How I use Trello

In my recent post looking at Notion, I mentioned that it didn’t quite replace Trello for me. So I thought it might be helpful to outline why Trello is still an important tool for me and how I use it today. It has morphed since the early days, as other tools have learned from what made it great, but for me it is still the Daddy of productivity tools.

I am a bit of a geek about platforms and tools and will sign up to most things and give them a go. Trello has been one of the ones I have stuck with, though, using it for at least 6 or 7 years. When I was involved with Freelance Australia we used it for event organisation and strategy planning. When I started at Uniting in 2017, I set it up for the managers team to use to understand who was doing what, and also to manage tasks and priorities for my direct reports. Since we moved to another platform for the team, those collaboration aspects have fallen away, but I still find it incredibly useful as a standalone tool.

So, what is Trello? It comes from the concept of Kanban, which according to Wikipedia

visually depict[s] work at various stages of a process using cards to represent work items and columns to represent each stage of the process. Cards are moved from left to right to show progress and to help coordinate teams performing the work. 

So at its simplest, you create a Board for a specific project (say your blog posts), lists for the different stages of the project and cards for individual tasks. The feature picture at the top of the post shows what this looks like for managing my blog content.

When I have an idea for a future post, I add a new card to the Ideas list. When I am formulating the post – doing research, sourcing images, sketching out the main points, I move it to creating and once it’s published, it moves to Done.

What Trello delivers are a range of supporting features that make it a much richer experience. You’ll see that each card has a label. For this board, the labels relate to blog categories. You can then filter the board to only show specific labels. You can add images, as you can see, web links, checklists. If you are using Trello as a collaboration tool you can assign a card to a user, and leave comments for each other. You can add start and end dates and get notifications.

As well as the project management style use as shown above, I find Trello a good place to start planning an activity. I was recently involved in drafting a hybrid working guide for our organisation. A pretty mammoth task! I found Trello a good way of mapping out the content:

By adding items in this non-linear environment, I could move things around, set up the headings that worked, and organise my content. I collected external reference material and used checklists to go deeper into content on the topic on the card:

These days my major use of Trello is to manage my daily workload. I used one of Trello’s own templates as a basis, and have adapted it to work for me. I take 10 minutes every morning to look at what I have to do today, tomorrow and by the end of the week and arrange the cards so I can immediately see my priorities. I label them according to my role (leading/reviewing/contributing) and also who in my team is the main point person for that issue. I can then filter the board when I have catch ups with them so I have an overview of where our work is overlapping.

By adding dates, I can see what is coming down the line and it is a feature of Trello that they turn yellow when close and red when missed, which is useful.

I make a lot of use of the Trello integrations with my personal and work email platforms, so I can easily turn inbox items into tasks. The original template has a bit more automation than I was comfortable with, so I don’t do it exactly how they suggest, but it works for me.

(I’ve crossed out some of the more sensitive issues on the board, but I don’t think it affects the explanation of the system)

Since being bought out by Atlassian, there have been a number of improvements, such as more robust alternative views, where you can see all the cards on a timeline or calendar. There is also more reporting options and a dashboard of metrics, though that is still an area for improvement.

Fundamentally, I think what Notion is still lacking in its Board view is the visual element that makes Trello more intuitive. The coloured labels, the dates that use colour to alert you to status, and the ability to add photos both as a background and on the individual cards. For the moment, I’ll stay in Trello to keep my life on track.

Published by Antonia

I'm a British citizen and European Union offical, who lives in Brussels again after 6 years in London and 8 in Melbourne. I went to the London School of Economics and University of Melbourne. In 2008 I took part in the Eisenhower Fellowship Multination Programme, the subject of 3 of my blogs. You can find me on Twitter as @antoniamochan or @antoniam

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