Mindmaps and mindmapping software are awesome!

Yesterday, I finished creating two new keynote talks, each over 60 slides. Going from idea to complete deck used to mean complicated struggling between paper, blackboard, whiteboard, word processor, and presentation software.

Now I create one mindmap using one piece of software to create the whole presentation. It's faster, easier, and more fun. I'm writing this post because of how fun and simple it was to be so productive.

I rarely like using computers for what I can use paper and pencil, but mindmaps and mindmapping software help organize complex ideas better by every measure I care about. They're simple, effective, and, best of all, fun.

The picture above shows a physical mindmap of paper on a chalkboard, but physical mindmaps don't hold a candle to software, which you can edit freely, moving ideas around, opening and closing branches, and so on, seeing it all without erasing and rewriting.

Here's a screenshot of the software (I linked to videos below that show mindmapping in action):

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I can only speak for the software I use, Freeplane. Besides basic mindmapping, it has some bells and whistles but I haven't used them yet. I recommend Freeplane, though I can't compare it with alternatives since I haven't used them.

It's also free software that runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows.

How it works

Before working on a paper or presentation my pre-writing process used to be:

  1. Collecting ideas and writing notes
  2. Order them in an outline, and
  3. Edit.

The step of editing took forever. Erasing and reordering was important, so I'd use a blackboard or whiteboard if I could, otherwise a paper and pencil. Outline software never helped, mainly because I couldn't see everything at once and I still had to collect ideas first.

With mindmapping I do all three steps--collecting, outlining, and editing--at once, hardly taking my hands off the keyboard. Putting an idea in order in a mindmap is as easy as writing it on paper or chalkboard. I can resize and hide parts of the map to focus on one area or the whole thing.

Did I mention it's fun?

Starting using mindmapping software

The first time I used Freeplane properly was to redo an outline for a 100+ page document. The first outline took me over a week and was laborious.

With Freeplane it took a couple hours and was fun. Seriously, it was fun.

Plus I easily transformed the mindmap into a presentation of the document.

Sometimes I'll spend an hour with a colleague mindmapping ideas.

The results include

  • The joy of doing it
  • Refining, ordering, and understanding the ideas
  • An outline I can easily convert to a document or presentation

Actually, yesterday, when getting advice on the keynote, I presented to colleagues right off the mindmap.

Here are tutorial videos on using and installing the software I use. After using it once or twice, you can stop right clicking in favor of keyboard shortcuts. I use return, shift-return, insert, and the arrow keys for nearly all my editing.

The first time you use mindmapping software, you probably won't get its value. I had to use it a few times to get it.

It was worth it.