How to develop your own system

A “mind mapping system” is the way you use, add and apply colors, icons, connections and such. Now, you won’t need a cleverly devised mind mapping system for the occasional brainstorming or to-do list, but when you work with mind maps on a regular basis, and especially if you use them for work or studying purposes, such a system can help you save tremendous amounts of time. Instead of reinventing the wheel every time you create a new map, you can resort to a time-tested set of icons and color codes that help you create and read your maps a lot faster and add meaning to them. So let’s get started:

Color codes

Judo belts, hospitals and traffic lights have one thing in common: They all use color codes to quickly relay certain kinds of information to people. In a hospital, a “Code Blue” is universally understood as cardiac arrest; a black belt in martial arts signifies great competence of the practitioner; a red light in traffic means stop. And while there is no “one true color code” that’s applicable to every system, there are most certainly at least a few colors that carry connotations for each one of us. The trick is to find and use the ones that feel the most natural to you.

Don’t forget that there are different parts of your map that can be color coded: the lines, the connections, the keywords, the circles around the keywords, their backgrounds, and so on. Here is an example for a color code that could be used in project planning:

  • Grey keywords

    “Idea not yet approved”

  • Orange keywords

    “Need more information”

  • Red background


  • Blue border

    Time related information


Just like colors, icons are able to carry meanings and messages that can reduce your writing efforts greatly. Instead of adding notes to your topics that explain their status or their affiliation to a certain group, you can just appoint icons for those meanings and then use those icons in all your maps. After the first two or three maps you will know them by heart and whenever you will see an icon in one of your maps, you will recognize its meaning instantly. Here are a few examples of icons you could use in project planning:

That’s a go-ahead Done Work in progress

Another advantage of using icons is MindMeister's filter view: MindMeister lets you not only search your maps for keywords, but also filter them for icons (among other things). Imagine having a big project mapped out and looking for a way to quickly show all unfinished tasks. All you have to do is filter for the icon you have assigned for this case (a yellow flag, a red LED or one of our task symbols) and MindMeister will highlight all topics marked with the icon.

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