everything fits together (or not.) Its power lies in its simplicity.

Mindmap for a design phase called Discovery.

Mindmap for a design phase called Discovery.

When starting out, I normally use graph or dot paper. I like the structure of the paper, it allows me to be free inside of it. I tend to work in larger sizes when mind mapping, at least A4... but larger sizes are best (A3 or 11x17) as they don't restrict your thought process when you first begin.

The simple structure begins with a main idea. Off of each main idea, you may have many sub ideas. 

mindmap structure

mindmap structure

I keep these inside of circles (or any shape really), as they are still quite high level. As you drill down, the finer details will fall off of a sub idea with no shape around them. They are the details that need to happen for that sub idea to come to life and could then take the shape of a list.

Look at the following example of how I started to structure the content for my online course. Brand You! sits in the middle as the main idea, off of that are some important ideas to cover: foundation, vision, healthy you. I keep these ideas in bubbles and decorate them if they feel important or need to stand out in some way. I also connect things together. Sometimes it's one way, sometimes it's both ways. When sketching out mind maps, a good coffee and a nice morning bun always helps! Allow yourself some time and space to do this exercise. Block out a couple of hours if you can.

mind maps and coffee

Mind maps can be used for almost anything. I recently joined a business coaching program to help me clarify all of my business ideas and to understand where to focus myself and my business. This exercise is called a clarity chart, but I've renamed it to a clarity map, as it fits better to my needs.

Clarity map

Clarity map

This clarity map is made up of three key areas: 

  • 3 words you would use to describe yourself
  • 3 words you would use to describe your interactions with others (I have 4)
  • 3 words you would use to describe your success.

I find that the mind map is a great way to visualise these. It allows the mind to stay in play mode. When in play mode, you have no boundaries, no limitations and you can easily cross things off and start again. 

Mindmap of LouiseBartlett.com

Mindmap of LouiseBartlett.com

This final example is how I initially sketched out course ideas for my website, LouiseBartlett.com.  You can see that Mind Maps and Bullet Journals have already made the cut as blog posts and videos on my site. I also had a section about the site design itself and the need to take photos and edit them, write my own story, and partner with other like-minded people to share my vision. After completing this fun exercise, I can then look at things in more depth and start to assign priorities to each idea and then start to list out the steps to bring that idea to life. This is just one of the many tools in my strategies for growing my creative business.

If you create mind maps then let me know. I'm always looking for inspiration from others. Please share your links below in the comments.