There are many occasions when it is useful, if not essential, to have a record of our thoughts and/or the events to which they relate. Some people seem never to make notes; they simply rely on their memory, which, of course, is not a wise strategy, as it involves leaving to chance what is recalled and what is not. Other people, I’m aware, make copious notes, but never refer to them again – they just file them away as if having them somewhere to hand will be of value. Yet others have no filing system, so their chances of finding any notes they may have taken are relatively slim anyway.
So, when it comes to making notes, there is no shortage of practices that are not very effective and thus do not serve us well. However, it is also fair to say that there are limitations to traditional note-taking practices, even when well used. This is because, by their very nature, traditional notes are ‘linear’ – that is, they follow a straightforward structure from point one to point two and so on. But life isn’t linear, and nor is the way our minds work. What can therefore be helpful is s process of note taking that more fully reflects our thinking processes. This is where ‘mind maps’ come in.
A mind map is constructed by putting the topic in question (whatever it is you want to make notes about) in a box in the centre of the page. From this central focus you can have other boxes (or lines) that emanate from it with subtopics, issues or reflections that relate to the central focus. From each of these secondary boxes or lines you can develop further subtopics, issues or whatever. This enables the note taker to explore different avenues, different lines of thought, while considering the topic. This makes the notes multidimensional, and this allows us to be more creative in our thinking and more holistic (by giving us an overview of a topic or theme). The example below gives a sense of what is involved.
This one was produced using mind mapping software, and there are various software options available, ranging from free to expensive (depending on the additional facilities available within the package concerned). However, software is not needed, as perfectly good mind maps can be produced with pen and paper.
Mind maps can be very useful for getting a sense of structure and control in relation to the topic in hand. In addition, its visual nature means that their contents are more likely to be recalled at any future point. So, there are quite a few benefits to using this tool.
Some people take to mind maps straight away and quickly become quite proficient in using them. Others may struggle at first to produce a useful mind map because they are so used to adopting the linear approach to note taking. For this latter group there is much to be gained from being persistent. The skills can be developed with practice and can, in due course, be taken to quite a high level of competence, if not actual expertise.
When used well, mind maps can be a great aid to understanding – for example, in highlighting interconnections and patterns that would probably not have emerged from a linear approach. They can also be useful in presenting a more coherent picture to be presented to others than conventional notes would afford. They can also be added to at a later date as circumstances change or our thoughts and understanding develop.
All in all, then, mind maps offer very real potential for a valuable and effective approach to information storage to inform our thoughts, understanding and action.