We have so much stuff swimming around in our heads; half-baked ideas, things promised to others and that ever-growing list of to-dos that require attention and feel ever-present yet are ultimately unachievable. This is because getting that stuff out is becoming increasingly difficult in a world full of distractions.
I don’t proclaim to be immune to this, but a technique I discovered a few months ago has enabled me to greatly reduce the number of tangled thoughts in my brain.
My knight in shining armour came in the form of a mind map. Here’s an example of one in action:
Don’t run away! Take a look again.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Even though you’re not part of this particular project, I bet, within a few seconds, you’ll have worked out what I’m trying to achieve. I’ve been tasked with the content marketing effort for a hotel website and a key part of it is the blogging strategy.
Without the mind map, I’d have notes (both physical and digital) strewn everywhere with post ideas, and a brain constantly reminding me that this particular project requires the attention it deserves.
Now, just one look at that mind map, and I know exactly what I need to do next, and can follow my thought process for every idea I’ve previously had.
Mind mapping has restored order to my working day, but, crucially, it has also removed a great deal of stress. I hate not feeling on top of things and having a to-do list which is forever running away from me. Feeling out of control of one’s workload is a surefire way to increase stress levels, therefore any device that adds clarity and encourages creative thought demands further investigation.
How do mind maps work?
The example above should be relatively self-explanatory (that’s the beauty of mind maps), but it’s worth considering exactly how these ingenious diagrams work.
You start by placing the central theme on a piece of paper and circling it. This may be the project, meeting title or business idea. From that central theme, you extend to what are known as ‘nodes’. These are intended to flesh out the ideas you have by placing them in relevant categories. In our example, we have a node for ‘hotel specific’ which is designed to encourage thought on potential blog titles that relate to the hotel itself.
From each node, you can extend further to ‘child nodes’. I’ve used ‘offers’, ‘history’ and ‘staff stories’ to help me brainstorm content ideas that revolve around those areas, which is why you’ll see further nodes beyond containing title ideas. I’ve even added another node labelled ‘Dave’ which is used to denote the intended author for one particular post.
The beauty of mind maps is that they can expand almost limitlessly and, because they’re very visual in nature and tightly categorised, it’s easy to pick them up at any time in order to add further ideas or share with colleagues.
Non-linear thinking at its best
Besides the hours and minutes that march forward relentlessly each day, life is rarely linear. This is particularly the case in the professional realm, where nearly every day will differ from the last. Our brains, if only tuned to think in a linear fashion (i.e. I’ll need to do this next, then that, etc), are less able to think creatively; tasks back-up and our true potential is rarely realised.
Mind mapping is non-linear thinking at its best. It can be approached in any way you see fit and enables thoughts and ideas to simply tumble out of your brain in any order, no matter how disparate each one is.
Rather than ending up with a notepad full of these ideas, line-after-line, a mind map helps you organise them into something meaningful and ultimately engaging. It draws you in.
Uses for mind mapping
The example mind map I’ve provided in this post relates to project planning, but they have so many other uses, each one destined to take a weight (literally) off your mind.
Here’s how you could use mind maps at both work and in your personal life:
- Meeting notes. Of all the non-linear practices, meetings must be among the most prolific. Rarely do they follow the set agenda, and as a result, notes taken make little sense further down the line. Mind mapping is a brilliant way to take meeting notes that can be easily digested one the dust has settled.
- Presentations. Who wants to sit through slide after slide of what makes an idea or product so fantastic? Impress upon potential customers and peers by using mind maps to tell your story instead. It’s far more engaging.
- House move. There are so many things to keep on top of when moving house – imagine a mind map that neatly compartmentalises each thing you need to do and your plans for making the move a success.
- That novel you mean to write. If you’ve had a burning desire to create something – be it a novel, album or video highlight reel from your wedding, there’s no better way to ensure it finally happens than by using a mind map to plan its production. Get those ideas out of your head and into some kind of structure on paper and your creative endeavour will become a reality!
Mind maps have worked for me when it comes to compartmentalising my thoughts and all but removing that constantly-nagging doubt that I’m not reaching my full potential. And the best thing? They’re ridiculously easy to start using. Although plenty of software mind mapping tools exist, all you need as a novice is a big sheet of paper and a pen.
Give it a try!