Trello recently made a huge move: they integrated the "Butler" automation suite into the core features of Trello. Along with this change comes an updated and much improved user interface.
What this means is that Trello - even for free accounts - now comes with almost infinitely customizable workflow automation. Anything you had to do repeatedly in Trello, you can now do with the click of a button. Or even better: without having to click anything at all.
It's hard to overstate how much better Trello becomes with this addition. It was already my favorite project management tool before and this recent change puts them even further ahead of competitors.
Read on to learn how to use these new workflow automation features and to see examples of super practical workflows you can set up in your own boards, right now.
Briefly, the Basics
I find that many tutorials on this topic A) are still showing the old, outdated UI and B) waffle on about super basic stuff for way too long, so I'll keep this short. Also, this isn't about the basics of using Trello. I have a separate post for that.
Since October 30, 2019, you'll find this Butler button in the top right corner of your Trello boards:
Previously, Butler was available as a premium Power-Up for Trello. Now, it comes as part of the platform's core features. Butler does a ton of automation things, which can be categorized into these groups:
- Add buttons that run a series of automated tasks on click.
- Run automated tasks following if -> then conditions.
- Run automatically recurring tasks on a user defined schedule.
I'm a big believer in learning-by-doing, so let's get straight into building some useful workflow automations with Butler. That's the quickest way to understand the tool & see what it's capable of.
Automatically Scheduled Tasks
Among readers and focus & action customers, the most frequent questions around Trello are about creating recurring and scheduled tasks, so let's start with those.
When you click the Butler button, you'll be presented with these choices for creating different automations in the sidebar:
We'll start with the "Calendar" and "Due Date" related automations.
Create a Recurring Task for Your Daily or Weekly Routines
Imagine this: every day, you open your Trello board and you have a "morning routine" task waiting at the top of your "today" list, including a checklist with all the steps for your routine.
How to Do It
I recommend that you create a card called ***Checklist Templates. The purpose of this card is to hold all the checklists that you want to use in automations as well as checklists you want to copy into cards manually.
Why the three asterisks at the beginning of the card name? Because that way, the card appears at the top of alphabetically sorted lists and is easily recognizable at a glance:
Once you have this card, the steps are the following:
- Create your "Morning Routine" checklist in the checklist templates card.
- Add all the steps you want to appear every day in your morning routine.
- Create a Butler automation using the "calendar" trigger.
- Create the rule, following this example:
- Weekly review: create a task each Friday afternoon which reminds you or a team member to review the week's work.
- Payment reminder: at the start of every month, automatically create a card with the tasks needed to check up on and pay pending bills.
Automatically Clear/Reset Your Board
The examples I'll show you here follows the Trello setup for personal productivity that I've presented in a previous tutorial. However, variations of these rules are useful for all kinds of board setups.
The purpose of these rules is to automatically clear, prepare or reset your lists on a regular basis. In this case, we have a "today" column, where we add tasks we want to complete today. The rule clears out this list every evening and moves the tasks back to the "this week" list.
A second rule clears out the "this week" list at the end of each week. This does 2 things for us:
- It ensures that we really have to be deliberate about what we want to get done each week and each day.
- It prevents cards from going stale and being stuck in "this week" for weeks or being stuck in "today" for days. This ensures better board velocity and makes us more productive in general.
How to Do It
- Create a new calendar based rule in Trello.
- Choose the "every day", "every weekday" or "every Sunday" trigger and add a time of day.
- Choose the "move cards" action to move all the cards in one list to another.
- The rule follows this format:
Move Cards Into "This Week" When They're Due in 1 Week or Less
This is a simple but helpful rule. Every Sunday, Butler will automatically move any cards that are due the following week into the "this week" column. As a result, you'll always find cards that have a due date coming up this week in the correct list, Monday morning.
How to Do It
- Create a new due date based rule.
- As a trigger, choose "on the Sunday of the week before a card is due".
- As the action, choose the "move" action and create a rule following this example:
Note: if you're using this automation as well as the previous one that clears out the "this week" column every week, make sure to set the correct timing. Your board clearing automation has to happen before the cards are moved into "This Week" based on the due date.
In my example, I've set the board clearing to happen on Sunday at 2:00 PM and the due date automation to happen on Sunday at 3:00 PM. As a result, each Monday I come to a board that is clear, but has tasks that are due next week already in the "This Week" list.
The same kind of rule can be applied to any list that corresponds with due dates. E.g. you can move cards into "today" based on their due date as well.
Clean Up Old Cards
One of the most common things that makes a productivity system set up in Trello less effective over time is old cards. Typically, more new cards are added into a board than can be processed. As a result, lists get gunked up with old cards over time and unless you have a process in place, a board can become overcrowded and useless.
With this workflow example, we automatically label old cards after a period and we automatically clean out the board periodically.
How to Do It
For this workflow, you need a braindump board. If you don't have one yet, create one.
- In the braindump board, create a list called "Stale Card Backlog".
- In your work board, create a new Calendar based automation in Butler.
- For your trigger, select the "every month" option and set a time and day.
- As your action, choose the "Move Cards" option and set cards that have been in the "In" list for more than 30 days to be moved to the "Stale Card Backlog" in your braindump board.
Note, you can click on this icon to send cards to a different board than the one you're creating the rule in:
The rule description should end up reading:
Rule-Based Workflow Automations
Next, let's look at useful automations you can create in the "Rules" category in Butler. These are "if, then" type actions that are triggered based on actions rather than based on dates.
Move New Cards to the Top of a List
This is one of the simplest automations you can create, but it can be useful: if you have a list that you generally want to sort by showing the latest cards first, you can automatically add new cards to the top of the list.
A list like this can still be sorted manually, but in general, you'll see newer cards at the top. I like applying this rule for my "in" list and for braindump like lists. A new card is usually more relevant than older ones in a list like this, so I like to have them pushed to the top.
How to Do It
- Create a new "Rules" automation in Butler.
- Choose "Card Move" as a trigger and create a rule for when a new card is added to a specific list. Choose "by anyone" unless you want the rule to be specific to a user.
- Choose the "Move" action and the option to move the card to the top of the list. The rule ends up looking like this:
Automatically Add a Pre-Publish Checklist to a Card
This is an awesome automation for anyone doing content marketing. Whenever a new content piece is ready to publish, there are many little things that need to be taken care of, such as adding social images, meta titles and descriptions, doing a final spell check and so on.
By using a Trello workflow, we can move a content piece through multiple stages, including a "ready to publish" stage. This automation ensures that a "pre-publish checklist" is automatically added to any card that enters this stage.
How to Do It
- Add a checklist called "Blog Post Publishing Checklist" to your card containing checklist templates.
- Create a new Rules based automation in Butler.
- Choose "Card Move" as the trigger and create a rule for when a card is added to your "Ready to Publish" list by anyone.
- Choose "Checklist" as the action and create a rule to add the Blog Post Publishing Checklist from your checklist templates card. The rule follows this format:
In principle, ask yourself: are there parts of your work (by yourself or in your team) where checklists are needed? Checklists are typically useful for recurring tasks where several things need to be put in place and done correctly, each time. Think of how pilots and surgeons use checklists to ensure a flawless, high level of standards each and every time a procedure is performed.
Create checklists for operations like:
- Handing off a project to a client.
- Finalizing and publishing a PPC campaign.
- Launching an A/B test on a business-critical page.
- Uploading and publishing a new video.
- Publishing a new podcast episode.
Add Default Checklists Based on Labels or Titles
Following the same logic as the automation above, we can use other Butler features to make sure the right kind of checklist is added automatically to the right kind of card. Let's use a video task as an example in this case. Perhaps a video doesn't go into a specific stage or list in your workflow. We can still apply a checklist automatically, based on either a label or the card title.
Here's a simple example of what an automation looks like, based on a label:
In this case, the workflow is that you designate a card as a video task by manually adding the "video" label and then a checklist is automatically added.
We can automate this even further and create a cascade of automatic, based on the card title. Here's what a more advanced (and arguably more automated) workflow could look like:
All I need to do for this automation to work is to make sure that video tasks start with the word "video" in the card name. Everything else happens automatically.
How to Do It
- Create a "Video Checklist" in your checklist templates card, containing all the steps you want to automatically add to future video related cards.
- Create a new Rules based automation in Butler.
- Activate the "advanced" switch in the automation builder.
- Choose "Card Move" as your trigger and click on the filter icon in the first row of options.
- In the filter options, choose "content" and create a rule for a card with a name starting with "video".
- As the first action, choose the "Checklist" option and apply your checklist template, as we've done in previous automations.
- Choose the "members" option and add a specific member as your second action, attached to the same trigger.
- Choose the "Add/Remove" option and assign a label to the card as the 3rd action.
- Choose the "Content" option and add a comment with an @mention of whoever needs to be notified as the 4th action, all to be fired based on a title starting with "video".
The final rule reads:
If you've only been reading this tutorial so far, now would be a good time to take a look at the video (at the top of the post). As we go into more advanced workflows, you might find it's easier to follow along with a video than to go ahead based on only text instructions.
Move Card to a New Stage When Checklist Tasks Are Completed
For this automation, we're combining several of the things we've learnt so far. The idea here is that we can automate the movement and hand-off of a task between stages and team members.
As an example, let's think of a content piece to be published on a blog. One of the stages might be the design stage. After the piece is written, we want to hand it off to someone on the design team, to have them create graphical assets for the piece. Once they're finished, we want to move the task on to the "ready to publish" stage, which would be another team member's responsibility.
With Trello and Butler, we can automate basically all of the steps involved.
How to Do It
The first step is to create a workflow that automatically adds a relevant checklist of tasks, tags the right people and adds a comment to notify them, following the instructions above. Here's what the workflow looks like in my example board:
Next, we create a rule that will process our card further, once all the items from that checklist have been completed. For this, we create another rule with "Checklist" as a trigger. We define that when our "Blog Post Design Checklist" is completed, the card is automatically moved to the next stage in the process. In this case, that's the "Ready for Publishing" list:
Since we've already set up a rule that adds a checklist and assigns a new member once a card enters this list, we now have an entirely automated multi-stage process that even hands a task off between team members.
Buttons to Automate Your Work
Anything we've done so far can also be assigned to a button that you place in your cards or on a board. In this case, instead of automatically triggering a series of actions, you can have them triggered when a user clicks the button.
Here are some practical ways to use this feature.
Sort Cards by Due Date
This is a fairly straight-forward sorting action. We can add a button to our board that will sort tasks in one or several lists by their due date, giving us a better idea of what to prioritize.
How to Do It
- Create a "Board Button" Butler automation.
- Give the button a label like "Sort by Due Date" and choose a suitable icon for it.
- As your action choose "Sort".
- Choose a list and short by "due date" and "ascending". The rule reads:
Note that you can add multiple actions to sort multiple lists. You can also attach further actions to the same trigger.
When you save the automation, a button like this is added to the top right of your board:
Add an "I Got This!" Button to Cards
If you're working with a team, then there's going to be a series of steps that always happen when a team member takes on a task in Trello. With a card button, we can neatly automate those steps.
How to Do It
- Create a new "Card Button" automation in Butler.
- Pick an icon for the button and give it a name (e.g. "I Got This!")
- For your first action, choose "Members" and the option "join card".
- Choose the "Move" option and add an action to move the card to the top of the "Today" list.
- Choose the "Dates" option and set a due date for the card.
- Choose the "Content" option and add a comment text to be automatically posted by the user who clicks the button.
The resulting rule reads:
And you will now find a button when opening a card, that triggers all these actions on click:
What Will Your Workflow Be?
This is a set of automations you can easily create in Trello to save yourself a whole lot of time and clicks. What other automations can you think of creating for your work? And are there specific tasks you think a system like this could help you with?
Let me know by leaving a comment below!
P.S.: This is a post in progress. I will be adding more examples as well as a video tutorial in the near future. Stay tuned!
Wowee. I’ve been thinking of switching back to Trello for our business for a while and this might just get me over the line. Cheers Shane
Awesome post Shane thank you. Can’t seem to see that video you mentioned, would love to have a watch.
If you go to YouTube and search for «Active Growth Trello», you will find several videos. Also, if you get the course Shane made a year ago, «Focus & Action» he explains more in depth how Trello can be used well.
How flipping awesome! This is going to make life a whole heap easier… I love automation :-)
Thanks Shane!! Incredibly timely. Just this week I am jumping back into using your system after unsuccessfully looking at other solutions. I noticed Butler but didn’t explore much of what it could do. I’m sold!
Time to get back to being productive instead of chasing ‘shiney new object software’ – as usual – simple is best. Many thanks for all you do here and with Thrive!!
Wow Indeed! I have been using Asana for some time… and was kinda/sorta thinking of moving to Trello – but this makes it a no-brainer move. Thank you Shane!
As a note, on free Trello accounts, Butler is “limited to 1 card button, 1 board button per board, and 1 rule overall” and doesn’t support scheduled commands.
I don’t use Trello at the moment, but if I dip my toe in, I suspect I won’t get all of the neato features you’ve demonstrated in this video unless I bump to a paid membership. (How will I schedule knitting my cat’s sweater?)
It does look cool, thought.
You can use the Butler Chrome extension with free Trello accounts to do everything.
Great video, Shane. Very useful examples with clear explanations. Unfortunately, it seems that free Trello accounts have only basic (very limited) access to Butler automations.
I agree doesn’t seem to work on free accounts
Great video but Automatically Scheduled Tasks using the calender seems only available for paid plans… could you suggust a different method for scheduling morning routines? thanks
I used Trello to manage and archive projects but even with this new feature find Gqueues faster for managing tasks. I have used the Butler feature for some of the same things you mentioned but love, love, love having the checklist all on one card. That will be a great timesaver.
The visual nature of Trello is great and I make a new board for every client project which includes content created, images used, meeting notes, expenses, links to all relevant files, important emails, etc. so by the end, I have a complete picture of the project that I can archive, which has been so helpful.
I introduced Trello to my agency right after your first video tutorials a little over 6-7 months ago (I think) and we’ve been using it ever since. I managed to create automation for some of the tasks we do after they introduces Butler, but didn’t really get into much depth then. Now I can definitely use more than half of what you demonstrated here without picking my brain too hard :) Thanks for this time saver, Shane, much appreciated. Cheers!
That’s awesome! Really happy to hear that. :)
Thanks for sharing. The automation tool is very helpful. It’s really good what you can do with it. I liked your blog posts example.