organize your thoughts while planning a project

Planning a Project 101: Five Ways to Organize Your Thoughts

Michele Campbell

Reading time: about 4 min


  • Professional development
  • Project management

Ever had a million ideas zooming in your head of what you need to get done for the day or the week? Maybe you are working on a large project with so many fine details that you are certain something is going to be forgotten. Perhaps you have that term paper due next week (or even worse, tomorrow) and have no idea how to start. Fortunately, there are a few methods that may give you the kick start you need to start organizing all you have to do when planning a project.

1. Think visually

Thinking visually goes beyond your unproductive worrying about the project that is stressing you out. You sit down, close your eyes, and go through what you need to do step by step to accomplish your task. If you can’t picture yourself doing some aspect of a project, stop and ask yourself why. That part probably needs more definition. By taking the time to think through your process, you have already saved yourself the hassle of physically starting something and realizing too late that you are missing a critical element of it.

For instance, I am a software tester. I usually have to test large features that could impact many parts of our product. Before diving right into a test session, I like to close my eyes and picture myself at my computer actually testing the software. I then realize what all needs to be done and know what will most likely slow me down when I begin physically testing. Sometimes I realize that I don’t know a part of our product well enough to test it without taking extra time to explore it, since I couldn’t picture the process of testing that feature in my head. If that is the case, I plan for extra time learning about the feature. No matter what project you are working on, from making a mock, to coding a feature, to creating a marketing page, your first step should always be to visualize yourself doing it.

2. Mind map it

Mind maps are a lifesaver when you feel like your brain is about to explode from all of the ideas you have bouncing around in there. Using a mind map to put those ideas on paper can help you work through them methodically rather than getting tied up in a mental tizzy.

One of the biggest tricks for using a mind map is to remember that there are no bad ideas. Get everything you can think of down on paper. You may be surprised what you come up with. It could be that million dollar advertising campaign or the perfect subject for your blog post.

3. Make a time frame

Probably the most stressful part of trying to tackle any large project is meeting your deadline. You may use a calendar to keep track of what you need to get done, but a timeline can add the visual aspect to your process that you may be missing. It will give you a straight line of things that need to get done before the project is actually finished and a time estimate for each step. If you get behind early on, you can also adjust the rest of the project as needed, hopefully without adjusting your final deadline.

4. Create a checklist

The checklist is a classic staple of those who need to get organized. It forces you to actually write everything down that you are supposed to accomplish. Checklists are best used as a day- to- day organizational tool to make sure you get the smaller details of a large project done. When I have a busy day scheduled, a checklist will help ensure things don’t get forgotten or fall by the wayside. Plus, it is hard to beat the feeling of accomplishment every time you physically tick off one of the boxes. If you aren’t into using physical paper, there are also plenty of programs out there that are used for task tracking.

5. Talk to someone

Speaking to another person about a big project is the best way to get a new perspective on it and find things that you may not have considered. This step should be included no matter how big or small your task is. For bigger projects, discussing it with all of the stakeholders is usually a requirement. Even for the smaller things, it gives you an excuse to say your idea out loud and try to explain it so that someone else can understand it. If you can’t explain an idea to another person, you don’t understand it enough to execute it. Fortunately, by talking to someone else about it, you can find the parts you don’t quite understand before you hit that point in the actual execution.

Getting your thoughts about a project organized is often one of the most difficult parts of getting it started. Fortunately, there are a lot of options out there to help you think visually. Feel free to share the ways you get organized for your projects in the comments below.

About the author

Michele Campbell graduated from BYU with a B.S. in Environmental Science. She speaks fluent Japanese and enjoys improving Lucid’s customer experience. In her free time, she likes playing with her pet guinea pig, baking just about anything, and going to plays.

About Lucidchart

Lucidchart, a cloud-based intelligent diagramming application, is a core component of Lucid Software's Visual Collaboration Suite. This intuitive, cloud-based solution empowers teams to collaborate in real-time to build flowcharts, mockups, UML diagrams, customer journey maps, and more. Lucidchart propels teams forward to build the future faster. Lucid is proud to serve top businesses around the world, including customers such as Google, GE, and NBC Universal, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid partners with industry leaders, including Google, Atlassian, and Microsoft. Since its founding, Lucid has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit

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