Are you interested in creating and using mind maps at work, in your studies, or in life in general? Then you should definitely read along. I will explain to you in detail how you can create a mind map on paper. This time we will focus on mind mapping on paper. However, if you like to learn more about digital mind mapping or you are interested in the ultimate guide to mind mapping software you can have a look at those resources.
It all started with mind mapping on paper when mind mapping was first described by Tony Buzan. Right now we only look at HOW to create a mind map. If you like more background information (and tips), check out the what why who when in mind mapping.
Note that this will be a practical guide on mind mapping. The best thing you can do is follow me along while I take you by the hand and show you exactly what to do (and what not to do). The end result will be that you will have a mind map with your own topic, giving you insight, understanding, and hopefully peace of mind. After all, you create a mind map to benefit from it. You never, ever create mind maps just to create a map.
Know your outcome, this will make your time more valuable and your maps probably more powerful.
LET’S MAKE A MIND MAP ON PAPER THAT WORKS
BEFORE WE GET STARTED, WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOWI am a practical guy. I want to take my information from books, people, videos, conversations, my head, and other sources and create a mind map from that. The map always has a purpose. Often this is helping me understand something. Also, it could be that I need to clear my head and put things into perspective.
The systems I use for mind mapping are simple ones. I know how to create colorful and image-rich mind maps. But usually, I don’t create or use those. The reason is that I want to spend as little time as possible on mind mapping, but use the map to reach my goals as fast as possible.
Mind mapping method: practical mind mapping. This is different from traditional mind mapping because it doesn’t use that many images. The maps are also created fast (in one minute, max. two). Mind mapping is simply a tool that should be used as such. The moment I notice I am mind mapping to create a good-looking map, I stop doing what I do and get back on my path of practical mind mapping.
Mind mapping system: C.O.W.! COW! is an acronym. It tells me that a mind map should be created by Capturing and Organizing and then used by Working with the map.
Tools I use A notebook, usually magazine size, sometimes smaller. One pen color, when I need more detail and highlights 3 different colors. The reason I often use just one color is because of the intention with which I mind map. I capture ideas and organize them. No need to use lots of colors. This changes when I create maps with the information I want to remember or use for work, planning, or understanding information. More colors are better than (usually).
ANATOMY OF A MIND MAP
A mind map is a little bit different from the normal way you organize information. Mind mapping is all about showing you information on a certain subject. This topic is placed in the middle of the sheet. If you are less strict in applying the rules, you can also put the subject on the left-hand side, on the right, on top, or where ever you like. Right now, we follow the traditional mind mapping format and put it in the middle of our sheet.
Where you normally add information from top to bottom on a sheet of paper, in mind mapping we do things a little differently. You take your topics that you take notes about, and you add them radially to the central subject. We start at the top right next to the central topic and move clockwise to the top left side. Write your first topic at the top right side next to the center and create a connection or line between the center and the topic.
TIP: To create a more natural or organic look you make the line slightly wider near the center of the map and thinner when you reach the topic. Don’t use straight lines only. Use curved lines. Remember that in nature there are also no straight lines, give the map a playful or natural look.
TIP: Don’t write the first word too far away from the center. You probably need to add more words so make sure you have room for that!
Next to the topic you created, you add related sub-topics. Let’s make this a little practical. You are outlining a book. The subject is the title of the book. The first level of topics, connected directly to the center, are the chapters. Next to the chapters, you get the paragraphs, and next to that the details.
Working this way, you see that each topic can hold multiple sub-topics. Every topic itself only has one higher level or mother topic (or node). This is important to see and understand. A mind map can never have multiple higher-level nodes connected to a subtopic. Why? Because this is how the mind mapping rules are described. I don’t mind connecting multiple higher-level nodes to one sub-topic, but that is not the mind mapping way.
TIP: Very important… when you feel you need to change or tweak your map to make sure it looks good for you, just do so. If you need more than one higher-level node… do so… We will however focus on the mind mapping methods here and not deviate too much from the standard.
One important thing to understand is that you should make a mind map pleasing for your entire brain. In the past people said normal notes are usually very left-brain-side oriented, meaning they use words, bullet points, lists, etc. Using more images and colors (right brain side) will help you to look at the information with your entire brain.
Research shows that this isn’t that black and white. There is actually a very small difference between the two brain sides (but still there is a difference). And even if there would not be any difference, your brain would like you to present information in multiple formats (like words, images, colors, etc.). When you give your brain many ways to access information, it will be easier to remember it. Besides that… we all love images and remembering an image is a whole lot easier than remembering text.
- mind maps have a central subject
- new information is added to a mind map via branches
- information is presented in a radial fashion, usually being abstract in the center and more detailed near the outside of the map
- use words, images, and colours to make the mind map brain friendly
- understand that you probably need to add more information to the branches, so make sure you have space available
Right, now that you know more about the anatomy of a mind map and what you should include, we get started. Do you have a piece of paper? Do you have a couple of colored pens? Are you ready to start creating your (first) mind map together? Let’s do it!
STEP 1: CAPTURE INFORMATION
What will you be creating a mind map about? Are you working on a project? Reading a book? Are you stressed and would you like to get more clarity? Are you planning a party? Do you take notes during a presentation? Are you working on a presentation? All things you can do using a mind map. You decide on your topic, I will go for outlining a manual I will be writing.
When you have a topic, let’s get going!
Please understand that you can use this instruction to create any kind of mind map on paper. I assume you are new to this, so I will discuss each step in detail. When you are more familiar with mind mapping on paper, you will probably use a slightly different approach. I will discuss this at the end of this instruction. Right now, I will give you a good foundation in order to make mind mapping work right ‘out of the box’ for you.
The first thing we have to do (using the practical mind mapping method and the COW! system) is capture thoughts or pieces of information. These will be the basis of our mind map, the puzzle that we will solve by visually outlining the information.
For me, I would do a short (personal) brainstorming session on my topic. My manual will be teaching people “how to memorize a mind map in less than 30 minutes”. I heard that many people are interested in that (especially the students I train), so this is something I will work on right now.
Your mind map could be created from the book you are reading, a talk you have with people, or any other source. The main thing is… get started, follow me in my steps and at the end, you have a map that is practical and helps you move forward.
Right, my personal brainstorm. This would give me the following main topics:
Around this, I could also add an introduction, some frequently asked questions, practical issues people can encounter, and other related training. These are not the core but will create a clear and complete picture.
Notice that I only wrote these on paper in a short list. I didn’t create a mind map right from the start. No need to do this right now. I am just doing a short personal brainstorming session.
When I have a good list of topics, I will proceed to the next step. A question you might have right now is, how do you know you have a good list of topics? Well… here’s a simple answer to this.
You have a goal (the mind map will help you move closer or even achieve that goal). Based on your goal or outcome, would the list of topics you created help you achieve that goal?
If you can answer that question with a definite YES, you are good to go to the next step. If you are unsure, you probably can proceed as well to step 2. As long as you cover your basics, you are good to go. If not, you add more topics or keywords.
Of course when you have a big NO on the question above… you continue to add topics to your list.
Most of the time I use my Rule of 3 System. This rule tells me that anything can be achieved in 3 steps. Sometimes these are simple steps, in other moments they are big, even enormous steps. When I look at my goal, of writing a manual or training that teaches people to memorize a mind map in 30 minutes (or less), there are 3 steps or stages:
- understand (and master) the basics of memorizing information
- create a mind map that is suitable for fast memorization
- the actual process of memorizing it
That’s it. You can do the same with just about anything else. Want some examples? Earn more money is done by: knowing where and how you can contribute, improving yourself, be dedicated to adding value. The result… you get noticed and earn more.
Or for an entrepreneur: find out what people really really need, create a solution, and present it to them. The result… make more money.
When studying: go through your information, organize it and create an understandable structure, and memorize the material. The result… you memorize and are on your way to mastering the knowledge (and you pass the exam).
Now you may think… this doesn’t work. I don’t know how to do step one… What do I do then? You break up step one into three smaller steps. If that doesn’t work for you, you take the step that isn’t clear or too big, and you create three additional smaller steps. Just as long as the steps are clear and easy enough to take.
Some people may be able to do things in three big steps because they have a lot of experience. People with less knowledge, connections, and experience will need sub-steps or sub-sub-steps.
So… look at your list of topics. Is that list showing you sufficient keywords to help you achieve your goal… in three steps? If not, use the Rule of Three System and add more topics or keywords.
When you are ready, we move on to step 2, organizing the information.
STEP 2: ORGANIZING INFORMATION
Right now you have a list of keywords. I have one as well. What we will achieve in this step is we create a first draft of the mind map. This is done by identifying the main topics and sub-topics that you have in your list. I will mark these main topics on my list.
These main topics are added to my mind map. I write the subject in the middle and add the main topics around it. Note that I immediately put the main topics at the right location on the map. This is the result:
The map you created could be improved (visually) by adding images and using more colors. In a traditional mind map, you would be using a lot of images right now. I don’t do that because I want to create a clear overview, almost minimalistic you could say. I do this because I don’t want to memorize information. I only want to create a clear picture of what I am about to do with the map.
For me, a map is just a tool that should be used that way. Nothing fancy, nothing big, nothing that will cost me time. You could say that a map has saved me time and energy. If either of these two is not met, I use a different tool. Fortunately for me, I often have both needs met with mind mapping, so no problem there
We have the main topics outlined now. What I do next is to take all the other topics or keywords I found and add them to my map. Each one will be added where I believe it needs to be in order for it to have the highest value for the whole map. Sometimes I find myself using one word in multiple locations. When this happens, I either create a relationship line between the two, or I actually use the word more than once. Have a look below:
Do you see why I did not create a mind map from the start? I did not have a good picture of where I would go with my mind map. Placing the words on a separate piece of paper helps me to get words out first, then outline them.
My goal with this map is that I organize the words into a training that will be clear and practical. Kind of like the following outline.
This is my first draft of the mind map. The COW! system is not a linear one that brings you directly from the start to the finish. For instance, I might need to add additional words to clarify parts of the map or to expand on topics. This is of course done by going back to the Capture stage. This time, however, I would not write them on a new piece of paper. This time they go directly into the mind map, to the right location.
The reason for this is that the structure and content of the current map help me to find new words. They are associated on the basis of the content and how this is outlined. The ‘final’ result is the following:
If I would go crazy on the map, I would add more colors and images. Note that I write colors first, then images. I am not a big fan of finding many images and including them in the map I create. I only use them when it is really needed. Using colors is many times faster and also highlights and clarifies information just as well.
For you, I added small images like the clock, the footsteps (hope you could tell they are footsteps), the brain, and the light bulb. For my own maps, I would not do that. What I do use is the highlights that I added in light blue. These are the boxes or circles around certain keywords. This way I can identify even more important words that need extra special attention.
NOTE: If you feel your map needs more colors, be my guest. You can of course do that. I do want to advise you that you don’t spend too much time drawing the perfect images. Usually, the right image is there when you need it. If you need to do a separate brainstorm on the best image, you might as well leave it blank.
So there you have it… your mind map is ready!
But wait… what about the W! in COW!? Don’t we need an additional step? You are absolutely right. Let’s do that right now.
STEP 3: WORKING WITH THE MAP!
A map is just as good as the benefits it offers you. No benefits? No need to map out your thoughts, information, or ideas. Step 3 is all about using the map. You WORK with it and it saves you time, gives you peace of mind, gives you insight, etc. How to do that? Let’s discuss that.
Working with a map can be done in many different ways. A map can be created for writing a book, for understanding your study materials, or for planning your project, organizing your (life) goals, or helping you get out of a negative situation or bad place. And yes, a mind map can also help you to take notes and present information.
The way you can achieve all of that with a mind map is something we can discuss in detail for each situation at a later time. In general, what you should understand is this. A mind map is an overview at a certain time that helps you to achieve something. Since situations change, you change, insights change, and information changes, you need to make sure your mind map changes as well.
So when you are studying, your map is filled with new information that you read or hear. This way the map continues to be an actual overview of your knowledge. If you don’t apply the necessary changes…then the map is just something you used once and the next time you receive new information, you probably create a new map. Don’t do that. Keep the map up to date. Make sure the map reflects your understanding of that topic.
The same goes of course for planning, a presentation you create (and deliver over and over again), the goals you work on and achieve (and remove from your list because you don’t want it anymore), etc.
A map must be used.
Please note it could be that the first time you created a map for a situation that you find very difficult, you used the map only once and threw it away afterward. Why? Because you already found the solution. So when the map served its purpose, you can move on, on your own. If not, you keep it with you, or at some point in time, the map becomes the basis of a new map.
When you update your map you could run into space problems. When you created a map that was too big in the first place, there is not much space for new information. When you update it a lot, you also might run out of places to add more information.
Know that often a simple word can make a big difference. You don’t need to write lots of information in most maps. After all, all the information in branches is related, you just need to update it.
You might also start to write smaller and use different colors to show what you added. Just take a yellow marker and use that. You can also strikethrough the old stuff (ONCE!) and add new knowledge to the map. I write ‘once’ for a reason. Don’t scratch everything out of the map when you feel it is no longer needed. Keep it there so you can refer to it later, or you can use it when you need it someday.
Of course, when a map is getting too crowded with scratches and information, you could create a new map again with the information you need. My suggestion is that you don’t create maps too often. Create a map and then use it. What I do when planning is I create a map and use it for 90 days. After 90 days, the map is archived and I use the most recent information to create a new map. That map will be my guide for those next 90 days.
DRAWING IS HARD…
When I ask people in training sessions to draw the face of the person next to them, in about 30 seconds, their first reaction is to laugh. Then I tell them they have 20 seconds left and they start to draw like crazy
The beauty comes when I ask them to show their work to the other person whose faces they drew. What do you think most adults do? In a futile attempt to hide their embarrassment they would start to laugh again and tell the other person they cannot draw, or there was not enough time to create a decent drawing, etc. All excuses. Very nice to see actually and it happens all the time. But you will never hear these excuses when the same activity is done by children. They are proud of what they make! And they cannot even wait for their next drawing!
Remember that we all started out as people who love to draw. OK, maybe not all of us, but at least 99% of us. We draw and draw… until we have to write and learn how to use words on paper, instead of drawing amazing stories out on paper.
You know how to draw, you simply are not used to doing it anymore. This can be fixed really fast.
Do you see those little drawings in public places telling you where to go, what a restroom is, where the exit is, etc.? All drawings! And you know many of these little ones. You also know how to draw stick figures, trees, cars, etc. KEEP IT SIMPLE! When you do that, nothing will go wrong, drawing is easy and you will be able to draw in your mind map really nice pictures.
WHAT COLOURS SHOULD I USE?
Now, this is a very hard question. You have different associations with colors than other people. For some red means love, others refer to it as blood, pain, traffic jams, etc.
For most people, creating branches in a mind map is something that they can do with random colors. It often doesn’t really matter. When it does, you know about it and you probably will use the right color (trust yourself on that).
What is very important in many mind maps (especially large maps) is that you switch colors for sibling branches. If you don’t the branches may be drawn too much near each other and this may make the mind map hard to read. When you use different colors, the branches could in theory cross each other and it would still be good to read.
In my own mind maps, I often use just one color and keep branches at a safe distance. When this works for you, be my guest to do this. After all, it is all about making it easy for yourself and getting that overview, right?
MIND MAP ON PAPER EXAMPLES
To give you some inspiration I included a couple of hand-drawn mind maps below. Have a look at them and feel inspired or perhaps overwhelmed. One thing I can say with certainty is that most people never create mind maps on a regular basis that look like the ones below. Why? Because it takes a lot of time to create them and people don’t want to spend/waste too much time on them. They want the outcome and the benefits.
Still, have a look at them and see what you like (and bluntly steal that and use it in your own maps).
If all went well, you created a map with me. If not, I advise you to create your map using the action steps below.
- Capture information on either a digital map or on a piece of paper.
- Organize the information in a well-structured and clear mind map.
- Start Working! with the mind map right now.
- Keep your map up to date and edit and remove information to achieve this.
- (Send me your map so we can have a look at it together. Just scan it or take a picture and email me.)
Be sure to check out the digital mind mapping guide information and the ultimate guide to mind mapping, if you want to learn how to create mind maps on your computer, iPad, online or any other electronic device.
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