Ever since I read about how Arif Vakil uses a “My World Mindmap” to organize his life, I started using mind maps. It is such an utterly simple concept but yet I still find it fascinating.

If you don’t know what a mind map is, think of it as writing a single topic idea on a piece of paper, then drawing out a tree with new ideas as branches. You can draw as many branches and sub-branches as you like. That’s it.

There are two purposes for which I use mind maps:

1. Brainstorming

Nothing gets my brain thinking and crazily jotting down thoughts like a mind map can. This happens because it is not a linear format and encourages branching out in different directions. At the same time, you can group related ideas together which means you don’t have to detail each idea, the phrases should have quite obvious meanings from the branching hierarchy.

2. Attention Economy

“Pay attention to what has your attention” is another gem that I learned from Arif.

I have forced myself to spend an hour every week and update a mind map that lists my actions in the past week. If my intentions on how I would like to spend my ideal week does not match my actual actions, then, the problem becomes quite obvious. Otherwise, it will be yet another case of “What? A week is already over. Time just flies…” and then months and years fly by (and it has) and you’ll wonder what you’ve been doing all along.

To break this chain, I started being conscious of what I’m doing. At first, I was shocked at the drastic gap between inspiration and execution. But by constant review of this attention mindmap, I’m getting better at todo lists.


The best mind mapping software that I’ve come across is XMind. It also happens to be open source and cross-platform.

It has a very nice simple and fluid interface, intuitive keyboard shortcuts, nice handy marker icons and most importantly, feels like a coherent software.

Install XMind and try this:

  • Click on the “Central Topic” rectangle. Press F2. Type “Life” and press enter key.
  • Press the Tab key. Press F2.  Type “Career” and press enter key.
  • Press the Enter key. Press F2. Type “Finances” and press enter key.
  • Press Shift+Enter keys. Press F2. Type “Family” and press enter key.

That’s it, you’ve now created a mind map and got a feel of the keyboard shortcuts.

But there is more.

  • Click on the ‘Finances’ rectangle.
  • Right click → Markers → Smiley → Boring
  • Click on the ‘Career’ rectangle.
  • Press F3. Add tags like ‘monthly review, skill’.
  • Press F4. Add your notes.
  • Press the Tab key and add subtopics like ‘The Big Goal’.
Sample of My World mind map

Continue filling out this mind map and you would have created your “World mind map”.

P.S. I’ve been thinking about writing more about productivity and lifehacks, so if this post was useful for you and would like to read about more such topics, please let me know.

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Jamie Larson