Mind Maps: A Powerful Way to Organize Your Thoughts

Summary: Mind maps are a powerful way for visual thinkers to organize their thoughts and boost productivity. (Tweet This!)

I started this site with the goal of documenting and organizing everything that goes into making one's life "successful." It is probably an impossible goal. No two people will agree on what makes for a "successful" life. That's the easy part as I can simply tell people to take the information they find useful and discard the rest.

The biggest problem I have is attempting to document and organize that information. It is a gargantuan task. It wasn't exactly a revolutionary idea to try to sort the information into general topics of money and health.

Those only got me so far.

I knew right away that there are a hundred different subtopic in dealing with money. Is it investing, real estate, credit, saving money, protecting your money with insurance? There are so many things that go into it. The best way I've found to subdivide these topics is with a mind map.

What's a Mind Map?

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here's one of the earliest versions of my BeBetterNow Mind Map:

Early BeBetterNow Mind Map

As you can tell, I was in a "no chemicals" frame of mind when starting. You can also see that I was focused on financial freedom.

Why a Mind Map?

When I was working on the example above, I was thinking about the overall question of what defines happiness. That's where mind maps become extremely useful.

If I were to ask you what happiness is you might say, "Happiness is a Warm Puppy." I wouldn't argue, but now I can say, "Ah ha, Lucy is valuing Snoopy's companionship and her relationship with him." This is different from the purposefulness of doling out nickel advice in a psychiatry booth.

When I sit down to write an article about How To Be Happy, I have an outline that I can easily follow to make sure that I stay on track.

Mind maps give me that visual representation of how all the pieces fit together.

At some point, I hope to organize the articles of Be Better Now into one or more books. With a mind map, I've almost got a completed table of contents.

How To Make a Mind Map

There's no wrong way to make a mind map. It's a little like taking notes... do what works for you.

I like to my mind maps to be an iterative, evolving process. I start with something simple like the above. Over time, as I read and learn, I edit it to reflect new ideas. When I read a great tip on how to improve your credit score, I can put that into the map.

It may seem like it will get messy, but every software allows you to close nodes. With a single click, I can close the whole money node and focus on health. That keeps it clean.

How Do I Get Started?

There are many different mind mapping tools out there. Some of them are free and some of them cost money. I just wanted to jump in and get started. I found that the Freemind was quick and easy. A poll of LifeHacker users picked XMind as the best. I wanted to be able to export my mind maps without paying for a pro version and it wasn't clear to me whether XMind supported this.

My suggestion is to get started with something even if it's free. You will learn whether it's right for you very quickly. From there you can make the decision of which software best supports what you are looking for.

What Else Can I Do with a Mind Map?

In researching mind maps, I found that one person wrote about using mind maps as a to-do list. It's an intriguing idea, but I prefer a spreadsheet-based to-do list.

Further Reading:

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