I rarely like using computers for what I can use paper and pencil, but mindmaps and mindmapping software help organize complex ideas better. They’re simple, effective, and, best of all, fun.
I can only speak for the software I use, Freemind. Besides basic mindmapping functionality, it has some bells and whistles but I haven’t used them yet. It’s also free software that runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows.
Before working on a paper or presentation I used to start by 1) collecting and writing a few notes to be sure not to forget, then 2) I’d order them in an outline, and 3) edit. Erasing and reordering was important, so I’d use a blackboard or whiteboard if I could, otherwise a paper and pencil. Outline software never helped, mainly because I couldn’t see everything at once and I still had to collect ideas first.
With Freemind I do all three steps — collecting, outlining, and editing — at once, hardly taking my hands off the keyboard. Putting an idea in order in a mindmap is as easy as writing it on paper or chalkboard. I can resize and hide parts of the map to focus on one area or the whole thing.
Did I mention it’s fun?
The first time I used Freemind properly was to redo an outline for a hundred+ page document. The first outline took me over a week and was laborious. With Freemind it took a couple hours and was fun. Seriously, it was fun. Sometimes I’ll spend an hour with a friend mindmapping ideas (friends who put me on to the software suggested it as a fun thing to do).
The result, besides the enjoyment of doing it, is an outline I can easily convert to a document or presentation. I’m thinking about doing presentations right off the mindmap.
Here are tutorial videos on using it and installing it. After using it once or twice, you can stop right clicking. I use return, shift-return, insert, and the arrow keys for nearly all my editing. If you know me, schedule getting together and I’ll get you started.
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