Trello is an online project management app that I use every day for work, for my projects, and for my personal life (when I remember) – you could too.
You can sign up for it for free at www.trello.com.
Here’s how I think you could use it to organise everything and make yourself more productive.
What makes Trello awesome is the same thing that can make it useless – it has no rules.
At it’s most basic level, Trello is just a set of lists and cards laid out visually.
- Lists are made up of a series of cards arranged in any order.
- Cards are blocks of information that can be moved between lists.
The system does not control how lists and cards interact beyond that. You can make as many or as few lists as you want, which can include hundreds of cards – or none at all. You can also arrange them in any order you want. The system doesn’t order them based on their names or when they were created.
This freedom means that if you get carried away creating more lists and cards than you need in no particular order – you will soon end up thoroughly confused.
This principle of freedom extends to the cards themselves, which can include any number of checklists (made up of any number of checklist items), multiple comments, attached files, and a due date.
- Checklists are custom named lists of checklist items. They arrange themselves alphabetically based on their name (a tiny departure from Trello’s principle of freedom).
- Checklist items are custom phrases which you can arrange in any order by dragging them up and down. You can also click on the block next to a checklist item to cross it out.
- Comments are notes you can add to cards which arrange themselves chronologically in the order that you add them and cannot be reordered (okay, so another restriction in this system based on so-called ‘freedom’ – indulge me).
- Attached files are any digital files you upload to a card, usually pictures and documents.
- Due date is a single calendar date that you can assign to a card (one of my criticism’s of Trello is that it only allows for one of these).
All of these elements are reflected on the face of each card in list view.
Freedom to organise
This freedom is a good thing – when you take the time to get on top of it.
And the way I suggest of getting on top of it is based on the time management and personal productivity principles in ‘Do it Tomorrow: and Other Secrets of Time Management‘ by Mark Forster and ‘Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time’ by Brian Tracy.
Decide on your lists
Only create the lists you need. No more than seven, because seven is enough to be useful and not so many that it becomes overwhelming.
The lists that I think most people need are:
- Not Doing is for projects that you have decided are unimportant enough not to be done for the time being because not doing them will have no consequences. You can always move them to another list in future if not doing them starts to have consequences.
- Wishlist is for projects that you would like to do, but which you have also decided are unimportant, because not doing them will have no consequences.
- To Do is for projects that you have decided are important because not doing them will have consequences. You should order cards within this list from most important to least important based on the consequences of not doing each project.
- Doing Tomorrow is for projects that you have allocated to do tomorrow. There should never be more projects in this list than you are capable of doing in a single day, even if it means you can only complete a single checklist item on each card. You should stop adding to this list at the end of the day.
- Doing Today is for projects that you decided yesterday you would do today. The first thing you should do every day is move the cards for all the projects in the doing tomorrow list into the doing today list. If there are still cards for projects in your doing today list from yesterday, fear not – you are a human being – and you might want to read Mark Forster’s and Brian Tracy’s books for solutions until I have time to write a post on how to get through a day’s projects each day.
- Waiting is for projects where the next step is beyond your control and you are waiting for something to happen before you can move them to another list.
- Done is for projects where you have completed every checklist item.
Design and assign your cards
Whenever you get a new project, begin by creating a card in one of the first three lists: not doing, wishlist or to do.
- You should put it in the not doing list if you decide that it is unimportant because not doing it will not have any consequences.
- You should put it in the wishlist if you would like to do it, even though you have decided that it is unimportant because not doing it will not have any consequences.
- You should put it in the to do list if you decide that it is important because not doing it will have consequences.
Then, create a checklist called ‘Tasks’ on the card and add whatever steps are required to complete the project. You can create separate checklists with different names if you have more than one set of steps that need to be completed independently.
Next, add whatever notes you need in the form of comments and upload any files that will help you complete the project.
Finally, give yourself a due date by which time you aim to complete the project.
Now you are ready to either:
- Leave the card in the not doing or wishlist until you decide not doing it starts to have consequences; or
- Start moving the card from the to do list to the doing tomorrow list, the doing today list, and the waiting list as it moves through your workflow – until it ends up in the done list and you can stop worrying about it.
Thanks for stopping by
These are just my thoughts on using one project management tool based on what I’ve read about time management and personal productivity.
If you’d like to copy my template Trello board, you can find it here.
Please let me know how it works for you if you give it a try.
I’d also like to hear about what project management tools you use and what time time management and personal productivity principles make sense to you in the comments below.