Five Tips for Getting the Most from Your Mind Maps


Everyone knows how to Mind Map®, right? Start in the center, draw some lines out, write something on or near one of the lines, draw something, add a few more lines, add some color, write some more...simple!

Unfortunately that’s what passes for Mind Mapping for a lot of people. And they don’t enjoy the benefits that devotees of the technique rave about. They then dismiss the possibility of getting those benefits themselves and decide that ‘Mind Mapping doesn’t work for me’...and go back to lists, sentences and their blue pen – which they felt more comfortable using anyway!

I’ve been using Mind Maps for over 30 years and teaching others how to use them for the last 15 years. I recently distilled much of what I’ve learnt about using and teaching Mind Mapping into an online course, but here are the five golden nuggets:

  1. Mind Maps are weird for a reason
    The use of colour, pictures, lines and clear association of ideas are all there because it is how we get the most from our brains. Mind Maps deliberately use the full range of our cortical skills and tap into the fact that the primary way in which our brains organise information is through association.
  2. The ‘rules’ are simple – follow them!
    1. Start in the centre of a landscape page, with a colourful picture which represents your idea. You can use words too if you like.
    2. Draw lines right up to your central image – each one a different colour. Make these initial lines thick and write your biggest categories of ideas on each line in capital letters.
    3. Use single words and/or pictures to represent your ideas throughout your Mind Map.
    4. Only branch from the ends of lines and always ensure that a line connects to the previous level.
    5. Always write or draw your ideas along a line.
    6. Experiment and have fun!
  3. Think in hierarchies
    The single biggest mistake that people make when using Mind Maps is to regard the page as a ‘free for all’. Mind Maps are organised thinking. The organisation is radiant and hierarchical. Radiating out to successive levels of detail and thinking in categories or questions, will often take your thinking onto another level. Try the following:

    1. Good, Bad, Indifferent
    2. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
    3. Winter, Summer, Spring, Autumn (Fall)
    4. Inside, Outside
    5. Known, Unknown
    6. Who, What, Where, Why, When, How
  4. Do your thinking on the page and be prepared to make mistakes
    It’s very tempting to think things through and then only commit them to paper when that thinking is finished so that the Mind Map is right first time. Try to avoid this mistake. Do your thinking on the page. Explore and play with your thoughts and ideas, look for connections and patterns and expect your Mind Maps to be messy and need refinement or redrawing.

    There are lots of uses for Mind Maps, but first and foremost they are a thinking tool – so use them to turn the jumble of thoughts and ideas in your head into something solid; use them for thinking and exploration.

  5. Use them!
    Once you’ve learnt how to Mind Map properly (did I mention my new Mind Mapping Mastery online course?!) the key is to practice and to gradually extend the range of ways in which you use Mind Maps. As you practise, you should check that you are following the rules and notice what is and isn’t working, so that you can refine your technique and maximise the value you get from this uniquely versatile technique.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’ve been using Mind Maps for many years. I started using them when I was studying at university and continued to to use them when studying for my Accountancy exams. I used them when I worked as a junior Accountant and later as a Financial Controller and Finance Director. They were invaluable when I spent eight years as a Management Consultant and of course I use them every day running a busy training company. I hope you find these tips useful and that you get as much benefit from Mind Maps as I have over the years.

Clive Lewis is the Master Mind Mapper who has been using Mind Maps in a wide-ranging and successful business career for over 30 years. He and his team at Illumine Training, the company he founded in 1996, have taught tens of thousands of people how to Mind Map in courses, workshops and seminars around the world.

Mind Map® and Mind Maps® are trademarks of the Buzan Organisation.