Mind maps have a lot of different uses in modern-day knowledge work, and in this guide I want to highlight one very specific use that mind maps were simply built for: condensing and consolidating material.
We’ve discussed multiple uses of mind maps on Asian Efficiency before:
- 7 Everyday Mind Mapping Uses.
- Effective Brainstorming with Mind Mapping.
- Goal Setting with Mind Mapping.
- Our mind mapping resource page.
But what exactly is “condensing and consolidating material”?
It’s when you want to get a very quick uptake of knowledge on a subject. It’s for when you’re learning about something new. It’s for when you want to find out about all the essentials of a subject area, and cut out all the fluff.
The process of condensing and consolidating material can be useful for:
- Students studying a course, be it in university or otherwise.
- Business people who want to dive into a new subject area that will help them professionally – perhaps financial ratios, strategic planning or direct response marketing.
- Anyone who wants to learn something new, and wants to combine the best knowledge out there into an easy learning format.
In this guide we’ll cover 3 different processes for creating these mind maps – you can pick and choose which works best for your situation.
Before we start, it’s worth highlighting that the most important part of any of these processes is that you establish upfront exactly how deep you want to go in terms of knowledge, and to remember that there is a big difference between applicable knowledge and knowledge simply for the sake of knowledge.
Let’s get into it.
- Version 1: The Thorough Go-Through. For when you absolutely need to be thorough or have mandated reading about a topic area.
- Version 2: The Shortcut. For when you need only the essentials.
- Version 3: The Over Time. For when you want to spend weeks if not months acquiring new knowledge about a topic.
Version 1: The Thorough Go-Through
The first way that you can use mind maps to condense and consolidate material is knows as The Thorough Go-Through. It is the most similar method to traditional learning and is actually fairly straightforward.
The process looks like this at a high-level:
- Find 3-5 resources on the topic that you want to learn.
- Read, listen to or learn from each.
- Create a mind map for each resource.
- Take the mind maps you have created and merge them all into one mind map.
You’ll notice that this process is very well-suited for say college or university students, where they are learning from a series of lectures, tutorials, different texts and other resources. It also works equally well in the business arena when you need to be absolutely thorough about a given topic.
Let’s break this down into detail.
1. Find 3-5 resources
Assuming that your resources aren’t mandated by a curriculum or professional body, you can pick and choose our own resources.
I personally prefer books when I’m diving into a new topic – I’ll either go to Amazon.com and look at the bestsellers or highest-rated books in a given category, or ask friends/mentors for recommendations.
You can also include specialized self-study training courses like the Productivity Blueprint as your resources. These are fantastic, as they are like books but usually more condensed and contain a nice mix of audio, video and other learning mediums that can really give you a different perspective on a topic.
Resources can also be people. People are probably the fastest way to learn about a topic. Whether it’s attending a seminar or finding a mentor who knows about the topic area and buying them lunch, people are an invaluable resource from which to build knowledge.
The last resource of note are online articles (like this one!). The only thing about online articles is that most bloggers and journalists tend to write them short, and unless you’re reading something in-depth like the guides on Asian Efficiency, you’ll have to cover much more than 3-5 articles to gain any real depth of knowledge.
2. Read, listen and learn
The second step is straightforward – read, listen to or learn from each resource.
This happens in tandem with step 3.
3. Create a mind map for each resource
Creating a mind map after reading a book or while attending a seminar is an art form and process in and of itself. We’ve talked about it extensively on the blog before.
The general idea is to use a mind map to summarize the material you’ve covered into key ideas (less than 10 usually) and into sub-ideas and key points. You’ll also want to show connections between your different ideas.
4. Merge mind maps
The final step in this process is to merge (i.e., condense and consolidate) the 3-5 mind maps you’ve created into one single mind map.
The way to do this is to first, set aside all your learning for 2-3 days. Sleep on it, think on it, eat on it, rest on it. Let your subconscious do its job and form neural links in your head.
There is some debate as to whether the art of merging disparate sets of information is something that can be taught – and here at Asian Efficiency we believe that it can.
Your brain is an incredible information processing device, and can form connections if left on its own to do so.
So what we do, is we read over each of the mind maps, then we sit and think for a minute. Then we ask ourselves this question:
What are the most important points about this topic?
You’ll likely end up with 5-10 points about the topic area – which is fine.
So you start a new mind map with these 5-10 points, and use them as a framework for building a new, consolidated set of knowledge. It is highly suggested that you start with that new mind map, and just fill in information about each of the nodes as your brain feeds it to you – you’ll surprise yourself with exactly how much you know and are able to recall.
And then if you need to fill in additional details, you can reference back to any of the mind maps that you created for each individual resource and pull in specific points and information.
After going through this process you’ll have a mind map of the topic area that is extremely condensed, and also consolidated for quick reference – and consolidated in such a way that it makes sense to you. Everything on the mind map will trigger neural associations in your brain, and each association ties into more associations which then tie into all the data and information you have taken in.
Version 2: The Shortcut
The second way to use mind maps to consolidate and condense material is called The Shortcut.
It is essentially what you do when you only have a couple of days to get a very quick uptake in a topic area, or when you simply just want to save time.
Here’s how it works:
- Talk to an expert OR read a bunch of summary articles.
- Start a mind map with the most important ideas.
- Research each node of the mind map and fill in as much detail as needed.
- “Gut feel” check to see if you’ve completed enough detail.
This method and process is more suited if say you have to prepare a slide deck in 3-4 days or if you need to give a talk on short notice, or if you simply want to get an overview of the most important information in a topic area. It can also be a good way to start your research into an entirely new topic area – think of it as an exploration, before the deep dive.
Here’s each step covered in detail.
1. Talk to an expert OR read summary articles
The easiest way to get caught up in a topic area is to talk to an expert in that area. It could be a seminar, friend or mentor. The reason for this is because that expert has often spent years studying that area, and they know all the most important things already – and they also know the things that are not that important.
For example, if I wanted to learn about financing or venture capital for startups, I’d likely call up a friend involved in startups and take him/her out to lunch the next time I’m in the US.
Now if you don’t have access to an expert, the next best thing is to read online summary articles. Wikipedia can be great for this. Blogs or websites that have a depth of knowledge and that specialize in a particular topic area (like Asian Efficiency!) are also great for this.
For example if someone wanted to learn about productivity, I would recommend that they read our recommended articles or the Asian Efficiency Primer to get a very quick uptake of the important topic areas about productivity.
What you are essentially doing in this first step is finding out the 20% of knowledge and information that counts in a given topic area – and selectively the 80% bulk that is less important.
2. Start a mind map
The second step in this particular process is to start a mind map, and populate it with the main 7-10 ideas that you’re learned from your expert or summary articles.
Note that this will be a “best guess”, but it will be good enough for now and you can always refine them down the line.
3. Research details
Now that you have a rough outline of your topic area and the things within it that you are interested in, it’s time to do some rapid research.
You can start by looking more into the Wikipedia entry for the topic. Or, you can selectively read chapter from books that cover the more general topic area. You can also read online articles, or talk to others involved in the field.
The key here is to be selective about your reading – remember that you don’t need to read the whole book if only 5-10 pages are relevant to the node that you’re researching. Just read those 5-10 pages. It also helps if you can speed read.
Continue this step until you’ve covered all the nodes in what you consider “enough detail”.
4. “Gut Feel” check
When you’re done filling out the mind map in as much detail as you think you need, you’ll want to do a “gut feel” check to see if you’ve covered enough material.
The best way to do this is to sleep on it and let the ideas run through your mind for at least one night.
Then, you can read back over the mind map again and see if it’s enough – if it is, great. If not, then you can also do some more research (step 3) and add to it.
This version of condensing and consolidating material is obviously not as thorough as The Thorough Go-Through method. But it is a big timesaver, especially if you have a knowledgeable expert whom you can talk to in the beginning.
Version 3: The Over Time
The last process that we’ll cover for using mind maps to consolidate and condense material is The Over Time method.
This method is particularly suited for when you don’t have a dedicated time period set aside for learning about a topic area, or for when you’re doing a casual journey of exploration – when you don’t mind spending months, if not a year or more learning about a given field.
It is great for topic areas that are big – for example, a foreign language, or technical fields.
Note that you can also use The Thorough Go-Through method and simply extend it out over many months – and that becomes something similar to The Over Time method.
Here’s what the actual Over Time method looks like though:
- Start a blank mind map.
- Create nodes and information as you learn.
- Every now and then, consolidate.
1. Start a blank mind map
The Over Time starts off with a blank mind map – with nothing on it, except the main topic area as the central hub in the mind map.
2. Create nodes and information as you learn
As you start to learn about the filed of knowledge, create nodes on your mind map and populate them with information and key points and ideas as you go along. As you read more resources, create more nodes. As you learn more, create more sub-nodes and connections.
The trick here is not to limit yourself at all – you can create mind maps as big as you want, and in as much detail as you want, as time is not a factor in your learning of this particular topic area.
You can also go through as many resources of the different types as you want (books, seminars, experts, articles, courses etc).
3. Every now and then, consolidate
Every now and then (perhaps every time you finish learning from a resource), you’ll want to consolidate your mind map a bit.
You can do this by looking for nodes that have a lot of ideas related to each other, and streamlining them into a single node. You have to place trust in your subconscious that it knows what it is doing, because it does.
The actual mental process by which this consolidation happens is known as chunking up.
For example, apples and oranges are both fruits. If you have one node for apples and one for oranges, you can consolidate them into a node called “fruit”.
Another example would be taking ideas about revenue and expenses and consolidating them into “basic business numbers”.
A third example would be taking tasks, actions and outcomes and consolidating them into “goals”.
Because this is a process that happens over time, you can keep on repeating steps 2 and 3 of this particular method until you are satisfied that you have learned enough about the topic area.
All three methodologies and processes that we’ve covered in this guide work – it just depends on how much time you have, and what you want to do with the acquired knowledge.
- Version 1 is for when you want to be thorough.
- Version 2 is for when you are pressed for time.
- Version 3 is for when you want to explore, and take your time with a field of knowledge.
Questions, comments or otherwise? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out our mind mapping resource page.
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