Outlines vs. Mindmaps

I sometimes get asked about where I use outlining tools versus mind mapping tools. I can see why those lines could be confused. Both tools are good at taking a bunch of inputs and letting you organize them later. For me, the distinction is all about chaos and order. Specifically, where outlines are best for taking generally organized information and making it more organized, mind maps are all about taming chaos.

For instance, when I was making the initial attempt at organizing the Photos Field Guide, I used a MindNode-based mind map. I didn’t have a clear path when I started that project, and I needed to just get ideas on the screen so I could start organizing. By using a mind map, I saw there were multiple organizational paths for that course. Using the mind map also helped me determine to group courses by platform rather than topic.

Other good examples of mind map tasks, for me, are where I’m learning something new or when I have to get my head wrapped around my own thoughts on a topic. In that case, I start up a new mind map and add to it slowly.

On the flip side, when I create a chronology for a client matter, a project that is, by nature, linear, I start with an outline. I’ll do the same thing outlining contracts or planning structured long-form blog posts. Another place I often use outlines is when attending what feels, to me at least, like a structured lecture. You can just tell when the speaker has a beginning, middle, and an end, and those fit best as outlines.

Whether you are using mind maps or outlines, Cooking Ideas still works. This is the technique I’ve talked about in the past where you start to map or outline early, and come back to it every day or two with your subconscious mind doing the heavy lifting. If you can get started on a project this way early enough, it sometimes feels like the work does itself.

My weapons of choice these days for both? MindNode for mind maps. OmniOutliner for outlines. Both cover all the Apple platform devices and make it really easy to jump between devices and resume.

MindNode Adds Editable Outlining

Today marks the release of MindNode 2021.01 on the Mac with a new editable outline. This feature lets you import data into MindNode in either outline or mind map format and updates across the app. By adding the ability to edit your mind map in outline format, the tool becomes more flexible depending on how you are thinking.

There’s also a new visual design on the outline. This feature is currently just on the Mac version of MindNode Plus. The developers intend to add the feature to the iPhone and iPad versions in a few months.

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MindNode Update for iOS 14

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MindNode, my mind mapping app of choice, got a nice update for iOS 14. The new update adds widgets to give you quick access to your maps from your Home Screen. I primarily use MindNode on my iPad, and looking at this new widget, I really wish Apple would open the iPad Home Screen up for more widgets. The good news is that the MindNode will also be coming to Big Sur.

The new version also supports the magic keyboard with some innovative features like pointer gestures. You can Shift + Drag to connect nodes and Option + Click to create new nodes. This all dramatically speeds up the process. They’ve also added a context menu for notes, connections, and images. Finally, MindNode also has scribble support so you can add titles and connections with your Apple Pencil.

The reason I use MindNode is that because the work I do in the app is inherently creative. It’s a time when the very last thing I need is the software to get fiddly with me. I want to create and connect nodes with zero friction. MindNode has always understood that, and this update is right in line with that purpose.

MindNode 7 Released


MindNode, my favorite mind mapping app, recently released version 7. The new version adds visual tags to your maps with colored dots you can drop in at the end of nodes. It gives you one more visual tool for mind mapping, and their uses go as far as your imagination. I’ve been using them to represent progress as I work through the Keyboard Maestro Field Guide update nodes. The tags work on both iOS and Mac platforms and they are an excellent addition.

The app also still has that clean design that I love and the ability to jump between mind maps and outlines in the application.

MindNode has also shifted the business model to a subscription pricing plan to help support future development. ($2.49/month or $19.99/year) Even though they’ve made this move, they are making the new update with visual tags a free upgrade to existing MindNode 5 and 6 customers. When I first got into mind mapping, the software was hundreds of dollars and couldn’t hold a candle to MindNode. I use MindNode nearly every day, so the $20 per year price tag is an easy decision for me.


MindNode 6 Released with Focus Mode and Additional New Features

MindNode, my mind mapping app of choice, continues to iterate and improve with the recent release of version 6. This new version features a “Focus Mode” that lets you focus on one section of your map while removing the rest. It’s an excellent way to minimize distractions when you are drilling in on a small part of your map.

For iOS, they have added the ability to select multiple objects. Anytime you can add more power to the iPad version, I’m happy. (I do most of my mind mapping on the iPad.) Another nice addition on iOS is external screen support. A helpful refinement with this external support is the ability to lock that view, which can make a lot of sense when sharing a map with a group of people.

There are additional features such as sticker search, customizable panels on IOS, Chinese localization, and better keyboard shortcuts, but, in all honesty, they had me with Focus Mode.

This new version is a free update to MindNode 5 customers.

MindNode 5 Releases and Screencasts

This week MindNode version 5 released (App Store). This is a great update to an already useful application. MindNode is the application where I finally “got it” concerning mind mapping. I particularly like using it on my iPad. Using mind mapping, I’m able to long-term plan big projects in a way that is more efficient, and frankly better, than any method I’ve ever used before. I talked about this at length on the Mac Power Users episode a few years ago about cooking ideas.

The reason I like MindNode, in particular, is because it has both power and simplicity. This new version is no different. They managed to keep all of MindNode’s power features while at the same time simplifying their implementation and their look. The application now has some good looking artwork right in the app that adds a visual component to your mind map without looking dopey (like so much clipart does).

The new version also makes it easier to expand and collapse nodes giving your brain different looks of your project and hopefully helping different synapses connect with each other at the same time.

Of course, the application still syncs between your Mac, iPad, and iPhone so you’ll have the ability to add to and modify your mind map from anywhere. 

If you’ve never really tried mind mapping, you should. I find it makes a significant improvement in the quality of projects that I ship. And if you’re interested, there is no better app for getting started than MindNode. Listen to the above linked MPU episode, get a copy of MindNode, and give it a try. Also, I did some videos on the new version for the gang at MindNode to show off the app and its features. It’s almost 50 minutes of video on mind mapping and will help you get started.

New MindNode Screencast Series

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I like to use mind mapping to plan out projects. For several years now, my weapon of choice for mind mapping has been MindNode. MindNode, for me, is the right balance of features and ease-of-use. MindNode’s easy to pick up, syncs over iCloud, and I use it all the time. I’ve done a set of five screencasts using MindNode explaining the why and how of mind mapping from my perspective and you can watch them all over at the MindNode website. Below is the first video. Enjoy.

MindNode for Mac 2.0

The gang over at MindNode has been busy re-writing MindNode for Mac and today we get to see the final product with the release of MindNode 2.0 (App Store) (Website).

Having used the beta for a month, I heartily recommend the new version (which is on sale for a short time). For me, MindNode has sat in that sweet spot with just enough features to satisfy me but not so many as to make the application overly complex. 

This application has always had a nice clean design and been very easy-to-use. With the new update, they continue with that same design philosophy but adds several new powerful features:

Outline Mode

I have this left brain/right brain thing constantly going on where I want to see my data visually as a mind map but also in outline format. For some time MindNode has had the ability to display your mind map as an outline on iOS. Now it has that feature on the Mac too.


You can now add notes to any node in your mind map. It’s a great way to remove clutter but also add more information at the same time.


The new version includes its own built in library of clipart that you can use throughout your mind map. The artwork is superb and fits the aesthetic of MindNode perfectly. I never used clipart before in mind maps because I always thought it looked silly. I’ve started using it with this new version and I’m quite happy with it.

Web Access

Stuck on a computer without MindNode installed? No problem. You can now access your documents on the web. It supports folding and unfolding of nodes and displaying attached notes.

MindNode is currently on sale for $19.99 which is 33% off its normal retail price.

MindNode for iOS, Version 3

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There’s an update out for the MindNode for iOS today and it’s a doozy.  I first started buying this mind mapping application when it was just on the Mac. Actually, that was before there was an iPad. 

The thing that always attracted me to MindNode was the simple interface and, frankly, low-cost. For the longest time mind-mapping applications were one of those rare breeds where everything cost at least $200 and looked like it was created by Enterprise-class UI designers. In other words, ugly as sin. MindNode came to the game with a nice, simple mind mapping application with an attractive interface and a price tag of around twenty dollars. It didn’t have every feature under the sun but I didn’t need every feature under the sun. I needed a place to quickly create simple mind maps for my simple mind.
MindNode eventually made it to iOS and for several years I’ve kept it in a folder. Even though MindNode has always been my first choice on the Mac, it has also always played second fiddle on my iPad to iThoughts HD. That is no longer the case. This update puts MindNode on an equal footing with iThoughts HD for me, which is saying something.
MindNode’s developer has been aggressively updating the application culminating in today’s update. The user interface got an iOS 7 overhaul and it looks great. The built-in themes have great typography and color choices and you can quickly switch between them. The below gallery shows a few. There’s also a custom theme if you want to set your own colors, typography and other settings. I’ve been using, primarily, the “Delight” theme as I’ve used this application through the beta period and it serves nicely.

Another feature that has grown on me is the outline mode. There is an outline button in the top-right corner of the application. Tapping on it builds an outline from the mind map. The outline has hierarchical disclosure triangles that you can use to expose or hide various portions of the outline and tapping on an entry in the outline takes you to that entry on the mind map. This is quite useful for the way I “do” mind mapping.

The application also now supports keyboard shortcuts. Three spaces gets a child node and three carriage returns gets a sibling node. These are the same shortcuts found in iThoughts HD and they greatly speed up mind map creation.


There are multiple export options including email, Dropbox, camera roll, and your printer.  You can also send your MindNode mind map to other applications. When you export a mind map, MindNode gives you several formatting options including the MindNode document format, FreeMind, PNG, text outline, OPML, and PDF. For example, the below screenshot shows my MindNode mind map in Omni Outliner 2 for iPad. I sent it directly using OPML export.


While there are plenty of legitimate knocks against iCloud, file sharing with iCloud in an application like MindNode just works. I own copies of MindNode for the Mac, iPad, iPhone and my mind maps sync flawlessly across the various devices. 

When I work on mind maps, I am literally cooking ideas and the soup always tastes better if I spend small bits of time over a long period of time instead of trying to knock it all out in one long session. I need the ability to fiddle with mind maps from anywhere. As a result, having mobile access and painless syncing is a big deal for me.

Both MindNode and iThoughts HD are high quality apps but also reflect different priorities. iThoughts HD still has the edge for export formats, customization, and features but for the way I mind map, I’ve come to the realization that MindNode works better. In the end, MindNode’s clean UI, simpler design, and iCloud sync win out and MindNode now sits on my home screen.

This is a free update. If you haven’t already purchased the application, you can get it in the App Store for $9.99. Also, learn more at the developer’s website. MindNode for iOS works both on the iPad and iPhone.