Brain Freeze? How to Thaw Your Mind With Mind Maps

By Alyssa Gregory
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We’ve all been stuck. Whether it’s when trying to come up with a new design, feeling stagnant with our businesses, or just being completely overwhelmed with everything on our plates. Mind maps can be an effective way to bust through these challenges because they inspire creativity, generate new ideas, help to solve problems, and clear your head.

What is a mind map?

Psychology author, Tony Buzan, is credited with inventing the process of mind mapping. A mind map is basically a visual version of brainstorming. Instead of making a list of potential solutions for the current issue on your mind, mind maps remove linear restrictions that may prevent you from connecting several ideas to create a better solution. They can be graphical, iconic, keyword-driven or colorful information trees. Here are some examples:

mind map

mind map

mind map

How do you create a mind map?

While mind maps can be drawn by hand with just a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, you can also use mind map software to create one (see below for some tools). However you create your mind map, here are some of the basics:

  • Make the center of the page your primary idea of the entire mind map
  • Use keywords, images and colors
  • Use lines and arrows to create branches and connect one idea to another
  • Avoid thinking too much about it, just put the ideas down as you think of them
  • Be creative and make your own rules

What tools can you use?

If you want to try using mind map software to help you create your own, here are some options worth exploring. But don’t forget you just need a piece of paper and a pencil to get started!

Free Mind
This is a Java-based tool that provides drag and drop options, exporting to HTML and one-click navigation.
Cost: Free

It includes a sketching tool, templates and various export options.
Cost: Three versions available, starting at $99 USD

This tool is a browser-based online tool that provides collaboration, keyboard shortcuts, drag and drop and zooming.
Cost: Free

Notable features of this web-based tool include exporting options, collaboration ability and offline access.
Cost: Free to $6 USD per month

This is a web-based tool that provides numerous export options, custom styles, text notes and sharing ability.
Cost: Free to $6 USD per month

This tool is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and includes a built-in HTML editor, search functionality and backup options.
Cost: Free to $249.95

Have you used mind mapping? Did you find it useful? What types of situations do you use it for?

Map #1 credit: Philippe Boukobza
Map #2 credit: Tim Regan
Map #3 credit: Jonny Goldstein

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  • Hormone

    Another great piece of mind mapping software is Concept Draw’s MindMap.

  • Shawn

    You should add MindNode for Mac. It’s a very simple (and attractive) mind mapping tool for OS X. They offer a pro version and a freeware version as well. I have been using the freeware version, and it offers plenty of functionality.

  • atykhonov

    I’m using one of the best as for me tool named xmind!

  • EE Perry

    XMind gives more freedom for free. The ability to create relationships that are clumsy or non-existant in other programs. XMind laso allows for free floating ideas, which comes in handy.

    I use mind maps to plan events, programs, web designs, and even code blocks. A great replacement for the flowcharts I had to create in computer programming class, allowing for alternative solutions.

  • Philip

    VUE is pretty easy to use. It’s free too.

  • chanck

    I use XMind

  • garethjmsaunders

    My favourite mind mapping software is Mindjet MindManager for Windows and Mac, there’s also now an online service to collaborate on the same map.

    Intuitive keyboard shortcuts, neat diagrams – I use it almost every day for planning, brainstorming, sitemaps, information architecture work.

  • matt

    My colleagues & I are loving XMind @ the moment.

  • kubu

    The mind map is ideal if you are trying to write an essay as it gives you an overview of a subject and shows any missing details before putting pen to paper.this has allowed me to get good results in essay papers.The book to read about mind mapping is Tony Buzan’s The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps.It gives a great boost to studying for children and adults and makes you see old boring subjects in a new light

  • Anonymous

    I recommend xmind it too is a java tool and as such is cross browser compatible. I give it high marks for its simplicity and gui

  • @MichaelDeutch

    You missed the first and possibly the most popular mind mapping software, Mindjet. Mindjet offers MindManager for Windows, Mac, and most recently the Web. There’s real-time co-editing of maps, web conferencing, shared workspaces and much more!

    Check out the Mindjet blog (which I write) for more mapping stories and examples at

  • vue

    I prefer VUE for mind mapping, VUE is way easier to use then any other tool I’ve tried, I can move my maps from windows to mac and use the app on both platforums, and my maps look great.

  • momos

    I use omnigraffle on mac, not really a mindmapper, but it can get the job done.

  • Wow, I think I will be giving Xmind a try. Thanks for all the input!

  • Thanks for this. I’ve been looking for a mind mapping app for a loooong time. I downloaded freemind and it’s great! Open Source apps sure have come a long way since the old days.

  • Jared O’Toole

    I’ve heard a lot of great things about mind-mapping However still seems like it might be a waste of time to try and organize it all. Just jotting ideas down seems to work for me. But maybe I’ll have to give it a try one of these days.

  • jan Holland

    Mind mapping is a great way of _analyzing, but
    most (= all?) dont let you sybthesize, meaning:
    With all those different aspects, which
    one(s) do you choose to come to an end-conclusion.

    There is a trick in FreeMind, but
    it looks clumsy.

    I would like to have a flowchart:
    Sthing that can begin with one problem and
    can end with one(?) solution

  • Paulb

    I think the greatest thing about mind-mapping is its simplicity, and portability. I haven’t tried any of the software but love the spontanaiety that paper and colored paper or markers provides. I’ve used mind-mapping for projects, workshops, presentations and meetings. I can certainly see the benefit of web-based software and the opportunity it provides for long-distance collabration. Thanks for the article and the tips on software. I will check these out!

  • web2000

    ..adds to the list of free online mind mapping tools

  • Ahmad Salah

    XMind is amazing .. the free version really offers good features and also it has the capability to export to different formats .. i highly recommend XMIND