Mind maps, Spreadsheets, Notes: 7 top tools to structure your ideas

    Mind maps, Spreadsheets, Notes: 7 top tools to structure your ideas

    Training yourself to generate a steady stream of ideas is only half the battle. Ideation must not be mistaken for innovation — they aren’t synonyms. ...

    Training yourself to generate a steady stream of ideas is only half the battle. Ideation must not be mistaken for innovation — they aren’t synonyms. To win in business, you need to make sure that all your creative thoughts are structured, organized, and ready to be acted on.

    Since business is a uniquely “get things done” institution, creativity without action-oriented follow-through is a uniquely barren form of individual behavior. Actually, in a sense, it is even irresponsible. This is because:

    (1) The creative man who tosses out ideas and does nothing to help them get implemented is shirking any responsibility for one of the prime requisites of the business, namely, action; and (2) by avoiding follow-through, he is behaving in an organizationally intolerable—or, at best, sloppy—fashion.

    Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business Review

    For you to not fall a victim to such “business irresponsibility” and bring order to your creative process, we’ve put together a list of the most powerful tools for mind mapping, note taking, and collaborating online; prices included. 

    Read till the end of the article to find a solution that will bring your business to success!

    The best tools to organize creative ideas


    Source: Ayoa

    Before its rebranding in 2018, Ayoa used to be called iMindMap. It was a desktop app solely for mind mapping and capturing ideas. Since then, Ayoa has moved to the web, becoming a cloud-based tool and dramatically expanding the scope of functionality it offers. While Ayoa users still get access to a mind mapping tool, they can also take advantage of a heap of other features for project management. 

    Some of the key features Ayoa offers include:

    • Collaborative functionality. You can use the tool to jot down your own ideas or have a whole team working on the same project together, in real-time. 
    • A built-in chat and video-conferencing features allow teams to communicate with each other without any tab switcharoo. Concentrate on what matters in the moment and don’t scare the big idea away by being unfocused. 
    • Idea bank. When you’re brainstorming, it’s important to immediately write down every idea that comes to your mind. This is the only way you can maintain a steady stream of ideas and get past the initial ‘original idea block’. Keep the momentum going by adding your thoughts to the idea bank, so that all of them are safe and sound in one single place. This way, you can drag them into the mind map and categorize them later. 
    • Related groups allow you to organize your ideas by categorizing them.
    • Autohide allows you to focus on specific areas one at a time — you get to hide the clutter and concentrate on what’s important in the moment. 
    • Actionable tasks to specific branches allows you to turn your ideas into reality. By making sure you add due dates, indicate task priorities, and create checklists to break down large tasks into smaller steps, you increase your productivity tenfold. You can also add team members to tasks and assign responsibilities. 
    • A selection of views. Use canvas view to visualize your ideas, or switch to workflow view to manage your project on a kanban-style board.

    There are also a lot of native integrations Ayoa offers with Google Calendar, Zoom, Evernote, etc. So, if you’re lacking some functionality, you can always extend it yourself. 

    One of the most impressive features Ayoa offers (this is only available in the Ayoa Ultimate subscription plan) is an AI-powered brainstorming assistant. This nifty little feature is a blessing to all users stuck in a creative drought, unable to develop their ideas any further. The tool does the job for you and helps build upon your mind map with additional ideas, stimulating questions and concise explanations.

    Pricing: There’s a free 7-day trial; no credit card required. After that, pricing starts at €9 per user, per month, when billed annually.

    Explain Everything 

    Source: Explain Everything 

    While originally developed for educational purposes, Explain Everything has quickly become popular among entrepreneurs, creatives, and business people of all kinds. 

    The reason for this is that Explain Everything is a great tool for brainstorming sessions, presentations, and every other business activity that requires a digital whiteboard. Because, essentially, this is what Explain Everything brings to the table — a multifunctional tool for sharing ideas and making an impact. 

    Explain Everything has an extensive functionality that includes: 

    • Attachments. You can upload any type of document to the app, in order to support your ideas and share with your colleagues. PDF, images of different formats, GIFs, voice notes, videos, the best slide presentation — the options are limitless. 
    • Interactiveness. Everything you add to the whiteboard can be altered in any way. Explain Everything offers a wide range of shapes, lines and pencils to change the content in front of you, build visual connections between different concepts and ideas, and organize them neatly.  
    • Screencasting. The ideation process isn’t linear — you might wander off a thousand times before you stumble across a worthy one. Sometimes, it can be hard to remember how you got to an idea in the first place. Make sure you remember everything with Explain Everything’s recording feature. The tool allows its users to record both visuals and audio: after you press ‘record’, both sound and object movement is captured. 
    • Collaborative functionality. While Explain Everything provides you with an opportunity to create powerful presentations and share your screen for everyone in the room (or outside of it — the pandemic has definitely changed the way we work). It also allows you to turn a presentation into an interactive activity. Let everyone join a giant virtual space and make their contribution. 
    • Infinite canvas. A single productive brainstorming session is capable of birthing dozens and hundreds of ideas, and Explain Everything provides enough space for all of them. Simply zoom out to expand your workspace if you come up with any other thoughts. 

    Pricing: There’s a freemium subscription plan that lets you try out Explain Everything. If you like what it has to offer, the pricing starts at $11.99 per user, per month, for teams of two and more. 


    Source: Miro 

    Miro is an online whiteboard for collaborative work. 

    Miro is an incredibly popular piece of software enjoyed by over 20 million users from all around the globe. One reason so many teams across the world choose Miro over any other project management tool – the ease with which you can get started. This is possible thanks to their huge library of ready-made templates for idea organization

    For instance, you can take advantage of the Brainwriting, Reverse Brainstorming, S.C.A.M.P.E.R., Fishbone Diagram, Storyboard, Customer Journey Map, and other templates for brainstorming and ideation. 

    Similarly, if you decide to reorganize your ideas into actionable points and carry out your projects in the future, you can reshape them using a selection of Agile planning boards, such as Kanban Framework, PI planning, Basic Product Roadmap, and more. 

    Miro prides itself on the collaborative functionality it provides, and claims it’s software that allows teams to work together when they’re not together. Miro developers understand that not everyone on a team will have the same responsibilities and, therefore, levels access to boards. So, the tool allows admins to configure permissions and let certain users within the team have access to certain projects and boards. 

    There’s also a heap of integrations including a Miro integration with Slack, Jira, Google Drive, Sketch, and more. 

    Pricing: Miro is available for free with limited functionality. Then, pricing starts from $8 per member, per month, billed annually. 


    Source: MindMeister 

    MindMeister is an app exclusively for mind mapping. It doesn’t offer the extensive project management functionality a lot of competitors offer, but it’s one of the best tools for creating beautiful, actionable, and insightful mind maps. 

    All the features that MindMeister has can be divided into the following categories:

    • The essentials. You can improve the readability and comprehension of your mind maps thanks to the wide selection of themes that contain expertly-designed combinations of colors and styles. Mixed map layouts (mind map view, org chart, or list) to display your content. Various layout templates to choose from — that way, you spend less time trying to organize your ideas and more time generating them. Key shortcuts that minimize the time you spend on finding the right tool on the screen. Connections to show relations between any map topics. 
    • Styling options. Visuals matter and MindMeister allows you to make the most out of your idea presentation. The tool offers a wide range of individual topic stylings, line styling, tintable images and emojis, and more. 
    • Advanced features. You can easily toggle between visual and linear with Outline Mode; it allows MindMeister users to view their mind maps as bulleted lists or vice versa. There’s also an option to add expandable notes to every single node within the mind map, and explain ideas in more detail. On top of that, to remove any clutter from the mind map, you can add an attachment from outside storage. Finally, to improve your productivity, MindMeister offers Focus Mode, which hides everything you’re not currently working on. 
    • Collaboration. There’s a Brainstorm mode that allows you to launch collaborative brainstorming sessions with your team. On top of that, every member of your team can leave comments on the mind map and spark conversation. There’s also a version history available for you to track progress and, if needed, go back to the ideas you previously had. 

    In addition to that, MindMeister has a couple of notable integrations and embeds that expand the range of capabilities this tool has. For instance, its integration with Google Workspace allows you to create and open mind maps directly from Google Drive, sync your entire maps library, export all maps as a backup .zip file, or attach files from Google Drive. 

    Pricing: You can create up to 3 mind maps for free. After that, it costs $6.29 per user, per month, when billed annually.


    Source: Lucidchart

    Unlike all the previous solutions mentioned in this article, Lucidchart isn’t mind mapping software. Still, it allows bringing structure to your ideation process and its subsequent execution. It’s a tool that allows you to turn your freshly generated ideas into flowcharts and diagrams, so that they can be presented to your team, boss, or any other stakeholder who wants to take a peek at the results of your creative process.

    Here’s what Lucidchart helps businesses do:

    • Optimize business processes.
    • Visualize technical systems.
    • Brainstorm with remote teams.
    • Design a superior user experience.
    • Plan and deploy new features faster.

    You can do all of the abovementioned activities thanks to numerous templates for creating a shared vision, the collaborative functionality that puts everyone on the same page (literally), and tasks that will set your plans in motion. 

    Pricing:  There’s a free version of Lucidchart that allows you to create 3 editable boards. If you need more, the pricing starts at $13.50 per user.

    Google Sheets

    Source: Google

    This one doesn’t need an introduction, it’s likely that you already have Google Sheets, one of Google’s most popular products, in your tool stack. But for the sake of making this list complete, we had to include it.

    Google Sheets is a free spreadsheet editor that allows you to create and edit spreadsheets, fill them with data, manipulate data, and export it. You can either do it alone or collaboratively — everyone with a Google account can work on spreadsheets if you let them to. 

    Pricing: Free. 


    Source: Notion

    Last, but definitely not least, Notion. This is a relatively young piece of software, but certainly a powerful one. Notion is highly customizable and can be used to record your ideas in real-time, edit them, categorize them and, finally, bring them to life.

    Your company can create spaces for different teams or every member from each time, where they can collect their ideas, organize them in a convenient way, and share them with others.

    There are loads of templates for different projects: planners, calendars, pages and documents, and more! There’s a huge library of ready-made templates from thousands of contributors around the world that you can make use of. Alternatively, you can set up a workspace from scratch so that it meets your business needs exactly. 

    Notion can easily be accessed on the go — there is a mobile app available on both Android and iOS devices. 

    Pricing: There’s a free version. Team subscription plan prices start from $8 per user, per month, when billed annually. 

    Valerie Kakovkina

    Content marketing manager at VistaCreate. Valerie loves all things marketing, with her favourite areas being email marketing and social media. When out of the office, Valerie loves travelling, going to parties, and helping her friends with their art projects (oh to be surrounded by artists).

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