Organize your to-dos and save time with this simple 7 step formula

Start with a Good Brain Dump

Start with a Good Brain Dump

As an administrative consultant, I am always looking for the best workflows for my clients’ business systems. Be it for streamlining, productivity, planning, organizing, or efficiency – there are an abundant (almost superfluous) amount of software apps out there – and I’m continually trying them out in an ever-changing digital world. Today I’m talking about Project Managing to combat overwhelm.

Are you frozen? Have you recently looked at your inbox and experienced what my friend Emily affectionately calls DHS or ‘deer caught in the headlights syndrome’? Are you so swamped that you don’t even have time to write a to-do list? Have you become unfocused and disorganized? Unmotivated?

It’s time to stop and reset. I’m going to share with you some simple ideas on how to get your life orderly again with immediate actionable steps. I’m going to relay one successful example from an existing client’s scenario (her name has been changed to protect her privacy).

Melody, a past client of mine contacted me about a month ago saying ‘I think I need your help again’. The last time I’d worked for Melody, the project I’d been assigned to had fizzled out by way of communication ceasing. I was no longer getting the input I needed to help and so I had to move on. I remember bumping into her in our neighbourhood weeks later and asking what had happened with the project, and she told me her developer had left town and wasn’t replying to emails. She had to put the job on hold. I wondered hopefully about what she might need me for this time. I knew she had a lot to figure out.

When I met her for our consultation, she asked ‘Can I just give you my brain dump? I’ve got 1000 things I need to do and I’m totally frozen’. I nodded reassuringly as I opened a blank Word doc and named it ‘Melody’s Brain Dump’.

From here she just told me everything that needed to get done in no specific order of priority. Her thoughts, to-dos, concerns, deadlines, money issues all just fell out of her and I just kept on transcribing. During the cathartic process there was a new found sense of relief sweeping over Melody.

This is the first step towards clarity.

Step 1: Do a brain dump – either on paper or into a digital document

BrainDumpOnPaperMelody’s company publishes a magazine and has been in business for 10 years, and yet as I was listening, it was clear that things needed streamlining. The ship was not running very tightly. Communication among her team was a challenge; most of the staff were Melody’s stay-at-home mom friends she’d offered flexible part time hours to 10 years ago. She knew she needed to hire additional staff, but didn’t have the time to advertise for it, or even to delegate to one of her staff to do it. Cash flow was of large concern, and she recognized she could trim the company’s expenses in many areas. Some of the expenses were unnecessary and not cost effective at all.

When Melody was through ‘dumping’, I took the list home with me and started to group her needs under different headings: Making Money/Cost Cutting, Distribution, Production, Promotions, Bookkeeping/Taxes, H.R., Digital Issues/Needs and so on. We’d decided that because she’s a visual person a mind map might be the way to go with all of her issues and to-dos. I utilized what I think is the best free mind-mapping app currently out there – – and had this colour-coded mind-map done in about a half an hour.


(mind maps are great for big picture visuals)


Once I could see things more clearly in Coggle, I decided to set Melody up with some Project Management software. Since her biz was somewhat cash strapped, I opted for another free app – Trello.

In Trello, the user creates boards to work from.

Step 2: Discern the Projects in your Project Management Software

TrelloBoardsWithin those boards are the lists. The number of lists are up to the user and so are the titles for the lists.

For Melody’s company’s purposes, we used the default list names: ‘To Do’, ‘Doing’, and ‘Done’.


Step 3: Make Lists within the Projects

After the lists were created, I then started populating them with all of the jobs from the Coggle mind map onto what are called cards in Trello. The cards/to-dos are easy to priortize by simply dragging them up or down within the list. Suddenly Melody’s frazzled brain dump was looking like clear and manageable guide! She now had a plan to follow.

Step 4: Make every task from your brain dump a To-do

I introduced Melody to Trello and she immediately got straight to work that very same day. I could see that she’d invited members of her team into the boards and began assigning them to job cards, as well as sliding the cards from ‘To Do’ to ‘Doing’. That’s the great thing about Trello – it’s easy to learn and super user-friendly (and it’s FREE).

Some of the things users can do is attach documents on to cards. For example: Melody attached design proofs for their media kit to the ‘Media Kit’ card, a pdf advertisement for a new salesperson was attached to its card, an excel spreadsheet re: a tech expense audit was attached to a ‘Reduce Fixed Costs’ card. She could also link a card on one board to a card on another or create checklists on the back of each card. Due dates could be assigned and also viewable on a calendar. And once a user had completed a card and was in the ‘Done’ list for a while, it was either archived or deleted.

Step 5: Prioritize the To-dos


Step 6: Assign due dates

Step 7: Assign to team members

Melody and I had regular phone chats – almost daily – for about a month so that we could go over the boards, check things off lists, but also so that she could give me new ‘dumps’ of which I’d add to the appropriate place in her project manager. Going into the boards daily began to instill a new habit for Melody. This was the sort of organization and accountability she needed. Using this process also revealed some glaringly apparent issues that she would need to change in her business over time going forward.

By the end of the month, she’d accomplished a great deal but also had so much more clarity on the direction she wanted to go with her company. Some of the change was going to be easy, and some would take a long period of time, but now with her daily brain dumps, she had a streamlined system for prioritizing, assigning, collaborating and executing, without going into DHS!

Chaos was being transformed into calm. Additionally, going through this process helped Melody take responsibility, step into being more assertive, offer an exploration on what she suspected she should do and own it, and feel confident in her decision.

There are many options for tools out there, including their respective phone apps that can assist in this process.

For your benefit, I’ve curated some great lists of kick-ass organizational tools HERE –


Here is the simple 7 step formula for taking what’s in your brain giving you the dreaded DHS (‘deer caught in the headlights syndrome’), to tasks being prioritized, feeling more organized, and having a visual plan to follow and to stay accountable to:

Step 1: Do a brain dump – either on paper or into a digital document

Step 2: Discern the Projects in your Project Management Software

Step 3: Make Lists within the Projects

Step 4: Make every task from your brain dump a To-do

Step 5: Prioritize the To-dos

Step 6: Assign due dates

Step 7: Assign to team members

If you would like assistance getting a system such as described set up, or need me to walk you through this process, please do not hesitate to reach out to me HERE as I would gladly love to help.

I will also be doing a review of Trello for managing your small business projects, so be sure to check my blog for it in the near future.


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3 Responses to “Organize your to-dos and save time with this simple 7 step formula”

  1. Very logical common sense steps, Lisa. This is a helpful reminder for those times when you get overwhelmed with projects or bogged down with lots of ideas to keep track of. I especially like your tip about Trello. I've already signed up and will reference it on my own blog.

    • Thanks Beth!! I'm glad you found the suggestions useful. I myself just did a 'brain dump' in Trello for a bunch of personal stuff I would like to get done before school starts back up in September! 🙂


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