Brain Dumping: My “To Do” List Runneth Over…

One of my fellow Patheos bloggers asked an interesting question the other day to our group, querying the rest of us about how we organize and keep track of our writing commitments. I was amazed by the variety of answers and the creativity of some of my fellow writers. My answer was boring: Google Calendar.

When I’m lucky enough to be invited to write somewhere, the commitment immediately goes onto one of my multi-colored calendars and a reminder is set two days prior to “due date”. Have I ever blown a due date before? Yes, but it’s happening with less frequency now that I have a good system in place.

What a don’t have a good system for is my everyday “to do” items. I tend to handle whatever pot is boiling over first and life feels like organized chaos these days. While I work on some physical priorities in my life, I’d also like to work on getting my stress level under better control. So I’ve decided to try doing a bit of a “brain dump” to write down absolutely everything that’s on my plate at the moment, and then to prioritize all of these items with small “sub items”. I’ve read all of the GTD stuff and several other resources as well, so I have the theoretical knowledge. It’s the implementation that all too often causes me to stumble.

I’d like to hear from you on what works well in your life to help you stay organized. Being good stewards of our time is a priority that enables us to give the best of ourselves to those we love and serve. Getting this under control feels like a priority – I’d love your help and insights!

About Lisa M. Hendey

Lisa Hendey is the founder and webmaster of and the author of The Grace of YesA Book of Saints for Catholic Moms and The Handbook for Catholic Moms. Lisa writes for several online and print publications, enjoys speaking around the country and is a frequent television and radio guest and host. Visit her at and connect with her at Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

  • Sarah Reinhard

    I’m curious about how you use Google calendar. I’m betting you have about twice as many writing commitments as I do… hmmm.

    I use a combination of things…I use Toodledo and then I also have an ongoing list in Evernote that I update once a week (Saturday/Sunday) with both what’s on the calendar that week and what’s on the to-do lists that week, organized by topic (I have topics for editorial type work, writing, blogging, parish, family, errands, calls). Just in the last 2-3 weeks, I’ve started allocating time to each of those tasks, to give me an idea if I’m even in the right ballpark with what’s on the list and what can get done.

    On weeks when I’m feeling completely overwhelmed, I have made a separate Google calendar where I do time blocks. I tend to need to do that for a week or two, get myself in a new routine when a new project or something comes on (or a kid gets sick, or a husband has surgery, or whatever).

    So…hope that helps a bit. I wanna see screenshots of what you do on Google calendar. I’m ALWAYS looking for other people’s ideas on organization and such! Now I’m off to read the GTD stuff!

    • Lisa Hendey

      Oh you don’t even want to see my calendar… it’s nutty! And you mention using a combination of things – I think that might be what I’m trying to avoid… I want one thing that works.

      • Sarah Reinhard

        Yeah, I hear you on avoiding the combo of things. And yet I have never yet found one thing that works, and I’ve tried a bunch. I like that Toodledoo will do a list of things that can repeat on a cycle (i.e., with writing projects and such, so I don’t have to remember that on the 20th I have a column due here or there, etc.). I’m going to try Trello, though, but I suspect it will have to work within the other things I already do (it could replace my listing system in Evernote, possibly)

        • Lisa Hendey

          Oh blah… I just downloaded and see what you’re saying. I don’t want to go “all in” with something that doesn’t look great between all of my devices. It’s actually one of the things I love about Evernote… We definitely need “pretty on iPad” as a strong standard. The search will continue.

  • Barb S

    I wish Trello had an ipad version; I’m not a big fan of the slightly-blurry “2x” view. Looking at my desk right now, I have a planner, another printed calendar, a desk pad with various notes scribbled on it and post-its on top of THAT, and 2 5×8 project pads. It’s out of hand!
    I recently downloaded TeuxDeux and I’m finding it great for that running task list–but it’s for ALL tasks, not so much grouping them. Works well for routing errands in the course of a day, though.

    • Lisa Hendey

      Barb that comment above for Sarah was meant for you… but I’m looking at Teux Deux and I think it’s the same issue.

      • Barb S

        Yes, TeuxDeux has the same problem, which is why I pretty much use it as an errand router. The only thing I’m carrying is the phone at that point.

  • Sarah Reinhard

    I have my eyes on this conversation, ladies. Just so you know. Keep it comin.

    I hadn’t checked out the trello app yet. Hmm, guess I’ll be avoiding that, eh?

    • Barb S

      I gave Trello a trial run, but the lack of “pretty on iPad” is a big drawback. Also, you can’t actually SEE everything you write–just that you have “cards” with things written down. You have to open each one separately to see what’s on them.
      I just don’t think it’s going to get me where I need to go.

  • Fr. Michael

    My favorite app for daily organizing is Things. I use it on my iPhone and MacBook. It’s based around the GTD system, so you have a general inbox, list for Today, Next Items, Scheduled Items, and a Someday box.
    For me, what works is putting events (and some deadlines) on Google Calendar (synced everywhere) and putting all of my day to day “things to do” in Things. It’s worked well for over a year now.

    • lisahendey

      Thanks Fr. Michael – I think I actually already own Things. I will bust it out and start testing.

  • Analisa Roche

    I use the Toodledo app on my iPad. I don’t have a smartphone and the iPad is wi-fi only, so it can’t require an Internet connection. I love Toodledo.

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  • Dan

    I would recommend checking out for an online GTD manager.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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  • Renee Riehl

    I know I am way late to this conversation, but have you tried any. do? It’s kind of a personal assistant. Keeps me on task anyway :)