I get asked about this all the time. I have referenced my mind maps in the past here on the blog (and a lot more on Twitter), but I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to explain what I do or why I do it. I started using mind mapping software when I purchased my first iPad several years ago. Like many of you, I’m a visual learner. Those who work around me know that if I could have an 8 foot whiteboard with me everywhere I go, I would use it all the time! Given that I often work in places where whiteboards don’t exist, I had to have another way to develop my thoughts. Enter the world of mind mapping.
When I started mind mapping, I didn’t consult with best practices or read blogposts like this on what and how to do it. I simply needed a place to explore and develop my thoughts, especially in a non-linear way. For linear thought development, I use my Moleskine journals (which I still use on a regular basis). However, I have come to find that most of the work that I’m doing requires non-linear thought development that is more organic and free flowing. Over time, I have come to see how mind mapping has served as a useful tool in just about every area of my life.
Looking over 100+ mind maps, I have use if for all kinds of things, including sermon notes, project planning, gear inventory, vacation planning, book outlines, ministry systems, baseball training (for my son), neighborhood outreach, Bible study, charting transitions in life and church, life assessment, conferences/retreat outlines and talks, and so on. Rarely a day goes by that I’m not mind mapping something! Basically, if there is something you need to think through, you ought to consider using a mind map.
Making Sense of My Approach to Mind Mapping
I have one mind mapping software, and I use it exclusively on my iPad. It is called iThoughtsHD, and it is fantastic. Within minutes, I can have a multi-tiered map with greater thought development than in hours of simply writing things out. The app gives you a lot of customization (what kind of canvas, layout, link style, etc.), provides you with every possible option for sharing and syncing (email, social media, cloud storage, etc.), and formats for all other versions of mind mapping (freemind, xmind, mindmanager, etc.). The app is really intuitive and easy to teach yourself how to use. I believe it costs $10, but it is worth far more than that in my opinion.
As I reflected this week on the method I take in mind mapping, here’s what I came away with:
My mind goes in a lot of directions, and it tends to go quickly. I don’t need to try to make sense of what I’m thinking. I simply need to have a place to dump all my thoughts. It does not need to be in order or connect with anything else (contra linear thinking). It simply needs to have a reference point (the big idea). Anything and everything that comes to my mind is offloaded on the mind map.
Once I feel like I have cleared my mind of thoughts related to the topic, I work to organize them by associating them with one another. This may take a little more time as you discern where your thoughts relate to one another. In mind mapping terms, you are creating a “branch.”
As thoughts are clarified and connected in branches, you can develop your thoughts deeper with multiple levels of exploration. This provides much more depth and precision in your thinking as thoughts that were initially dumped and associated become gateways for greater examination. Some branches with take a life of their own while others may stay only one or two levels deep.
After associating and exploring, you need to consider the thoughts that were initially dumped by don’t have direct value to the thought process or have any real intrinsic connecting to the big idea. Steps 2 and 3 serve as an assessment to determine whether certain thoughts are profitable or simply need to be removed from the map altogether.
The last real step I take in the map is customization. I do this a couple of ways. I customize the coloring of the branches and determine whether they need a boundary. I consider if the layout would be best understood with a horizontal, vertical, or some other variation. I decide on the link style for the levels (straight, curved, kinked, tapered, etc.). And finally, I determine what folder to save the file and whether to have it accessible on the cloud (for sharing purposes).
The beauty of using a mind map is that you can regularly go from macro to micro in perspective and see how your thoughts come together in a free flowing process. I am not wasting paper, scratching out words or phrases, or having to connect the ideas on my own. I have found mind mapping to be a simple way of streamlining your ideas while giving them the best opportunity to successfully steward your thought process. I realize that not everyone thinks like I do, but I hope this is helpful for those who have asked. As I mentioned earlier, I have not really followed a set plan or process over the past 3 years, but having done it so much, this method basically represents my approach to mind mapping.
Let me know if there are questions I could perhaps answer or ways I could assist those of you seeking to work this out. Below is a video of getting started with iThoughtsHD…
[NOTE: The picture above is a mind map I created this past Monday during a leadership talk on elders in a local church.]