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Accelerated learning with auto-mindmapping

In this article I will discuss an efficient way to hack learning, in particular, reading.  This will enable us to go from a rambling E-Book to condensed notes in a mindmap format using a new automation concept. Not only could such an approach revolutionize your note taking approach, save you time and provide a fluid reading experience but could even reforge our relationship with the age old “Copy & Paste”. That alone is worth the read!



Many of the books I read are in electronic format on a tablet and usually I wish to record the main notes from these books in an easily digestible form for future reference. The medium for choice for that is mind mapping. However, the process of going through the book and getting the relevant points into the mindmap is a time consuming process. To break it down into it’s individual steps,

  1. Upon hitting a noteworthy point or passage, highlight that text and copy.
  2. Move across to the mind-mapping application.
  3. Create a new topic/sub-topic , then paste the text into the topic window
  4. Move back again the to the E-Book and continue reading

Cumulatively, all these steps take several seconds and then I have to find where I left off and continue reading. Repeating this tens of hundreds of times really adds up to a lot of wasted time.

It is a disjointed and laborious way to get key points noted down. I know with a twin monitor setup the process of transferring points from E-Book to mindmap would be faster but it is not really the location of choice for reading.

Thankfully, I have come up with a more elegant approach to this convoluted process and this, I will share with you today to hopefully restore a modicum of your reading pleasure.

Hack Learning – the Concept

The idea is simple, as all great ideas are!

Going through the E-Book, the noteworthy passages are highlighted as an annotation/highlight, collected at the end and used to generate a mindmap. The end.

I am in two minds as to whether I should elaborate further. Superfluous words would put me in the realms of the blatherskites but at the same time, you the reader should not be short changed. Let’s meet in the middle with a flow diagram.

hack learning - auto mindmapping from an ebook

These three steps have now curtailed the monotonous and soul destroying copy and paste that I and maybe others have suffered under. Let us discard those shackles and in doing so, save a bit of time.

The Tools for Auto-mindmapping an E-Book

There are a total of three tools to make this concept possible,

  1. A PDF reader with annotation capabilities and the ability to export those annotations. For this I will utilize Goodreader, available for IOS devices.
  2. A tool to convert the annotations to a mind map. For this I hastily put together a script in Python and created a windows executable from that to run on any Windows machine.
  3. A mind map program to finally view the concise summary of all the annotations and highlights made while reading the book. There are many mindmapping tools but for this I will use Freemind.

A Practical Example

Right, if you have gotten to this point you are now waiting for me to walk the walk after talking the talk. So, let’s take it step by step following the procedure outlined previously.



Read a book and highlight some important stuff.


For this I take a page from a Python Tutorial Point document. Until this week I had no clue how to program in Python and this document was instrumental to having a functional script this week. So, with that promotional point in place, here is a sample page as viewed in GoodReader. Note that I have used three different highlighting tools,

  • Underline: Indicates a main topic
  • Highlight: Indicates a sub-topic
  • Squiggly underline: To indicate a comment


After completing the book and highlighting the important points, use the GoodReader function to list the annotations. It should look something that below,


In the top left of the summary you will see the option to Email it – use it. Email it to yourself and save the text as a txt file.

Annotation Summary

Convert annotations to Mindmap

Goodreader has just provided a lovely summary of the book annotations, now in txt format. We wish to have that in XML format to allow reading of the information in Mindmap. Therefore we need an interface to go from a simple txt to XML format. There are many ways to do this, and this week I tried Python. I am less than skilled in programming but somehow managed to cobble a simple script this week to make this conversion. You can grab the txt_to_mm_script and convert it to an executable if desired. The GUI is pretty simple, provide the full path to the input txt file on the top, the full path for the outputted mindmap on the bottom. Remember mindmap file extension is .mm! Hit the read input file button, then the output mindmap button and it is done.   No doubt many of you could do this better than I so consider this script as a proof of concept and not a fully fledged solution!


View mindmap

This is the easy bit. Open the outputted mindmap file.


In taking this alternative approach, copious time can be saved. Not only can it prevent hopping between applications to take notes it also enables uninterrupted reading of the E-Book in question. The only “work”, really involved with this new concept is the file translation. I estimate this may take a minute or so for executing, putting in file paths and getting the final mindmap.

Final Words for this Learning hack

I trust I am not alone in wanting to have a summary of important points in a pdf or E-Book and so I hope this idea is of interest to others who wish to hack learning. As mentioned, the script needs a bit of work and dare I say….”I leave this as an exercise for the reader”. I have seen that phrase many times in text books and never have I risen to the challenge! Ideally this functionality would be part and parcel of applications to avoid the need for further final conversion.

Finally, for those readers that finished the last article….my wine today is Goats do Roam, Red, 2011, South Africa. Pretty smooth.

Brendan Toner

Let me welcome you to this alcove of the internet. In this little productivity blog, I detail the trials and tribulations of trying to use my time more effectively utilising the latest productivity tools and techniques. I hope you enjoy the articles, cheers! Brendan Toner, author of Done Before Brekky

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3 Responses

  1. May 17, 2016

    […] In this article I will discuss an efficient way to go from a rambling E-Book to condensed notes in a mindmap format using a new automation concept.  […]

  2. September 18, 2016

    […] stumbled onto MarginNote Pro by accident.  I had independently created my own tool to create mindmaps from pdf highlights to make my study and note taking more efficient.  I was referred to MarginNote after posting this […]

  3. April 23, 2017

    […] files or electronic E-Books then this is definitely for you. Previously I had the bright idea of Automatically Mindmapping E-Books highlights as a quick and easy way to create study notes. So, picture this if you will. You […]

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