With the massive amount of high-quality education available online, cough *Learn Squared*, self-directed studies are the go-to avenue for many people to level up their skills and transition to their dream career. Achieving this though — as with any project — requires a clear vision and proper planning, to ensure that the time and resources spent, are contributing to our goals.

Unfortunately, for many, this translates into backing up every single tutorial available on the internet without ever getting a chance to study them.

In this article, I’ll share the 7 steps I used to create my learning path and transitioned from a tutorial hoarder to a having a consistent study practice. I also used the same strategy to join the Learn Squared team, as an opportunity to offer a much-needed alternative to the current state of art education. And you can bet I had a mind map for that too.


Before we start, let’s get a general sense of what your current goal is. I invite you to write it down as you will begin your exercise from it. You’ll compare it to what emerges from your mind map once you complete it. You’ll either realize that you’ve been on track all along, or that you’ve been prioritizing the wrong items.

Now let’s get familiar with the tools.

1. Mind Node

Mind Node is a clean and elegant mind mapping application. I use anytime I need to capture, visualize, and sort my thoughts, to make sense of an idea. It is a paid app that is only available for OSX and iOS.
Get here:


Coggle is another great mind Mapping application. It’s web-based and free, which makes it a great alternative to Mind Node if you are on Windows or don’t feel like dropping the cash.
Get here:


When I initially did this exercise, I wanted to align my actions with my learning goals, so I mapped them in Mind Node. The return on investment was a game-changer. This is why I now use mind maps for 90% of my projects. It saves me valuable time and energy and helps me keep a lot of the doubt at bay when things get challenging. I invite you to follow the steps as you read this article and I hope you’ll benefit from it as much as I did. Now let’s get started.

1. Do a brain dump 🧠

I knew I had a problem with my learning when I realized that my goals, hobbies, and interests were all jumbled together. I constantly switched my focus from one subject to the next without having assimilated the knowledge I was studying. This meant re-learning a software was a common practice.

In Mind Mode, I started by putting down my goal in my main node. I then created the different categories of skills I believed I would need to reach it. For designers and artists, these tend to be straightforward. We need a balance of practical and theoretical knowledge, so I created both categories and populated my map with everything I thought I needed to learn to get into my industry of choice or anything I found interesting.

2. Sort out the mess 🗑️

Once my brain dump was complete, I classified all my items into clear sub-categories. I opted for the following ones, but feel free to sort your elements as you see fit:

  • Practical: Current skills / New skills / Software
  • Theoretical: 2D / 3D / Other

This great thing about this step is that it forces you to address both your strengths but more importantly, your weaknesses. Make sure you’ve researched what skills are required to reach your goals so that you are sure to address them.

3. Set your priorities 🎯

Once I categorized my items, I took a screenshot of my map and moved to Photoshop. Using a colour code, I organized my nodes by level of importance. Blue items represented what I NEEDED to master to reach my goal. Yellow items represented what WOULD be great to know but not before mastering the blue items. Red items represented what DID NOT contribute to my immediate goal, and Green ones, subjects I was already comfortable with.

4. Trim the fat 🥓

The first thing I did was duplicate my map. I wanted to make sure I kept a back up of the original version as each step is key to putting together your learning path. I then got rid of all the red and green items — items that weren’t contributing to my goal or that I was already comfortable with. I then reviewed my map’s structure to see if I needed to address any change. Once satisfied, I moved to the next stage.

5. Keep your eyes on the prize 🏆

Now that I had structured my map, I needed to streamline it further. I got rid of all yellow items to focus on the blue ones. Again I took a screenshot, moved to Photoshop and reorganized my nodes hierarchically, using my blueyellow, and red color code.

Using the same process as before, I moved back to Mind Node, duplicated my map, and got rid of everything except my blue items. At this point, everything was pretty clear. I needed to focus on learning 3D modeling, using Modo, with a focus on hard surface. And only when I developed enough ability, would I move on to the shading and texturing aspect of my models, using V-ray. I would hone my composition and time-management skills along the way.

6. Fire it up 🔥

At this stage, I knew what to study. The next logical step was to add action steps to my Prime items so I made a list of practical projects and tutorials I would use to study every day, after dinner. With Modo, I modeled simple objects around me as a starting point and gradually bumped up the level of difficulty. I did so without worrying about shading or texturing my models and only moved to that aspect — rendering in V-ray — once I felt comfortable enough with my modeling skills.

Once I get to the point where I’ll have both my modeling and rendering skills down—and need to figure out my next step—all I need to do is work backward towards Step #2, one skill at a time.

7. Find a mentor and join a community 📚

I’ve made a habit of this step. Anytime I start learning a new subject; I scout the internet to find my own Obi-Wan Kenobi — an artist that shares my vision and aesthetic but that is ahead on the path. I reach out to them for feedback on my work and use their critique to polish my skills.

At this moment, I’m knee deep in V-ray with my mentor, Muhammed Hamed who lives in Cairo. Muhammed has a wide understanding of computer graphics and render engines in general. He is a regular contributor to V-ray forums and has been putting out tutorials to facilitate the learning of V-ray for noobs like myself.

Over the last six months, he has been advising me on my shaders and teaching me how to replicate materials from start to finish using V-ray for Modo. This often means being up at odd hours to work on a new project or to optimize my workflow. The progress I’ve made during this time was worth every minute.

So there you have it! By stepping back and planning properly, I realized that although I had the skills to take the UI and HUD designer route, I am more interested in products and industrial design, and the modeling and shading/texturing side of its process. My mind map has also helped me to create a clear learning path towards that goal for myself and allowed me to keep a level of focus I was lacking prior. Thanks to this, I’ve improved my skills and learning habits in a much shorter time period. But the beautiful thing about this strategy is that you can use it to accomplish, any goal you have in mind. And that should be energizing and exciting.

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