Mind mapping software is one of those software tools that can be used to create clear, concise visual maps that communicate information and knowledge with great clarity. But all too often, they aren’t as effective as they should be. Here are eight top ways to supercharge the effectiveness of your software-produced mind maps:
1. Use a master map. A master map is a map of all of your mind maps. In other words, it’s a single mind map that enables you to organize and quickly access all of the visual diagrams you have created with your mind mapping software. It enables you to organize your knowledge and projects in a way that makes the most sense to you – in other words, a visual representation of your work. This personalized, organic repository of links to your mind maps (and other files) can provide you with a quantum leap in productivity.
2. Stick to one map, one purpose. A mind map should be focused on a single topic or purpose – which should be clearly defined before you begin mapping. For best results, stay focused on the map subject and let its content speak to the issue. Avoid irrelevancy. If the information in your map becomes too complex or starts to “branch out” into several widely divergent areas, consider breaking that map into several sub-maps.
3. Use icons in your maps. They add visual context to your map topics, and actually give your maps database-like qualities. In other words, you can utilize them to filter your map's content - to zero in on the tasks it contains, or only the follow-ups assigned to a particular person on your staff, for example.
4. Optimize the content of your maps. If you’re planning to utilize your mind maps to communicate information to others, you must review them with a critical eye. Do they communicate clearly and unambiguously? If I was someone seeing your map for the first time, would I be able to make sense of the hierarchy of topics and sub-topics? Would the wording and placement of each topic and sub-topic make sense to me? Neatness is also important. Like it or not, people make judgments based on the visual appeal of what you’re trying to communicate to them. Here are some tips for optimizing the visual appearance of your maps:
- Are all of the topics and sub-topics where they should be within your map? Or are there items that seem out be obviously of place? Don’t be afraid to move topics around to see if they would make better sense in a different area of your map – sort a visual “what if” process that enables you to reassess that information in a different context. This process of “refactoring” is explained in greater detail in my e-book, and is an excellent way to increase the value and completeness of your maps.
- Collapse your map until only the first-level topics are visible, and then look critically at your map’s central theme and first-level topics. Ideally, your map should be self-explanatory at this first level.
- Consider the order in which your primary topics appear. Do they follow each other in a logical sequence? If not, rearrange them until they are in a more explicit sequence that will make sense to others who may be seeing your map for the first time.
- Don’t leave stray topics scattered around your map. Make sure that all of the primary and secondary topics are arranged neatly.
5. Avoid clutter and unnecessary detail in your maps. Often, users of mind mapping software develop maps that are so cluttered that they get “stuck” and aren’t sure how to fix them. As a general rule, you should develop your ideas in topics using brief key words. Ideally, your topics should be summarizing statements, like brief, persuasive headlines. If you want to add details, they should be placed in topic notes – so you can easily “drill down” to view them if you need to, but most of the time they are “hidden” to minimize visual clutter.
6. Consistency is critical. Be consistent in your use of color, shapes, line styles and other visual elements of your map. Each of these can help to convey additional meaning or context, if used consistently and systematically. If they are used haphazardly, on the other hand, they may confuse you and other people with whom you share your maps.
7. Leverage the power of images. To get the biggest benefit out of your maps, be sure to include relevant images in them. This technique will enhance their creative impact by appealing to both sides of your brain. Remember: a picture is worth a thousand words!
8. Consider creating a personal dashboard map. A personal dashboard is a mind map whose function is to consolidate information from multiple places. Its purpose is to show you a streamlined view of information from many places in a single map. Ideally, it should help you to connect the dots between previously disparate pieces of information, leading to better decision making. It should contain the information that is most important to you, including:
- Life roles and goals (work, personal, spiritual, etc.)
- Major projects and tasks
- Links to your key files and software applications
One powerful, ready-made set of dashboard maps is Kyle McFarlin’s Visual Strategist Solution, a set of free templates that is designed to be a complete personal and professional framework for your visual mapping activities. It not only incorporates best practices for visual mapping, it also includes a framework to house your maps and any supporting files and folders on your PC.
In closing, remember that mind maps are much more than a tool for creatively and visually capturing your ideas. They're business tools that can be used to drive strategy, manage projects and produce superior results.
For more productivity-enhancing tips like these, consider investing in my e-book, Power Tips & Strategies for Mind Mapping Software - Second Edition.