Stop Taking Notes! Learn How to Use Mind Maps Instead!

February 27, 2019 | Episode #31
Stop taking notes! Instead, learn how to use mind maps! Also, "brain dumps" for getting stuff out of your head, based on David Allen's Getting Things Done.

How to Use Mind Maps: An Overview

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This week, we’re talking about one of my absolute favorite techniques: How to use mind maps!

What is a mind map?

  • According to, a mind map is “an easy way to brainstorm thoughts organically without worrying about order and structure”

Why mind maps are effective

  • For me, mind maps are freeing
  • Whenever I take traditional notes, I focus way too much on the structure. We don’t think in a linear way, and so traditional notes and lists can be tricky.
  • Mind maps allow me to take notes the same way my brain works: As a web of thoughts.
  • They reduce the friction of getting thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper

When to use mind maps

  • Mind maps are effective any time you want to expand on an idea
  • You can use mind maps to replace any of the following:
    • Outlines
    • Meeting notes
    • Class notes
    • To-do lists

You don’t need software. Pen & paper will do!

  • You definitely don’t need mind-mapping software
  • I actually find that the software adds back the friction mind maps are supposed to eliminate
  • My recommendation is to use pen and paper!
    • I don’t even recommend pencil. Erasing = friction.

How to use mind maps: Best Practices

1. Start with a central topic

  • Start with a blank page
  • In the center, write your topic and circle it
  • Check out the examples section below for some topic ideas

2. Start connecting ideas

  • From your central topic, start connecting ideas
  • You can create as many sub-branches as you want
  • Sometimes, when ideas are related, I’ll connect them with a dotted line

3. Let the ideas flow

  • Just go. Let the ideas flow out of you.
  • Don’t worry too much about structure. The idea here is to reduce resistance.
  • Inevitably, you’ll run into ideas that you just can’t seem to place in the proper spot. When that happens, try…

4. Random Thoughts

  • This is, by far, the most freeing technique I’ve developed
  • Sometimes I get stuck worrying about where to put an idea that doesn’t seem to fit
    • This happens both with traditional notes and with mind maps
  • In these cases, I create a Random Thoughts section (I abbreviate it RT) off to the side of my mind map
  • Whenever I struggle, even a tiny bit, with where to put an idea, it goes here
  • The key is to reduce the friction between your brain and the paper

5. Organize notes after mapping

  • Once you’re done mapping, you can go back and reorganize things
  • Don’t try to do this during mapping — this increases friction and defeats the purpose!
  • If my mind map contains action items at all, I’ll go back and flag them after I’m done

    • I use the technique I covered in Episode 29 for flagging action items

A few examples

Brain dumps

  • I cover this idea in depth in the Make Life Easier section below
  • This is my favorite use of the mind map by far!

To-do lists

  • I think mind maps are incredibly effective for tracking tasks
  • I’ll also cover this in depth in the Make Life Easier section below

Meeting / class notes

  • This is one of the more novel uses of a mind map!
  • Instead of taking linear notes, try using a mind map instead
  • It’s especially effective here when you use the Random Thoughts idea explained above
    • Sometimes, when taking notes, things are covered which have no place
    • Not the case here! Random Thoughts is the perfect spot for those kinds of notes.


  • Any time you’re outlining an idea, a mind map is not only an option, I think it’s far better!
  • Some types of outlines I’ve mind mapped:
    • Project outlines
    • Paper outlines
    • Story outlines (I prepped the story from Episode 29 with a mind map)
    • Episode outlines
  • Here’s a mind map I created when I was outlining a landing page for my technology business

Goal setting

  • The freeing nature of a mind map allows you to expand beyond what’s right in front of you

How to Use Mind Maps: Brain Dumps

Make Life Easier

Getting Things Done by David Allen

  • I’m not going to cover the GTD method in depth here. That’s a topic for a future episode!
  • Here’s a quick rundown of the key ideas:
    • Your mind is designed to generate ideas, not store them
    • You should keep all of the ideas in a single, organized place that you check regularly. I use Todoist for this!
    • Ideally, you should organize your tasks into a list of projects
    • Those projects should each have a next action associated with them
  • If you’re interested in the full method, definitely check out David Allen’s book Getting Things Done!

What’s this got to do with mind maps?

  • Have you ever felt that sense of overwhelm when you’ve got 35987 things to do? Yeah, me too. It sucks.
  • One of the most profound of Allen’s ideas is that your brain is designed to generate, and not to store, ideas
  • That sense of overwhelm sets in whenever you have tasks in your head that you haven’t captured anywhere.
  • So, whenever I have that feeling, I do a brain dump using a mind map

What on Earth is a brain dump?

  • It’s just like it sounds: You dump every idea in your brain onto a piece of paper
  • I do a brain dump every time I have too many ideas in my head. This includes both tasks and creative ideas.
  • The mind map structure is the best choice for this because it reduces the friction between your brain and the page

Brain dumps: Best Practices

  • The best practices for brain dumps are the mind mapping techniques with a couple extras thrown in:
    • The central topic should be brain dump
    • Let the ideas flow out of you until you run out of stuff to write. After that, the overwhelming feeling is gone! (Trust me, it really works.)
    • CRITICAL: DON’T ORGANIZE WHILE BRAIN DUMPING. Get it all out, then go back and organize.
      • If you’re listing tasks, flag them after you brain dump
    • Definitely make use of Random Thoughts here

When to use brain dumps

  • Here are some examples of when I use brain dumps:
    • Making a list of things to do today
    • Getting all of my ideas out about a project
    • Prepping for meetings

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