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Free Your Mind with XMind

Free Your Mind with XMind

Free Your Mind with XMind

    Mind-mapping is a popular tool for brainstorming ideas, outlining projects, and organizing information. While some people feel most comfortable mind-mapping with pencils or pens and paper, others enjoy the ease and accessibility of software-based mind-mapping, and there are a variety of tools designed to help make, share, and store mind-maps on your computer. Some, like MindManager and iMindMap are powerful, enterprise-level programs, with price tags to match; free programs like FreeMind don’t have the same features, but for daily use by individuals, they are quite powerful and capable tools. There are even a range on online mind-mapping tools like bubbl.us and Mind42.

    My new favorite mind-mapping tool is XMind, a free, open-source mind-mapping program with a useful (though limited) online component. XMind is incredibly easy to use, allowing you to make and share good-looking mind-maps (and flowcharts, outlines, org charts, and other visual representations of textual data) with a minimum of fuss.

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    Features

    XMind Logo

      XMind is a free download for Windows, Mac, or Linux computers. It is quite intuitive to use — for standard mind-maps, simply select a node, hit “Enter” to create a sibling node (one at the same “level”) or “Tab” to create a “child” node (one under whatever level you’re currently at). When you create a new node, just start typing to create a label, hit “Enter” when you’re done, and hit “Enter” or “Tab” to continue with a new node. If you want to edit or change the label on any node, just double-click it.

      A sidebar panel contains a hierarchical representation of your mind-map, for quick navigation, and below that formatting options to change both the appearance (font, colors, etc.) and the structure of your mind-map — you can switch “on-the-fly” from a standard bubble-map to an org-chart, fishbone chart, outline, or several other pre-configured layouts.

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      XMind is drag-and-drop enabled, too, so you can move nodes around in relation to each other. A set of limited drawing tools allows you to create secondary connections between items, or group them together.

      Nodes take more than just labels. You can attach external files, embed images, insert hyperlinks, and attach notes, all from the right-click menu or the standard menu bars.

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        Exporting and Sharing

        Once your mind=map is done, you can export it in a number of formats: images (bmp, jpeg, gif, and png are all supported), HTML, or text are available, as well as XMind’s own formats.

        XMind also includes an online web-based component where you can post your mind-maps for public viewing and sharing. Users can download any of the mind-maps in the public repository and import them into their own install of XMind. You can also embed mind-maps into your website.

        Unfortunately, private sharing is unavailable in the free version; if you want to use XMind to collaborate on sensitive topics, you will need to use the Pro version.

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        Pro features

        Other features lacking from XMind’s free version but available with a paid upgrade include new views — such as GANTT charts and a GTD todo item feature; a presentation view allowing users to show mind-maps in full-screen; the ability to record audio notes (useful for recording a lecture while mind-mapping your notes — notes are time-tied to the recording itself); and more export formats including PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and MindManager.

        The Pro version is not particularly affordable, unfortunately. In fact, the developers have chosen to license XMind Pro with a subscription model, which is quite unfortunate. To upgrade, expect to shell out $6.00 a month, or $49 a year. I realize that users are getting ongoing access to the web features, but I would much rather see a one-time fee for what is primarily a traditional, desktop-based piece of software.

        I’m also surprised to see that, with so many online mind-mapping apps out there, XMind has not make it possible to create, edit, and clone mind-maps using the online interface. The upload, share, download, and edit model now is hardly an effective way to collaborate — it would be easier just to email the files back and forth, and just as unsatisfactory. Hopefully XMind will continue to develop the online component to add true live collaboration in the near future.

        Conclusion

        Despite some small faults (which are really external to the program itself), XMind is a fine mind-mapping program. For individual users who don’t need to work collaboratively, XMind has all the features you should need, with a very low learning curve. It’s effective and even fun to use — and that’s key, because mind-mapping is all about transforming work into creative play in order to unleash your inner creativity. Longtime readers of this site know I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with mind-mapping, but with XMind, I was able to start producing really useful mind-maps in a matter of minutes.

        I highly recommend you try it out for yourself: XMind.

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        Last Updated on January 21, 2020

        Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

        Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

        Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

        This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

        The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

        The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

        Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

        Curiosity

        Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

        People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

        Patience

        Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

        When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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        Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

        A Feeling for Connectedness

        This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

        A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

        The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

        How to Self-Taught Effectively

        With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

        1. Research

        Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

        Learning the Basics

        Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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        Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

        What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

        Hitting the Books

        Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

        Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

        Long-Term Reference

        While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

        My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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        2. Practice

        Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

        A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

        Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

        Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

        3. Network

        One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

        These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

        Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

        Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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        4. Schedule

        For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

        Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

        Final Thoughts

        In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

        If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

        At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

        More About Self-Learning

        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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