How to Solve Problems Using Freemind

How can a computer help you to solve problems? - Here is a simple and effective process anyone can use.
All you need is an installation of the free, open source mind mapping software FreeMind.


  1. Image titled Solve Problems Using Freemind Step 1
    Understand the basics.
    • What is the basic idea? The basic idea is to use the FreeMind mind mapping software and to combine mind mapping and problem solving tools.
    • What are problem solving tools? Here is a naive yet useful definition: A problem solving tool is anything that may help you during problem solving - asking questions, brainstorming, doing research on the internet, having a break, asking a colleague...
    • How does it work? You use two mind maps at a time:
      • A problem map, where you work at your problem, and
      • A tool map with a collection of problem solving tools.
      • During problem solving, you can switch to the tool map whenever you need fresh ideas.
  2. Image titled Solve Problems Using Freemind Step 2
    Prepare the tool map.
    • You have to do this only once, after that you can improve the tool map from time to time.
      Image titled Solve Problems Using Freemind Step 2Bullet1
    • There are several ways of arranging your problem solving tools:
      • You order it by problem solving stages (like orientation - planning - doing - looking back), or
      • You order it by problem solving difficulties (like "My thinking is hasty - narrow - fuzzy - sprawling"), or
      • You order it by topics (here comes an example from math: Tools for dealing with vectors, tools for dealing with series etc).
      • Here is an example of a tool map organized by problem solving stages:

      • Here is an example of a tool map organized by problem solving difficulties:

  3. Image titled Solve Problems Using Freemind Step 3
    Prepare the problem map.
    • Again, you have two options:
      • You start with an empty problem map and create its structure while you work on your problem.
      • You start with a prefab template. Here is an example:

        • You can use the asterisk branches to move and hide all material that is no longer relevant to your problem solving but which you don't want to delete, e.g. brainstorm material.
  4. Image titled Solve Problems Using Freemind Step 4
    Work on your problem.
    • Start with the topic of your problem map.
    • Work through the stages of problem solving. You can use the template and the cues from your tool map.
    • Whenever you need help, you can consult the tool map. With CTRL + Right Arrow and CTRL + Left Arrow you can easily change between maps in FreeMind.


  • Avoid messy maps. Use asterisk branches or a similar trick to hide information you don't need at the moment.
  • Avoid over formalized thinking. Use common sense - and combine formal analysis with your gut feeling.


  • Prepare tool maps for other purposes. The simultaneous use of problem maps and tool maps is not limited to problem solving. You can build tool maps for preparing speeches, writing essays, analyzing hardware problems etc.
  • Prepare your own tool map. If you are looking for problem solving tools, you can start with the Wikipedia articles on problem solving and creative problem solving.

Things You'll Need

  • A computer matching the following system requirements:
    • Java Runtime Environment 1.4 or later
    • About 13 MB of hard disk space for the full version, including all the plug-ins.
    • At least 512 MB of memory. More memory is better, especially if you will be creating large mind maps.
  • FreeMind software
  • Instead of FreeMind, you can use alternative software.

Sources and Citations

  • Bransford, J.D.; Stein, B.S.: The IDEAL Problem Solver. W.H. Freeman and Company, New York 1993 (Source for the IDEAL strategy)

Article Info

Categories: Learning Techniques and Student Skills