Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Consider starting mind mapping? Congrats! However, be mindful; things might not turn out to be easy. When you begin to make a decent mind map, you might frown your eyebrows and get stuck.

The good news is, mind-mappers are less likely to screw up their maps if they notice the roadblocks. Below are nine mistakes beginners often make and tips for avoiding them.

Mind mapping for beginners

  1. Contents of mind maps come first, not the styling
  2. Accept the shitty first draft and enjoy the process
  3. Organize your mind maps with clear visual clues
  4. Present your mind maps vividly
  5. Combine tree charts with other tools to achieve a broader purpose
  6. Write down your goal
  7. Copy from the masters instead of repeating yourself
  8. Create or share mind maps in groups
  9. Use mind maps widely across disciplines

Mistake 1: Obsessed 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. Vital as it is, the graphic design process should follow after the idea generations. And this is not just for mind mapping. In print design industry, graphics and layout design come after all the contents creation.

What about switching between the styling and the writing process? While the task-hopping gives you a sense of accomplishment, it severely interrupts your thinking process. Researches have shown that even a short interruption can cause excessive stress and productivity loss of up to 40% at workplaces.

Solution: Content first, separation of concerns

Content is always the key. Anything else comes the second. If you still struggle to start a mind map, themes and quick-styling are great ways to free yourself from styling anxiety. XMind loves distraction-free mind mapping and provides the ZEN mode, in which nothing but just one mind map remains on your screen.

Mistake 2: “Perfect” mind maps

Mind maps can be vast and abundant in forms. However, when you start your idea generations, your ideas may be in the deficiency of both quantity and quality. Not content with your progress, you may try even harder to search for a perfect mind map idea.

However, “perfect” does not exist. Good creations come from polishing. The polishing is not just about ideas, but about the forms too. What is worse about perfectionism in mind mapping is weighing forms more than contents. Though Tony Buzan has delineated many rules around “perfect” types of mind mapping, many of the theories have been proved invalid. That’s why many universities are openly encouraging students to “employ the rules loosely and intuitively.”

Solution: Accept your shitty first draft and keep polishing it

Having a mediocre first draft is okay. Surprisingly, as a Medium blogger described, it is helpful. As soon as you start creating something visually, your mind gets inspired by your work. Comparing to thinking invisibly in your mind, the visible mind maps—no matter how bad they are—boost up your thinking speed. Researchers have proposed theories that it is the actions of map-building itself helps students to have a better memory. Pre-constructed maps, on the other hand, do not help students to learn.

Mistake 3: Too much clustering and confusing organization

Although you are encouraged to create a sophisticated and big mind map, please don’t abuse it because your audiences suffer. The details might bury your overall structure and main points.

In some cases, you might not be able to sit in front of your readers to walk-through and explain. That means you can’t risk scaring off your audience by showing them a large, clueless mind map. Even if you are your maps’ only reader, confusing mind maps are hardly reusable for your later reference.

Solution: Organize by clear visual clues

You can discover your tricks for organizing. A quick sanity check would be you glancing your maps upon completion. If you can capture the main point and structure within a few seconds, there should not be any problems.

XMind’s Senior Product Director Bruce Wong is good at this. Here’s an example from one of his mind maps on Mindmap Gallery.

Mistake 4: Your presentation is too stiff

Mind maps, unlike linear outlines, are better at audience engagement in casual presentations. However, when the first mind-mappers start, they often resort to creating brutally boring mind maps. We human are fun-seekers and want things to be dynamic and exciting.

Solution: Make your mind maps come to live

In software, there are many handy features available to make your maps lively. Adding GIFs, colored branches, and stickers can easily make your charts eye-catching. Diving specifically into one chapter guides your audience to focus on specific sections. By inserting attachment files-like audio and video-in your diagrams, you can engage your audience more during your presentation.

Mistake 5: You rely only on your mind maps

What is a mind map? A mind map is a tree chart with a central theme. That means mind maps have their limits (though not many people can reach that). The mind map is just one of the countless tools. If you stick only on mind maps to convey your ideas, you are severely limiting yourself in expression.

Solution: Merge your mind maps with other tools

XMind provides various export formats to help users connect with other software. Put mind maps inside your Evernote as an outline or inside a creative essay as a detailed knowledge map. Using it as part of your Google Slides is just another trick.

Mistake 6: Lost in details

Your ideas can grow big. When they unravel, you might get lost on the way. Brainstorming does not work unless everyone is giving constructive and relevant insights. Note-taking and infographics are even more rigid in the information listed. 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.

Solution: Write down your purpose

Yes, brutally plain. Put a topic on the top of your map with your purpose inside. Alternatively, write it down on some sheets before putting it somewhere you can quickly see. Every time you look at your goal visually, your brain gets reminded.

Mistake 7: Forced but repetitive creation

While forced creation might seem to build up a habit of being creative, it makes no sense if you are repeating yourself! If you find yourself making similar mind maps for days, you might consider to challenge yourself a bit. The challenge is not just a concern for visual design but also your understanding of specific ideas or information.

Solution: Copy from the experienced

Copying from the masters is the most effective way. “Copy” seems to be naturally negative. 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.” Communities like Mindmap Gallery and Biggerplate are platforms full of inspirations. Searching “mind maps” in the topic-specific communities like freeCodeCamp and Cardano Education might be even more straightforward.

Mistake 8: You keep your mind maps only to yourself

Mind mapping is a good way of self-reflection, but keeping it only to yourself is limiting its benefits. Complex problem solving requires opinions and knowledge from different stakeholders. However, don’t undermine your self-contemplation. Otherwise, group wisdom might turn into groupthink.

Solution: Share and collaborate in groups

Researchers from the University of York has experimented on three different types of collaborations and discovered that working real-time on the same map does not help to learn a lot. Instead, distributed collaboration boosts up the learning effectiveness significantly.

Distributed collaboration requires the group to decide the sequence of editors and editing time beforehand. During the map building, only one editor can edit the map, while others can just read the last map version before the current editor releasing his version and passing on to the next member. The group performs exceptionally well in that they combine self-contemplation with group wisdom. XMind provides several ways for you to achieve distributed collaboration on mind mapping.

Mistake 9: Only use mind maps in creative subjects

Maybe after reading some blogs or reports, you tend to have a feeling that mind maps are only for creative disciplines. However, studies have repeatedly proved that mind maps are also useful for more structured subjects like chemical engineering, medical science, patent law, and more. Knowledge itself has commonality.

Solution: 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. Inevitably, many of them might end up as a failure. However, even just one or two serendipity will help you think out of the box.


To sum up:

  1. Content first, separation of concerns
  2. Accept your shitty first draft
  3. Organize by clear visual clues
  4. Make your mind maps come to live
  5. Merge your mind maps with other tools
  6. Write down your purpose
  7. Copy from the experienced
  8. Share and collaborate in groups
  9. Use mind maps widely across subjects

Above is our guide for starting mind mapping. How about your experience? If you find these actions helpful, please leave a comment with “yes”. But if you find them not helpful, please leave a comment with “no” and tell us about your opinions. The reason we ask you this quesion is to tailor our blog posts more helpful to you. See you in the next post :).