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11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services

11 Free Mind Mapping Applications & Web Services

Mind mapping is a way of taking notes, capturing ideas, exploring concepts and breaking down information into a more readily understood format. It’s a place where visual representations and written representations of things merge to create something that is more natural to the mind; it works with and represents the way we think, where as paragraph-based text is not representative of the thought process at all.

There are a million and one uses for mind mapping. You can use it to study for a big exam. You can use it brainstorm new article ideas, or flesh out what needs to be covered in the business plan for a new venture. You can organize a big move of house; heck, I’ve seen people use the mind map format for their daily to-do lists (each to their own, eh?).

There are huge advantages to creating your mind maps with paper and pen. In fact, though I’ve tried many different mind mapping programs over the years, pen and paper remains my favorite way of creating them. Some would say that it is a part of the process. That said, there are distinct advantages in using software and sometimes you need to decide what the best tool for the job is on a case by case basis. For when that time comes, here are 11 free mind mapping applications and web services.

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Freemind is one of the most popular free mind mapping applications out there, and that’s mainly because it’s in Java and thus cross-platform (and because it’s a great app, of course). This software implements some of the major features that digital task lists have over paper task lists: retractable and expandable branches and hyperlinking between different branches make it easier to organize and easier to connect ideas.

bubble.us is a free web-based mind mapping application. You can sign up for an account in order to save your mind maps, but better still, they don’t force you to get an account to start creating. The interface could use some work to make it a truly usable application.

Semantik is a KDE Linux application for creating mind maps, though they can be viewed in different formats, such as a linear tree view with retractable and expandable branches.

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MindMeister is another web app with varying account options; there’s a free account, and several commercial options. It has a fairly nice design and interface in comparison with many other mind mapping web apps that are available.

RecallPlus is commercial software with a lighter free edition. It combines the process of mind mapping with flash card memorization techniques, and is aimed at students who wish to take notes and then test themselves using them. RecallPlus is a Windows application.

Mindomo is another mind mapping web app with both a free account option and a commercial one. It allows you to share your mind maps with others, and also embed them into your web pages.

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Mind42 is a totally free mind mapping web app and it is one of my favorites. The interface is a good one, and it has some excellent features such as easy navigation for large mind maps with zoom and birdview (and branch hiding, but that’s pretty standard these days), and the ability to attach notes and images to branches, which isn’t always allowed in “pure” mind mapping software. You can also link branches to other sites and see a preview when you rollover the link, which I think is probably the only appropriate use of those preview rollovers anywhere on the net.

Labyrinth is a very simple and basic mind mapping application for Linux and Windows.

Vym (View Your Mind) is an application for Mac OS X and various Linux distributions. There seems to be a Windows port, but it is accompanied by bug reports.

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WiseMapping is another web app for mind mapping which requires no browser plug-ins at all, which is fantastic when you don’t know which computers you’ll be using in a given day. You can share, export and publish your mind maps from the app and there is no commercial account option; everything is free and unlimited.

PersonalBrain is a cross-platform application. It’s a commercial application, but a lighter free edition is on offer. I thought the integration of a calendar with events that you can add was a particularly cool addition and means you can brainstorm in not just the conceptual realm but cross over into the earlier stages of planning as well.

Mind mapping is one of those areas where it has always been hard to find a good native OS X application. It always surprises me when I find more Linux options than OS X options! I tend to go for the web apps, but Freemind in particular is good for any user on any popular platform. If I were to suggest one particular web app, I’d suggest Mind42. While I’ve used the Windows and Linux apps before, I can’t give a strong recommendation as I’ve not used any for the long-term.

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Joel Falconer

Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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Last Updated on September 10, 2019

How to Master the Art of Prioritization

How to Master the Art of Prioritization

Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

Effective Prioritization

There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

My point is:

The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

More About Prioritization & Time Management

Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

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