Simple question, right? Where do YOU put the focus in your mind map? It seems that this question is easier asked than answered. Let’s explore this in more detail so you can create mind maps that help you achieve your goal.
Focus And Attention
The moment you put your attention on something and you keep it there, it means you are focusing. What usually happens when you do this correctly is that you see less of the world around you and you are able to concentrate more on the topic of your interest.
This is important if you want to stay in a state where you can learn faster, be more productive, convince people, etc.
Imagine you have a normal mind map wherein you placed many, many images and colours in it. You show this during your sales presentation to that important client. What would his initial reaction be? Probably he will be overwhelmed by the overload of information coming towards him. Sure, you get his attention but oftentimes the result would be that he would lose focus on the most important things and eventually you lose him altogether. Whether you go on giving your sales pitch it wouldn’t matter anymore because you already lost your client’s attention right from the very start. And it is extremely difficult to get his attention back.
Now you have a map with two branches, with one image, and 2 sub levels in each branch. Your offer is written bigger and in blue, the details are smaller and written in a grey colour. You show this to your client. What is hi response you think? He will absolutely understand what you are talking about! You can talk with him about the offer, make it more fitting, and close the deal. You get his attention by helping him focus on the important stuff.
Now what can you do with your own mind maps? Here are a couple of suggestions you can use to update your map, or improve your map to help you get more attention and focus.
Images vs Words
Usually the mind mapping books tell you to use many images. The centre of the map should be a big image with a lot of colours. Do you think this is important for your maps as well?
I believe images are nice, but only if you use them when they are really needed. No need to use them on every single branch in your map. They take a lot of time to find, add, draw, and they take away the attention on the important stuff.
Words are a lot easier to add and to use. Start with that and then see if images are needed.
TIP: Don’t use (too many) images when you can use words and get the same results
Abstract vs Detail
Often the centre of the map is much more abstract than the detailed outside of the map. Where do you want to put most of the focus for the user of the map? On the abstract information or on the details.
I am sure this totally depends on the goal of the map. Still, when you are using a map for studying, I think you better understand the outline of your topic first (more abstract), and then change the map to show you many more details. The general outline becomes less interesting once you know this.
You see, this way the map changes when your knowledge and understanding change. Understand this and apply it to make the map more powerful.
TIP: When details are more important, show that in your map. No need to give the abstract information too much space if it is not really important
BIG vs small
Ever wondered why text near the centre of the map should be written in larger letters and the text towards the outside of the map? In the beginning this could/might be important, but after a few minutes it loses its value.
Sure, you could say that when you write large characters near the outside, there is less room for the content. I agree… but is it necessary to use the same size on each branch level?
I completely disagree with that!
No need to have the same size font on the second level, and the same smaller size font on the fourth level. That just doesn’t make sense!
What you should do is make the important things which require your attention a lot bigger than the rest. This is what your brain does as well.
Take for example the outline of your home in a mind map and your mind.
In your mind map the rooms have the same size font. Than the items in the room have the same size. Then, for instance, the usage of those items have smaller sizes.
In your mind this absolutely doesn’t work that way. Your own room, office, study room is perceived a lot larger than the attic, shed, kitchen or any other place in your home. And your most important items are probably more important than your room. Or what you do with them is represented by really large feelings, thoughts and emotions in your mind.
So why don’t you use this in your mind maps?
Why don’t you just use a larger font if you feel things are important. And the other way around, why don’t you use smaller fonts for the stuff that isn’t important? I can’t imagine all the things in the second layer of your map are equally important. So why present them that way?
TIP: Change the font size of the important and unimportant parts of your map
Crowded vs Empty
Many people create maps which are really crowded. They add and add and add information just as long as they have an overview that is almost one large bubble of words and images.
What do you think makes more of an impression and captures the attention? A word in a bubble of words…or a word in a bubble that is surrounded by white space?
Of course the second word is seen many times more than the first word. Don’t create maps with too much information or too many words/images. You are doing yourself and your reader of the map a favor when you create minimalist maps that show exactly what is needed in a simple manner. This is a topic by itself so for now just understand that you need to make use of the white space surrounding information.
Colors vs Grey
No need to use colours in your map when they are not really useful. Sure, you can create a map that is like a carnival to your visual senses. But what good does that do to you or your reader? Remember, you are not in the business of creating mind maps that look pretty. You are here to use maps to help you achieve your business, personal or academic goals. The map is only a tool.
I would use colours when I could choose between images and colours. A colour is added in seconds. An image is often taking a whole lot more time (try finding the exact image first…).
When you create a map with only grey text, and a few yellow and red highlighted words, you know what draws the attention, right?
TIP: Use colours to help you get the message across. Use it when you can really make a difference. Don’t overuse it.
Personal vs Shared
A map can be something you create for yourself, or for other people. When you create the map for yourself you know what is important.
Looking at presentations or meetings where you use a mind map, you need to know what your audience really needs to know. When you do, you can guide them towards the end situation you have in mind by putting their focus on the items that are important.
This isn’t cheating, it is making use of the way minds work. People like to be shown what to believe. It takes way too much energy to figure everything out yourself. So if you can come along and help a person by using your map to make a good decision, why don’t you spend a little more time and create the perfect map for that!
TIP: Understand the outcome you try to achieve and update the map accordingly
Clear Story vs Information
Often people just create a mind map and add information in various branches. The end result is a map that isn’t logical, but it has all the information you need.
What do you think would happen if you created a map that doesn’t just give information. What would happen if you created a story of the information. You know… an actual story that has an introduction, gives the important pieces of information, relates them, shows solutions and closes with a real glimpse of what could happen next?
That story would be amazing, right?
For all the sales people, teachers, trainers, business leaders, manager and all the other people who need to show something to other people that isn’t there yet… USE THIS!
TIP: People love stories. Don’t just throw information in a map and think you are done. Make a real effort into making the information turn into knowledge and understanding!
To Make Sure You Get This…
So there you have it. Many factors determine the focus of your mind map. It is up to you to determine what you need to do. Unfortunately there is not a one-approach-fits-all solution.
What I can tell you is that you really need to think about this. The wrong focus in a wonderful mind map makes the map a whole lot less powerful. So you could have literally wasted hours on a nice looking map that is not helping you achieve your goal.
I always find it very strange that people create maps that are not balanced in their content. No, I don’t mean that the map should look pretty. I want a map to help me achieve a certain goal. If the map isn’t doing that, I don’t need the map or I have to work on it a little more.
For all you people who really want to have some important pointers to improve the focus in their map, here you go:
Tell a really clear story: branches need to tell the story from A to Z in a good order. Don’t just put stuff in the map at random and hope the map works for you or your audience
Make the important stuff BIGGER. Don’t worry if this is near the outside of the map where, according to theory the words should be written smaller. You are not creating a map to map a nice theoretical overview. You need to achieve results!
Remove access images and colours. Only add them if they add value. If they don’t simply don’t add them.
So there you go. 3 simple things you can do to help you add more focus to your map.