Solve Problems, Study, and Brainstorm using Mind Maps

By Nora Dunn on 7 April 2008 16 comments
Photo: Jason Rogers

Are you inspired by taking notes in class? Probably not. When a lecturer spouts information at you, how do you record what you need to know and do it in a way that makes sense later without having to rewrite your notes entirely?

What if you have a problem you need to solve but don’t even know where to begin for all the thoughts racing through your brain?

What if you have a problem you need to solve but don’t have any thoughts racing through your brain and need to come up with something?


For all the above scenarios and many more, mind mapping is a technique that may help.


Physiologically, we don’t generally get excited about lists and bullet points. Lined paper, black or blue pen, and formalized ways of accomplishing a task are downright boring to our brains, and stifle creativity.

By contrast, our brain gets excited when it sees color, image, and non-conformity. Vision boards are a perfect example of how our brain reacts to imagery.


So by using techniques involving color, creativity, and imagery with mind maps, we can open up creative processes and allow ourselves to retain more information (study), and come up with ideas (brainstorm) more effectively.


Here are the basics:


Start With a Central Idea

Write this central idea in the middle of a blank piece of paper. As an example, let’s say you are mind mapping about…well….mind maps. Write “mind maps” in the middle of the page.


Brainstorm Keywords as Sub-ideas to the Central Idea

Draw in branches off the central idea (no straight lines allowed! – get creative) and write your one-word keyword sub-ideas on the branches. Possible sub-ideas to the “mind map” central idea may be “branches”, “ideas”, “pictures”, “creativity”, heck – even “dogs”. Don’t worry about your ideas making sense. Just keep drawing branches and writing in sub-ideas.


Elaborate on your Sub-ideas

Similar to a flow chart, you can elaborate on your sub-ideas by writing one-word branches off these ideas. As part of the “branches” keyword, I might insert “curves”, “words”, and “flow”.


Work Quickly

Similar to opening up your creative genius with the 100 ways to change your life in 20 minutes exercise, this works best if you work quickly and don’t over-think the process. There’s lots of time to edit and re-work it if you want to later.


Use Pictures

The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” applies here. When you can only insert one word per branch, sometimes a picture may qualify your word. Besides which, it’s fun and makes the mind map interesting to look at (especially if it’s a resource for studying). The brain likes images.


Use Color

Throw away the black and blue pens, and whip out the crayons and colored pencils! It is way more fun, and you’ll find that each branch will be easier to identify and work with if you use color themes.


For an article on mind-mapping, you are looking at a surprisingly dull and colourless page on your computer. I figured I’d leave it to the experts to illustrate how it’s done. Here are some resources on mind-mapping for you:


Video by a leader in mind-maps: Tony Buzan

Free mind mapping software

Mind mapping in 8 easy steps

Mind map definition and information

Once you have the basic premise of mind mapping down, experiment a little. Stop using an 8 ½ x 11 sized piece of white paper – use construction paper, larger sheets, or try painting a wall in your home or office with blackboard paint and turn your wall into a giant reusable mind map surface! Talk about inspiration…

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Guest's picture

Nice. I prefer to use pen and paper. Somehow it works more intuitive to just sit at the table with a big sheet of paper and jot things down. Also important is the 'Work Quickly' point, which I find easiest with real paper.
Another advantage is that you can sit around a table with more people working on the same mindmap!

Guest's picture

I can't remember where in school or work I learned this. Thanks for bringing it back up, there are a few things in there that make sense for working things out. Like the color categories thing.

A 4x8 sheet of melamine board from the big box home improvement store makes a great whiteboard for working on ideas in a large space. If you use fine point wet markers you can get tons of information and ideas in one spot.

Guest's picture

I ran across this one a while ago. It's freeware based on Microsoft's .NET Framework.

Guest's picture

I'm presuming you are aware that is Homer Simpson for your pic? I would hazard a guess that its probably not been released for general use...

Guest's picture

It's text-based, but I find Brainstorm to be an incredibly powerful (and, in keeping with the theme of this site, simple) tool for mind mapping and brainstorming. You can get it at I'm a writer and I use it for all kinds of things. (I'm not affiliated with the makers of the software).

Guest's picture

I was introduced to the mind mapping concept about 2 years ago. Initially I found it a bit difficult to learn the basics. After I got the hang of it though I realized that I actually remembered(to my surprise) more things than I did before.

These days I don't have any exams as such. However, after I read a book, I simply summarize it by drawing up a mind map.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I've really been enjoying these. Keep them up, please.

Guest's picture

I love mind mapping! Being a mac user, I find that Inspiration works beautifully.

(No affiliation.)   I always begin with a paper and pencil, drawing circles and blocks. Then I use the software to let the ideas fly.


Guest's picture

Here's another free mind mapping tool: MindMeister, plus it's fully web-based so no need to install software.

Guest's picture

Nora, you're right - mind mapping is a wonderful problem solving tool. But it's so much more than that. Mind mapping software can be used to help you get organized, manage projects and meetings, develop "dashboards" to track different metrics of your business, gather research and distill it into reports, and much more. In fact, mind mapping is so well-suited to the information management needs of today's workers (managing information overload, analyzing information and developing new ideas) that I have written a new e-book that describes these benefits. It's called The Mind Mapping Manifesto.

Guest's picture

Another great mind mapping tool is Mindjet's MindManager which is offered in Windows and Mac formats. It's the most comprehensive mind mapping solution out there. If you're new to mind mapping, Mindjet offers MindManager Lite which is an entry-level solution costing only $99. Additionally, Mindjet provides deep discounts for students and non-profit organizations.

Visit to download a free MindManager trial.

Guest's picture

We use mindmapping a lot when organizing web sites too. I couldn't live without it!

Guest's picture
Mr N

I'm working in the information business, providing analysis and reviews of industrials programs to the clients of the company I'm working for and we sell mind maps to them in the reports I issue.

Actually I've been reading your post entitled "Feeling Stuck? 100 Ways to Change your Life", and I admit myself that I am in that kind of period when you really want to change things in your life.

So I was thinking "hey why won't I try to get my own business, working from the place I want by selling mind maps to people ?"

What do you think about the idea of becoming a "Professional Mind Mapper Hobo" ?

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

Awesome! Go for it!!! Stay tuned at Vagabondish for a 5-part series on How To Become A Vagabond...! 

Honestly, if you know there's a market for your product (and it appears that there is), then it's worth a shot. Don't quit your "day job" just yet if you need the continuing income, but anything is possible if you want it badly enough.

Congratulations for thinking outside the box!  

Guest's picture

if you have time please visit where more than 600 articles about Concept Map or Mind Map in English and Bahasa Indoenesia languages.

hope this information useful.

warmest regards,
the concept mapper

Guest's picture

what the heckO