Have you ever had so many thoughts clogging up your mind you didn’t know what to do next? We’re willing to bet that, yes, this has happened at least once before. Feeling this way isn’t fun. Rather, it’s downright frustrating, especially if it’s preventing you from moving forward. So, here’s a great solution for clearing away the confusion and figuring out the next best step: mind maps.

What Is a Mind Map?

“Simply put, a mind map is a visual diagram used to record and organize information,” says Skillshare instructor Aisha Borel. “Mind maps are often created around a single concept or image. They’re drawn in the center of the page, to which associated ideas, words, and images branch outward.” 

Here’s one example of what a mind map looks like:

organizational map
Skillshare instructor Aisha Borel shows an example of a mind map made digitally.

How to Use a Mind Map

People use mind maps for an array of reasons, such as: 

  • Taking notes while reading or during a lecture or meeting
  • Brainstorming new ideas or solutions to problems
  • Tackling an overwhelming to-do list
  • Communicating ideas to teammates or students
  • Outlining something they’re writing, like a book, article, or presentation

Ultimately, all of these have a common underlying goal: applying some structure to the chaos swirling around in your head.

“A mind map is the ultimate organizational thinking tool. It’s the Swiss Army knife of the brain,” says Skillshare instructor Michaela M. “Mind mapping is an easy way to put information into your brain and to take information out of your brain. It’s a creative and effective way of note taking that literally maps out your thoughts.” 

How to Create a Mind Map

Technically, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to make a mind map, as long as it has the desired effect of helping you brainstorm, better organize your thoughts, or make decisions. 

You could create a mind map by hand, using a piece of paper and your writing utensils of choice, or you could leverage a mind map software like MURAL, Lucidspark, Coggle, MindMeister, or Stormboard. No matter which method you choose, make sure you’re starting with a completely blank slate. The main purpose of this activity is organization, so you won’t want any clutter in the way.

Whether digital or by hand, here are the simple steps to follow to create a mind map:

1. Choose Your Central Topic

To get started, write the primary concept—often referred to as the anchor—in the center of the page. The options are limitless, but here are some examples of what your central topic could be:

  • Types of jobs to search for
  • Article ideas for your blog
  • How to get your health back on track
  • The main characters of your book
  • Art projects you want to work on
  • Meals to cook for the week
  • Video ideas for TikTok
  • Plans for achieving your career goals

It is completely up to you and whatever issue you need help navigating. One note: When you’re actually creating your mind map, it’s helpful to shorten your ideas into keywords so you don’t take up space. So, for instance, “The main characters of your book” would be “book characters” and “meals to cook for the week” could be “meal planning.” 

Writing a Book?

The Creative Writer’s Toolkit: Writing a Character Study

2. Identify Your Main Themes

Once you’ve written your mind map’s central topic in the middle of the page, surround it with the major related topics you’d like to explore.

map

For example, if your central topic is book characters, your main themes could be the names of your antagonist, protagonist, and the primary supporting characters. If your central topic is meal planning, your main themes could be breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks—or they could be each day of the week or each type of main ingredient you’d like to explore. Connect each main theme to the central topic with a line or arrow.

3. Add Subtopics

After you’ve nailed down your main themes, you’ll want to start thinking of subtopics to surround each one (so, essentially, you surround each main theme with subtopics just like you surrounded your central topic with main themes).

organizational map

For the book characters example, the subtopics around each of the characters could be their traits (e.g., tall with red hair), their back story, and their relation to the other characters. If your main themes for your meal planning mind map are the days of the week, you could surround each day with the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas you want to make for that day. Connect each subtopic to the main theme with a line or arrow.

4. Repeat as Necessary

Your mind map doesn’t have to stop once you’ve surrounded the main themes with subtopics—each subtopic could be surrounded with keywords, too. It all depends on where your mind takes you. If more thoughts and ideas come to you, add them to the map! But if you hit a dead end, that’s perfectly fine, too. 

5. Get Creative

To get even more out of your mind map, leverage color, images, and symbols. You could make each main theme and its subtopics a different color, like below, which will help you quickly identify all the keywords that go together. 

In addition, you could draw small icons next to your keywords, like the heart next to Jane and Eliza’s love interests and the badge next to both “captain” mentions. In this example of jotting down ideas for book characters, you could even place a small image of a real person you think your character resembles.

organizational map

Not only will these fun additions help you take your organization to the next level (thus making this an even more successful brainstorming activity), but they will also help you remember the content of your mind map more easily. Why? Because our brains are simply better at processing and recalling visuals than text—and we pair words with related visuals, our comprehension and memory increase substantially.

“Having a mind map rich with color, ideas, and sprinkled with images will help you engage more of your brain, reinforce connections, and increase memory and recall of the subject matter you’re mapping,” says Borel. 

Let’s Get Mind Mapping!

Next time you feel stuck or overwhelmed, grab a blank sheet of paper (whether real or digital) and make a mind map. You’ll be surprised how much clearer things become.

Map Out Your Thoughts Today

Mind Mapping Course—Beginners Guide

Written by:

Abby Wolfe