In this post, I'll show you how to use Trello for maximum productivity.
In this tutorial, I'll share 3 tools with you, that I've used for a long time to manage my projects, manage my day to day work and get more done.
The first tool is the task management app Trello (which you can use for free). The second tool is a specific Trello setup that I use for personal productivity (and I'll walk you through exactly how to set it up). Finally, the third tool is a a collection of my favorite, time-saving keyboard shortcuts.
Combine all 3 and you'll be blazing through your daily tasks like never before!
Check out the video above to see the system in action and read on for the step-by-step tutorial on how to set up you lists, boards, tasks and more!
Note: Video Timestamps
If you're already familiar with Trello, two significant points in the video you may want to skip to are:
- 01:28 - overview of the lists I create for the personal productivity board.
- 09:05 - tricks and shortcuts to make Trello more efficient.
Trello is a project management and task management app that works in your browser as well as on your phone or tablet. They have an app for almost any device you can think of. The software is loosely based on the Kanban project management method, but you can customize it to suit many different scenarios.
Trello has become wildly popular over the last few years and one of the reasons is that it's not only fast and easy to use, it's also basically free forever. They do have a premium plan, but you can use it for yourself and even with large teams, with few restrictions. If you've never used it before, I highly recommend you give it a try.
How to Set Up Your Personal Productivity Board
The workspace in Trello consists of boards, lists and cards. Each board contains one or several lists and each list can contain many cards. Within a card, you can have descriptions, links, images, checklists, due dates, team members, comments and so on.
A card can represent a unit of work and this unit of work can be moved between different lists (or stages) on a board and even between different boards.
If that all sounds a bit abstract, don't worry: the best way to learn how to use a tool is to actually use it. So let's get right into the practical steps.
On a new board, create the following lists:
- "This Week"
This board is now ready to take in cards and to process them. Think of the a card, as mentioned above, as a unit of work. Each unit of work enters the board on the left side, in the first list and moves through to board towards the right, until it is completed.
As work is done, tasks flow from left to right through this workspace and you can get an at-a-glance view of what's in progress, what's done and what's important to do next.
The lists we've created each have a specific purpose.
The "In" list is where all new work comes in. Whenever a new task comes in from anywhere or you have a new idea, create a card for it in the "In" column. One major advantage of using this list is that you can get stuff out of your head. Or, when a new task comes your way, you can make sure that it's added to the list, even if you don't have time to take care of it or prioritize it right that moment. But having it in the "In" list gives you peace of mind, because you know this will be processed eventually.
The "This Week" list is where you add tasks once a week, from the "In" list. These are higher priority or more urgent tasks, that you want to get done by the end of the week. Ideally, you only populate this list once a week and then empty it out over the course of the week. Realistically, sometimes new tasks will be added during the week and you won't always be able to clear everything. But that's okay. It's better to have an imperfect plan for the week than no plan at all.
The "Today" list is, you guessed it, where you add tasks you want to get done today. Depending on your preference, you can pull tasks into "Today" either every morning or every evening, to plan the next day.
The "Waiting" list is for tasks where you've done all the work you can do and you're waiting for something or someone else. An example of this from my work: when I've finished recording a video, I hand it off to my editor. At this point, the video isn't finished yet, but my work on the video is done, for the time being. Until the editor is done with their part of the work, the task is pending for me and I want to get it out of my "in progress" lists.
The "Done" list is for tasks that are completed. You can also choose to immediately archive tasks that are done (more on that later). The advantage of having a "Done" column is that it lets you periodically review the work you've completed in the last week or month.
Sorting by Priority
There's one more basic principle we need to put into place, in order to get the most out of Trello. Above, we looked at how cards flow from left to right through a process. The second crucial factor is to sort cards within a list by priority. Place the highest priority cards at the top of the list.
Get used to sorting cards like this and periodically re-order cards as priorities shift. As a result, you'll be able to get a comprehensive overview of your work at a glance, on your Trello board. You'll immediately see what work is in what stage and what's the most important stuff to work on next.
What Goes Into Trello Cards?
Each Trello card can contain all kinds of information and you can use a card to represent an entire, large project or just a single task. You can also integrate Trello with countless other apps and share data between them and Trello.
With so many options, what should you populate cards with, for maximum productivity?
Not Too Much, Not Too Little
You can definitely put too much into a Trello card, making it lose the advantage of giving you quickly accessible information. But I also don't recommend making a separate card for each micro-task - that will just clutter up your board.
I've done into more detail on this in my video on Board Velocity, but in short, here's my recommendation: ideally, one Trello card represents a piece of work that can be done in a day or less.
Yes: Checklists, Descriptions, Links
Most typically, I will use checklists in a card and I'll add notes and links to the description field. Here's a simplified example of what I usually "store" in a card:
I love using checklists within cards. This allows me to break any task into micro-tasks and gives a greater sense of momentum, as I'm getting work done. Checklists are also great for any task that comes with a repeating process. For example, making sure you do all the right steps when publishing a new blog post or sending out a newsletter.
No: Content Writing, Long Discussions
I don't write content in Trello or use Trello for extensive note taking. If there are documents related to a card, I will simply add a link to that document in the card description. In my business, we use Google Drive to store documents and other resources. But something like Dropbox, Evernote or countless other options could work just as well.
Every Trello card comes with a comment field. I only use the comment field for a few specific purposes:
- When a card is moved into "Waiting" I add a comment with a note about what this task is waiting for.
- I use @mentions to ping team members about important card updates.
I don't use the comments function in Trello to actually discuss work. I think it gets too overcrowded, too fast. I would much rather meet face to face, get on a call or use a dedicated app like Slack for work related discussions.
How to Use Trello Labels
A neat feature in Trello is that you can add labels to cards. You can freely name labels and have as many of them as you want. There are many ways to use labels. Here's my approach: I use labels to categorize different work types.
Here are the labels I use for the ActiveGrowth work board:
The label colors help me see at a glance what category any given card belongs to. For me, it's useful to distinguish between "admin" work and a card that represents a blog post, for example. However, in your case, useful categorization may look different.
In case you're wondering why there's an "ActiveGrowth" label in the ActiveGrowth board, here's an important thing you need to know: each board in Trello has its own set of labels. Whenever you move a card that has labels to a new board, any labels that the card has, but the board doesn't, will be created. In this case, there's an ActiveGrowth label because I added a card from a Braindump board in which I have ideas categorized by the business they belong to.
Super Fast Trello Use: Keyboard Shortcuts
My favorite thing to make Trello even more efficient and productive is using keyboard shortcuts.
Hover your mouse cursor over a card and hit:
- Space bar to assign the card to yourself.
- A to bring up a search dialogue in which you can quickly assign a card to a different team member.
- L to quickly assign a label to the card.
- D to set a due date/deadline for the card.
- C to instantly archive the card.
These are all things you can also do by clicking on the card to open it and then clicking on a corresponding button inside the card. The great thing about the keyboard shortcuts is that you can access the functions more quickly without having to open a card first.
A Note About Archiving Cards
You can hit the "C" key to instantly archive any card and that is one way to "complete" a task and clear it off of the board. This is faster than moving a card into a "done" list. However, especially when working with a team, there's a lot of value in having a "done" list and reviewing that list with the team, once a week or once a month. It gives everyone a sense of what has been done and helps keep people accountable as well.
You can review your "done" column once a week and then choose "Archive all cards in this list" from the list option to clear it out.
If you're working with a team, the very best keyboard shortcut is "Q". Whenever you hit Q, a filter is applied to the board, to show you only cards that are assigned to you.
This is super useful on a crowded board, to help you focus on your own work. Plus, every team member should periodically enter this "only my cards" filtered view to "clean up" and make sure all their cards are in the right lists.
Having a strong system makes a big difference to productivity. But no matter how good your system is, it's no guarantee for getting things done.
If you struggle with procrastination, then a system like the one presented here probably won't fix that problem. But don't despair, I've got some other useful resources for you:
If you are prone to "procrastination by perfectionism" and endlessly working on things, tinkering with things and tweaking things (but never publishing them), watch this video. Then, listen to this podcast episode.
This should give you all the tools you need to get started and get more stuff done. Would you like to see more Trello tutorials in the future? I've been working with it for a long time and have many systems for using it, both for myself and for teams. Let me know if you have specific types of work you struggle to manage or specific questions about how to use a tool like Trello by leaving a comment below!