Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

How to Manage Your Work with Trello

A bunch of Post It notes

Managing your work — figuring out which tasks to carry out and scheduling them — can be difficult. Not only are there other things competing for our attention, there’s only so much time in the day.

There are any number of tools that you can use to help you manage your work. You’ve probably used or test driven as many (or maybe even more) than I have. One tool that I find effective in helping me manage some of my work is Trello.

Trello is an online tool that represents tasks visually. It’s based on an idea known as kanban. Kanban was originally used to schedule tasks in factories by representing tasks on cards and then moving those cards through production process.

The idea behind kanban was adopted by software development shops that use a method of creating software called Agile. Instead of cards, those shops used sticky notes which they move across a whiteboard divided into the phases of the software development cycle.

Trello takes that idea and puts it on the web, in a graphical and easy-to-use format. While Trello is usually used by teams, you can also use for your own work.

Let’s take a look at using Trello to manage your work.

A Caveat or Two

It’s easy to try to use Trello for everything. I know people who use Trello to manage their daily task lists and their shopping lists. While you can use Trello for those sorts of things, I’m not sure if those are the best uses of the tool. I prefer to use Trello for projects, like planning and writing ebooks or developing the outline of a plan for clients.

When you’re creating a project, try to limit the number of lists on your board. I usually have anywhere from three to five lists. Most of my projects have the following lists: Planning, In Progress, Blocked, Ready for Editing, and Completed. Sometimes, I don’t use a Blocked list (which indicates that a task has stalled).

Formulate a plan before you create your board and its lists. Focus on a single project and think about the phases and tasks that make up that project.

Learning the Language

There’s a little terminology that you’ll need to learn before you can effectively use Trello. Those terms are boards, lists, and cards which are:

  • A board is the container for your project
  • A list represents a stage of project — for example, In Progress or Done
  • A card represents a task

That wasn’t too difficult, was it? Let’s dive into using Trello.

Getting to Work

Start off by getting a Trello account. It’s free. Once you’ve created the account, sign in. You’re taken to a screen with a list of boards.

The main screen in Trello

Click Create New Board. Give the board a title and then click Create.

Adding detail about a board

You wind up with an empty board. The board is a blank canvas, onto which you’ll need to put some lists. To do that, click Add a List. Give your list a name and then click *Add.

Adding a list to a Trello a board

Repeat that for all the lists you want to add to your board.

Next, add some cards your first list. Think of that first list, the one on the far left, as the staging area for your cards. Click Add a card, then describe the task — for example Write blog post announcing book. When you’re done, click Add.

Adding a card to Trello

You can assign due dates to your cards by clicking the Edit icon and then clicking Change Due Date. Select the date by which the task needs to be done, and then click Save.

Assigning due dates to tasks

Again, repeat that until you’ve created all the cards you need. You can, if necessary, add more cards later.

Now that all set up, what next? As you start to carry out tasks, move your cards from one list to another. Just click and drag the card with your mouse. Keep doing that until all your cards are in your Completed list (or whatever you named it).

While a project is in progress, your board should look something like this:

In progress board

That’s a pretty simple use of Trello for managing work. But it works well for me. I don’t always use Trello to manage my work, but when I have a fairly hefty project, Trello helps me stay on top of what I need to do.

Thoughts? Let's start a conversation on Twitter.

Did you enjoy this post or find it useful? Then please consider supporting this blog with a micropayment via PayPal. Thanks!