Recording valuable ideas is a challenge for both individuals and teams. But doing a brain dump on a whiteboard or piece of paper, while usable, just doesn’t lend itself to edits or sharing.
For my projects, I use a technique called mind mapping. You start with a big picture label of your idea in the center of the page, and develop branches to represent the various levels of detail. Here’s a recent mind map I scrawled in my trusty blue notebook while waiting in a coffee shop:
I love old school pen and paper. You won’t believe how fast it is, once you get used to the process. This one took about 15 minutes to draw. The best way is to let the ideas fly without judgment or critique, getting them recorded as fast as possible. Doing your mind map this way is hard at first. Practice makes perfect and you’ll find it gets easier and faster over time.
You can also go the high-tech route, easily allowing edits and the ability to send the file to others. For that, I use Freeplane.
Mind mapping is a visual way to organize your thoughts. It has a hierarchy and relates one piece to another. I use the technique for coming up with new story ideas and consolidating projects.
The Freeplane webpage states that it will run on any operating system with a current version of Java. Most modern Linux package managers can load Freeplane. I use Synaptic under Xubuntu on my Linux notebook. Start Synaptic and press the “Reload” button to make sure all the repository lists are up to date. Then search for “Freeplane” and mark it for installation. Next, hit “Mark All Upgrades.” Finally, finish up with the “Apply” button.
You can also put the program on your Linux machine using apt-get at the command line:
rob% sudo apt-get update rob% sudo apt-get install freeplane
Depending on your system you’ll start the program from the main desktop menu or the command line.
Map Your Ideas
To create a new map, select “New Map” under the File menu item. Press “OK” for the default template.
Double left click and replace the “New Map” text with your main project idea. For example, you might type in “Conference Presentation.”
To add a node, press the “Ins” key on your keyboard. A blank node will appear on the right side of the main bubble. Add a description for the node, like “Speech Outline.” Press “Ins” again to add another node to the “Speech Outline” node.
Click back on the main “Conference Presentation” bubble and type “Ins” to add a new node below the “Speech Outline” topic. Something like “Create Slides,” might be appropriate.
New nodes will pop up on alternating sides of the main bubble. You can move a node by rolling the mouse over the head of the node and grab the little loop that appears. Left click to grab the node to move it to another spot. FreePlane will push other nodes around as you move your selected node, which can get annoying. Just grab other nodes an move them, as needed.
If you want to delete a node, roll the mouse over it and press the “Del” key. There is an “Undo” button under the “Edit” menu, to fix any inadvertent deletions.
The alternating node behavior on the main bubble is sometimes unruly grouping thoughts in a logical manner. The solution is amazingly easy. Roll the mouse over a node and type and a left or right arrow key. The node will magically switch sides. You can put all your nodes on the right side of the map, if you like, using this technique.
Likewise, if you want to move nodes up and down, vertically, grab it and up or down to your little heart’s desire.
Say you have a branch of thoughts under one node they should be under different one. No problemo. Grab the node, this time mousing over the text and drag it up to the other node. Release the mouse button and it will become attached to the new node.
How easy is that?
Mind mapping is a great technique for organizing your ideas. I use it to brainstorm new tech articles and to figure out how to build a project. Freeplane has a vast array of options. You might want to use graphics or shapes in your map, along with the text nodes. Different text fonts and line colors can enhance clarity. FreePlane is quite comprehensive and easy to use.
Of course, you can always feverishly draw your mind map by hand, while on-the-go, then put it into Freeplane later.
Give Freeplane a try on your next project.