Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Looking for a collection of no-nonsense mind mapping tips that you can quickly implement to boost your visual mapping skills? Then look no further.

Below are 9 mistakes I summarize to help you become an experienced mind mapper.

Mistake #1: Lost in details

Your ideas can grow big. When they multiply, you might get lost on the way.

Even though brainstorming encourages wild imaginations, it works best when everyone is holding on the same big picture.

Remember that mind map is a vessel, a medium to carry your ideas. If you stuff it with random thoughts, it is like a bottle of sauce randomly mixing with other ingredients. It may give you some serendipity, but it is wandering away from your original goals.

The fix: Write down your purpose

Yes, that’s it. In digital maps, put a purpose topic on the top of the canvas.

Alternatively, write it down on a sheet of paper and put it on somewhere you can glance. Every time you look at your goal visually, your brain receives a reminder of the goal.

Mistake #2: Obsession with styling

Instead of getting your mind busy with the content of the mind map, you bury yourself in comparing font sizes and branch colors.

Sure, the graphic design is important. But separating content creation with styling is a common practice across many different industries. Even in the design industry!

Multi-tasking might give you a sense of accomplishment, but that’s false productivity. It severely interrupts your thinking process. Research after research has shown that even a short interruption can induce excessive stress for people. One study calculates that productivity loss of workplaces can be up to 40%!

The fix: Content first, separation of concerns

Content is always the key. Anything else comes the second.

If you still struggle to stay away from styling a mind map, try to choose tools that help you auto-style the charts.

In XMind, we have themes and quick-styling to free yourself from styling anxiety.

Quick styling is a style editor that helps you quickly highlight important topics.

Mistake #3: Perfectionism

Having an unrealistic expectation is a sign of amateurism. There are a lot of tools and tips for mind mapping. They are helpful, but you cannot grasp them all when you first start.

What is harmful about perfectionism in mind mapping (and perhaps many things in life) is you let your precious time go away in vain. Then without you knowing it, your passion for mind mapping might wane.

The fix: Accept your shitty first draft and keep polishing it

Having a mediocre first draft is okay. Call it a milestone when you have one.

No matter how awful your map is, the process of creating it boosts up your thinking speed. Researchers have proposed theories that the actions of map-building helps students to have a better memory. Pre-constructed maps, on the other hand, do not help students to learn.

Though “Perfect” does not exist, revisions never end. Good mind maps must have undergone stages of changes, both on ideas and forms.

Mistake #4: Ill-designed large maps

Although you can create a large mind map, the readability suffers.

I’m not saying that we have to avoid a big map at all costs. Mind maps are great for capturing big-picture views, but you might need to do some topic pruning and thoughtful design to organize it.

This sounds like nice-to-have, and it is not a concern for your first draft. But after brainstorming or when you have an audience, this becomes a “must-to-have.”

The fix: Discipline, design principles, and 

  1. Be conservative in topic choices. After brainstorming, be liberal and determined to move out redundancy.
  2. Follow some design principles. We elaborate on principles and related features in this post.
  3. Combine macro maps with micro maps. Put out the significant points in one chart and connect it with multiple diagrams explaining the sub-points. In XMind, you can use the New Sheet from Topic.

    XMind has a feature of new sheet from topic to help you manage big maps.


Mistake #5: Stiff presentation

Mind maps are more engaging and interactive than linear outlines in presentations.

Unfortunately, most people neglect to utilize the benefits of mind map fully. Although each box is open for multimedia files, they fill topic boxes with a bunch of lengthy text. Mind maps are flexible for mixing structures.  But what we often see is the same structure in every branch.

The fix: Lively elements and flexible structures

The majority of mind map software has a least one or two tools to make your digital maps lively.

To add some interesting elements, you can add GIFscolored branches, and stickers in XMind.

In terms of structures, XMind provides Fish-bones, Matrices, Timelines, Org-Charts, and more.


Mistake #6: No combination with other methods/tools

Using a single diagram to convey ideas is easy. Why bother the extra effort?

Because a mind map is a tree chart and only one of those many diagrams. Mind maps have their limits (though not many people can reach that). Using just mind maps to visualize information severely limits your expression.

The fix: Merge your mind maps with other diagrams and tools

A lot of charts go well with mind maps. One of them is the concept map.

You can also mix mind maps with PPT, notes, and outlines. In XMind, you can directly switch between outline and mind map mode.

To further the merging, you can export mind maps to various file formats so that you can edit in other software.

XMind can export mind maps to PNG, PDF, MS Word and more.

Mistake #7: Repetitive creation

Forced creation might seem to build up a habit of being creative. It may not help you at all if you are repeating yourself.

If you find yourself making similar mind maps for days, you might consider challenging yourself of new forms or new ideas. The challenge is not just a concern for visual design but also your understanding of specific concepts or information.

The fix: Copy from the experienced

Copying from the masters is the most effective way. “Copy” seems to be a negative term. However, the legendary creative artist Twyla Tharp does not agree.

In her best-seller book, The Creative Habit, she summarizes her core secret in creativity as “getting busy copying.” She thinks that

Following in someone else’s footprints is a vital means of acquiring a skill.

There are two types of communities that can help you. One is visual diagram communities like XMind Share and Biggerplate. The other is industry-specific forums that relate to your career, say freeCodeCamp and Cardano Education.

Mistake #8: No group mind mapping

Mind mapping is helpful for self-reflection, but keeping it only to yourself limits its benefits.

Complex problem solving requires opinions and knowledge from different stakeholders. Don’t be shy from showing off your masterpieces :-). Get your friends’ wisdom.

The fix: Collaborative mapping

Collaborative mapping enhances knowledge acquisitions. According to one study from the University of York, it found that all collaborations improve learning effectiveness. Still, distributed collaboration performs significantly better than other types.

Then what is distributed collaboration? It is a combined work of multiple standalone editings.

The collaboration starts with the participants deciding the sequence of editors and the duration of each editing. Each session, only one editor can edit the map. The other members can only view the latest finished map before the editor releases his finished version. Then the next member continues the same process until everyone finishes.

Mistake #9: No mind mapping for STEM

Maybe after some reading, you have the impression that mind maps are only for creative disciplines. However, studies have repeatedly proved that mind maps are also useful for more structured subjects.

Learning of applied sciences like chemical engineering and medical science can all benefit from mind mapping.

The fix: Try to create mind maps for “not-suitable” disciplines

List out areas in which you think is entirely impossible for mind mapping, and try to create mind maps for them. Many of them might end up as trash. However, even one serendipity can worth those efforts and help you think out of the box.

Final thoughts

We have long heard about the famous theory of 10,000-hour-practice. It is possible to use much less time to master a new skill. But the point is this: becoming a good mind mapper is not an overnight process.

So, don’t feel bad if you don’t get mind mapping right at first ;-).


Got questions? Hit me up in the comments or tweet me.