The Straightforward Guide to Mind Mapping

Mind map in my notebookOver the years, I’ve had lots of bemused expressions, curious enquiries and raised eyebrows when I have taken my notebook out in public.

It isn’t covered with challenging art or filled with drawings of semi-naked men or anything (oh to be so deliciously outré…); it’s filled with page after page of mind maps, broken up by a few lists and doodles. And it is these mind maps which draw the attention of others.

Mind maps, which are also called thought showers or brainstorms (although I’m told the latter is un-PC these days), are a brilliant way to get all your thoughts on any given subject out of your head and onto paper, enabling you to step back and examine them with more clarity.

There is a theory that the average person can hold around seven bits of information in their working mind at one time. Mind mapping gives you the benefit of going beyond those limits and being able to see the ‘big picture’, as well as preventing panicky ‘I mustn’t forget …’ thoughts waking you up at 3am.

A mind map can be used for all sorts of purposes: planning new projects, website content, talks, articles, stories or parties; prioritising; note taking, or even decision making. It can be a quick scribble on the back of an envelope or an elaborate and colourful affair on a huge piece of paper. It can also be a group effort, including the contributions of all the people in your family or team. And, unlike a list, a mind map is non-linear, which encourages creative thought by making it easy to add things afterwards without such a psychological need for order.

Sold? Here’s how you do it:

mind map step 1

Take a large piece of paper and write your focus in the centre of it. I’ve used a party as the subject here, but it could be anything at all. If you are mind mapping a big project, you can always break it down later and make mind maps on the separate points. For example, I have a large mind map with lots of ideas for blog post and article writing, but I start a new map for each one


mind map step 2


Write the main considerations as ‘satellites’ around the centre. You can do this in a different colour if you would like to keep things clear, but you don’t have to. Leave some space in case other points occur to you later.


mind mapping step 3

Your ideas and thoughts on these main points can branch out from these satellites, and further thoughts can branch off as many times as necessary. Don’t edit your thoughts; write everything that comes to mind and you will get a chance to chop later. Oh, and don’t worry about making it beautiful: the mind map’s purpose is not to be a work of art, but it could well help you make a work of art if you use it well.


mind mapping step 4If time allows, walk away from your mind map and come back a few hours later with a fresh perspective. Take out any irrelevant points, highlight or circle key ideas or action points, and join up notes which link together. Do all your thoughts fit together as one idea? It could be that you could draw up two (or more) mind maps to make things clearer for you.


Having poured your thoughts and ideas into your mind map, remember to use it! Refer back to it, add to it, redraw it if necessary – after all, tools are much better used until scruffy than left, still shining, in the tool box. If you’re a committed neat freak and can’t bear a messy page, you could use an online mind mapping tool such as or mind42. If I can urge you to risk inky fingers and crossing out though, I believe it’s a much more creative process to use pen and paper. Go on, I dare you…

Has mind mapping helped you? Got any great tips? Do leave a comment.

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