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 TK(number) example of super practical workflows you can set up in your own boards, right now.
I find that many tutorials on this topic A) are still showing the old, outdated UI and B) waffle on about super basic stuff for way too long, so I'll keep this short.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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
For this workflow, you need a braindump board. If you don't have one yet, create one.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The resulting rule reads:
And you will now find a button when opening a card, that triggers all these actions on click:
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!
I'm the founder of ActiveGrowth and Thrive Themes and over the last years, I've created and marketed a dozen different software, information and SaaS products. Apart from running my business, I spend most of my time reading, learning, developing skills and helping other people develop theirs. On ActiveGrowth, I want to help you become a better entrepreneur and product creator. Read more about my story here.
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