Drawing your plans and to do lists: what to draw and how to do it

Get off your computer!

Getting off your computer and onto paper will kick start your creative thinking. Draw charts, timetables, diagrams, mind maps, flowcharts, plans, and even cartoons, to bring project management, planning and task lists to life. In the first blog in this series I shared why drawing visual representations works so well, plus a couple of resources. Part two is all about what to draw and how to do it. The following isn’t a drawing lesson – we’re talking visual representations here – rather it’s a set of ideas that you could use and adapt to your own purposes.

Divided paper

One of the simplest visual representations is a piece of paper turned into boxes, that you can write or draw in. The boxes work as a container for your thinking.

Divide a paper into squares, each one representing a role you play in your life (mum, friend, business owner etc.). In each one write the priorities for that role. Alternatively, focus on one aspect of your life (say ‘creating’) and divide that into its component parts. I do this when I review my writing projects and decide what I want to focus on. If you like this idea, take a look at chapter 22 of 18 Minutes by Peter Bregman. (This is an affiliate link.)



A chart or timetable

There’s something about capturing a task list in a chart or weekly timetable that forces you to remember what needs to get done. This one lends itself to beautifying. After you’ve done a draft, make a colour version to stick up in your workspace.

You could create a rough a chart or a table listing types of task – phone or email, research, meetings, read / write; or create a timetable divided by days of the week; or create a chart showing a year or two-year production plan. I do this when I want to make sure I can fit in important tasks over a week, especially when I have to fit them around childcare.

A timeline

Draw a timeline for a project or to represent the beginning, middle and end of a piece of writing. I do this when I’m planning a novel, on a large pieces of paper stuck together, which I can roll up and store when I’m done. I draw connections between important plot points so I can see what links up and make sure my scenes appear in the right order and that my pacing works.

A cyclical diagram

Create a cyclical diagram showing a process over a period of time or the length of a project. I last did this when I wrote an academic essay for a Creative Writing journal – I wanted to illustrate the different phrases involved when working on a piece of creative writing, and the challenges that might come up. (Scroll down on this page to see the three diagrams I created – you don’t need to read the essay to see what I mean.) It’s also useful for illustrating a review process over a year.

Mind Mapping

Draw a Mind Map to get lots of ideas down and to decide on all of the aspects of a piece of work or project, then create structure and order the ideas using numbers. I last did this when I wanted to help my students plan an essay. I planned my own pretend essay in a mind map, and gave it a structure in the final stages. Mind mapping can be a fairly simple affair – and resemble what we used to call a brainstorm or spider diagram at school. However, a proper mind map is much more developed than a brainstorm or spider diagram – there are several stages that differentiate it from more straightforward ‘idea capturing’ techniques. Use Your Head by Tony Buzan will give you a comprehensive guide: (This is an affiliate link.)

A flowchart

Make a flowchart representing the launch of a product, book or course, or enabling you to think through how to market the same. The benefit here is that you can work backwards from the desired outcome, and you can add estimated timings. As I self-publish Creative Writing and Drama books, I draw a flowchart when I’m working out what I need to do for a book launch, working backwards from the day I want to launch the book.

Planning a space

For projects where space is important – such as gardening or decorating the living room – draw a rough plan as you think the thing through. Don’t be afraid to stop and start again as your ideas develop – this is part of the process. I last did this when I reorganised our spare room, which also functions as a study. It was a very rough sketch, but it really helped to avoid overwhelm. It also helped me to think through where things should go and how often I needed to get to them. I’ve also created a sketch of how I want our garden to look – as I need to share this one I’m going to create a neater version later.

Draw your own images

Drawing the type of task – such as sketching a telephone for ‘phone calls’, or a screen with an email on it for ‘emails’, or three stick people for ‘meeting’ – makes you think of the task as soon as you scan the list and helps your brain to recognise and categorise tasks. I used to do this for ‘to do’ lists – it helped my dyslexic brain to organise things. Nowadays I only tend to draw sketches when I’m creating a timeline for a novel or doing paper-based Mind Mapping.

I should stress that these images only need be recognisable to you and you can use a key if you think you might forget what they are! An oblong shape will do for a mobile phone, a few stick figures for people, a square with another square inside could be a computer screen. If you practise you can make these pretty similar each time you draw them, turning each into an aide memoire.

If you want to give drawing a go and cartooning is unfamiliar to you, there are some great tutorials on YouTube. In fact, they probably go into more detail than you need. I had Drawing Cartoons That Sell by John Byrne when I was younger.  (This is an affiliate link.)

You can also use images and sketching when working in a team. I used to get students to create character sketches by drawing around a member of the group and writing words / drawing pictures inside to describe a fictional character. This would also be a fun way to brainstorm, especially if you’re used to meetings that involve PowerPoint and not much else!

Up next: Drawing your plans and to do lists – next steps.


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