When brainstorming ideas for a new website, product or tool, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement or rush of creativity that comes with creating something new. It's important to use this rush to motivate yourself and actually create something, however it's even more important and necessary to take a step back, breathe, look at things objectively and make a plan of action. It can save you a lot of time and hassle later on down the road, or even change your idea completely.

Visualize Your Thoughts

The easiest way to do this is to write everything about your idea down on a piece of paper. It's important to plan ahead during the brainstorming process, as chances are your time is valuable and should be spent wisely. Try to ask yourself:

  • Why am I making this? Does it solve a need?
  • Is it worth the effort? How?
  • Can it be monetized? Does it need to be?
  • How much will it cost to do this, in terms of time and money? Can I afford this?
  • What does it need to have? What do I ultimately want from it?

Mind Maps

Wikipedia defines a mind map as "a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea." Simply put, a mind map the visualization of your idea and concepts using a diagram. Mind maps can be a valuable asset in brainstorming and planning ahead, as they can offer an overview of what you are trying to achieve and how each element interacts with each other.

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Mind maps can be used for anything you can think of - from class presentations to database schemas, they are perfect for understanding relationships between objects. I've found that at times of frustration, looking back at my notes and mind maps can help to focus my thought process and even boost moral, as I can see a visual representation of the end-product or goal.

The following are some tools that can help you visualize your thoughts using mind maps:

FreeMind

A Java-based, open-source tool that is cross-platform and has an active community of developers.

Mindomo

Mindomo is a web-based tool that has an interface similar to Microsoft Word (complete with an extensive ribbon). Being web-based, you can access your mind maps from any computer with internet access. Their paid plans also allow multiple people to make edits or comment on existing mind maps.

XMind

XMind claims it is the "world's coolest brainstorming and mind mapping software and the best way to share your ideas" and while I wouldn't go that far, their software is pretty excellent. They are open source and provide a host of features, the coolest (in my opinion) being that you can easily export maps as HTML, images or just plain text. You can also share your work online, or check out maps that others have shared.

MindMeister

Similar to Mindomo, MindMeister is another web-based tool that lets you create and collaborate on mind maps. This is probably the simplest and most user-friendly of the bunch - in fact, it's so easy a caveman could do it. Their premium/paid plans have the added bonus of file uploads, offline editing capabilities and custom branding.