Ever since I read about how Arif Vakil uses a “My World Mindmap” to organize his life, I started using mind maps. It is such an utterly simple concept but yet I still find it fascinating.

If you don’t know what a mind map is, think of it as writing a single topic idea on a piece of paper, then drawing out a tree with new ideas as branches. You can draw as many branches and sub-branches as you like. That’s it.

There are two purposes for which I use mind maps:

1. Brainstorming

Nothing gets my brain thinking and crazily jotting down thoughts like a mind map can. This happens because it is not a linear format and encourages branching out in different directions. At the same time, you can group related ideas together which means you don’t have to detail each idea, the phrases should have quite obvious meanings from the branching hierarchy.

2. Attention Economy

“Pay attention to what has your attention” is another gem that I learned from Arif.

I have forced myself to spend an hour every week and update a mind map that lists my actions in the past week. If my intentions on how I would like to spend my ideal week does not match my actual actions, then, the problem becomes quite obvious. Otherwise, it will be yet another case of “What? A week is already over. Time just flies…” and then months and years fly by (and it has) and you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing all along.

To break this chain, I started being conscious of what I’m doing. At first, I was shocked at the drastic gap between inspiration and execution. But by constant review of this attention mindmap, I’m getting better at todo lists.


The best mind mapping software that I’ve come across is XMind. It also happens to be open source and cross-platform.

It has a very nice simple and fluid interface, intuitive keyboard shortcuts, nice handy marker icons and most importantly, feels like a coherent software.

Install XMind and try this:

  • Click on the “Central Topic” rectangle. Press F2. Type “Life” and press enter key.
  • Press the Tab key. Press F2. Type “Career” and press enter key.
  • Press the Enter key. Press F2. Type “Finances” and press enter key.
  • Press Shift+Enter keys. Press F2. Type “Family” and press enter key.

That’s it, you’ve now created a mind map and got a feel of the keyboard shortcuts.

But there is more.

  • Click on the ‘Finances’ rectangle.
  • Right click → Markers → Smiley → Boring
  • Click on the ‘Career’ rectangle.
  • Press F3. Add tags like ‘monthly review, skill’.
  • Press F4. Add your notes.
  • Press the Tab key and add subtopics like ‘The Big Goal’.

Sample of My World mind map

Continue filling out this mind map and you would have created your “World mind map”.

P.S. I’ve been thinking about writing more about productivity and lifehacks, so if this post was useful for you and would like to read about more such topics, please let me know.

7 thoughts on “Mindmaps

  1. Freemind is another free/open source mindmap tool. Though its not very high on all kinds of features, its very simple to use and has kbd shortcuts for everything. Its the simplicity that I like in that tool, and also its html export capability.

  2. @Gowri : I tried Freemind before I tried XMind. The reason I switched over was because Freemind felt ugly to me :-P , XMind feels nicer.

    @Ketan : You’re welcome!

  3. Mindmaps are a great way to make strategies, execution plans and many things like that. I tried using mindmap softwares, but nothing matches a piece of paper or a white board. So here’s what we do, we use white board for mindmaps, hree of us use three different colors, take snap on our mobile n mail it across. It’s serves as MOM :)

  4. @Anil Nice idea! I agree, nothing like paper and pen. I use them a lot, but for the special case of continuous maintenance of a mindmap, a software is needed.

    @Vikram Thanks, will hope to write more useful stuff.

  5. I’ve tried XMind myself, and although it’s visually appealing, there were a few fatal flaws which caused me to try other mappers; these are:

    1) moving topics/branches make program become very slow.
    2) impossible to move your topics around. sometimes branch would cross other topics , thus make it hard to read.

    Try DropMind or Mindjet instead.

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