There are lots of tools out there that offer a way to help increase productivity and manage projects. In and amongst all those tools, we now have quite a few accessible, web-based ones that are perfect for freelancers and small business owners. We have the likes of Asana, Basecamp, Wrike and a personal favorite – Trello.
The better ones offer, as a baseline, a way to visually define and track progress on tasks and projects, a collaborative environment that facilitates team-based communication, and the flexibility of accessing your projects from any device with an internet connection. The tool you choose as your project tracker in your business is ultimately going to be about personal preference, the way you process information, your workflows and the way you like to manage tasks/people.
This post is an introduction to the wonderful world of Trello- starting with the basics, and then moving on to the fun tricks, customizations, and functionalities that will help you achieve your short- and long-term goals efficiently.
But before diving in, let’s be clear about who Trello is not for (because let’s face it – no application can ever be all things to all people.)
Trello mightn’t be for you if:
- You are managing a large, complex project with several layers of dependencies.
- You need a full view of financial and resource allocation tied to your schedule.
- You need detailed reporting and printouts.
In these instances, you are probably best sticking with a traditional project management heavyweight like Microsoft Project.
For everything else, though? Trello could be all you need.
The Anatomy of a Trello environment
Essentially, you have Trello boards that hold Trello lists, which in turn house Trello cards.
Depending on the way you choose to use Trello, a board could represent a project, a list – the different streams within that project, and the cards – actual tasks that need to be moved along.
At this point in the process, I am almost always asked ‘When is a project big enough to have its own board?’
There is always going to be a fine balance to strike. Create too many boards and you start losing the much-needed oversight you want in the first place. Too few and your board becomes so cluttered it’s just too hard to see the forest for the trees.
When trying to figure out which to use, I tend to be guided by a couple of questions:
- Is the project a large deliverable that works mostly separate to all the other parts of your business?
- Does it, within itself, have several distinct streams and resource requirements?
If you’ve answered “Yes” to these questions, it is very likely that a board is best.
So if you’re looking to capture the two blogs you have to get out there this month -that’s probably a list. But if you’re creating a content calendar for the year, with 4 blog post topics per month, each with its own associated research, social media push, resources and deadlines- that’d be a board.
Likewise, if you were planning a 45-minute webinar, you could probably get away with a list and a detailed, sequential checklist. But if you’re hosting a 5-day online summit involving 15 speakers across two time zones with its own very specific administrative, technical, marketing and resource requirements – definitely a board. If you’ve started a podcast, and are at a stage where you want to divvy up the load between yourself, your virtual assistant and podcast editor? Again, I’d say it deserves dedicated board status.
Get Started in 5 Simple Steps
Let’s say that you are ready to test Trello out with something simple, like a to-do list. Here’s what you need to do…
Step 1: Set up your Trello account
- Go to www.trello.com
- Click “Sign up”
- Enter your name, email address, and password
Step 2: Set up your Trello board
- Click on the “Create a new board” link
- Give your board a name
- Assign a team to it, if relevant
- Hit “Create”
Step 3: Create the lists that need to sit on your board
At this point, you should have your brand new board on display, but there won’t be much to see until you start adding lists. To do this:
- Place your cursor in the “Add a list…” field
- Enter your list name (For a basic to-do board, you could create three lists titled “To do”, “In progress”, and “Done”.)
- Click “Save”
Step 4: Start adding task cards to your list
- Within the relevant list, click “Add a card…”
- Give your card a name that, at a glance, tells you and your team very quickly what it pertains to (e.g. a task, an idea, or a repository of information)
- Click “Save”
- Repeat this process for however many task cards you need to track
Tip: Trello lets you reorder lists and cards. All it takes is a simple drag and drop. This means cards can be (for example) moved from the “To do” list to the “Done” list as you make progress- giving yourself a high level visual of where each task is relative to completion.
Step 5: Make your cards work even harder!
Up until this point, Trello is no more than a spiffed up to-do list but the following customizations really help with improved productivity and better-managed outcomes. When you hover over a card, you will see a pencil icon. Go ahead and give it a click. This opens the card menu for you.
- Description– This is a great place to add detailed information relating to the card. You could use this spot to offer the task owner contextual info, detailed instructions, links to additional information etc.
- Add Comment– Communicate with your team using the comments section. Here you can offer updates, feedback or direction to move things along. You can add an attachment to your card, and mentioning the relevant person(s) in your comment using the @name format ensures that Trello sends them a notification too.
- Members– Enables you to assign tasks to people on your team, or draw a team member’s attention to the updates going on within a specific card. Other Trello members need to be on your team for you to add them to a board or a card. You can do this by clicking the “Show Menu” link found on the top right corner of your Trello window.
- Labels– Gives you the ability to categorize your cards by color. You could:
- apply a traffic light system to your tasks (red = not started or stalled, orange = in progress, green = completed)
- use different colors to indicate the level of prioritization (red = high priority)
- assign different colors to different task types (blue = website related tasks, red = email list, green = social media, purple = online courses etc.)
- Checklist– Offers another level of granularity, allowing for subtasks to be listed. Tag responsible parties by adding @name to each subtask.
- Due Date– Assigning a target due date & time to your card triggers a notification process for everyone set as a member of the card. And when the task is completed, you can check it off as done.
- Attachment– Allows you to add attachments from your computer as well as several cloud storage services like OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive. You can add almost any attachment type to a card… links, documents, spreadsheets, images and even short videos.
- Move– Allows you to move a card from its current location to a different list on the same board, or a different board altogether. This can be super helpful when you have environments that overlap like a sales pipeline setup where you need to move a potential customer from your “Incoming leads” board to your “New customer” board to trigger a client onboarding process. Moving the card allows you to keep all the information on that card while moving it to a new list or board.
- Copy– Super handy for recurring tasks that follow a similar process every time (think: weekly newsletters, monthly social media posts and that sort of thing.) With the card open, you simply hit “Copy”, change the title (e.g. “Facebook posts – April 2017” might be changed to “Facebook posts – May 2017”), tell Trello which elements you wish to copy across, and where the new card should be copied to. Then, click “Create Card.”
- Archive– Allows you to take a completed task card off your board while storing the information within the card for search purposes.
Tip: Managing these elements is what makes Trello really shine. The more you invest in the proper setup of your Trello cards, the more effective you’ll become at managing your projects and tackling your to-dos. As with any business tool, the quality of your input really does dictate the quality of your output. A card without an assigned task owner, due date or clear directions is not going to get done.
A few fun ways you can supercharge your Trello experience:
Email to Board:
Picture this: You receive an email from a client requesting assistance with something. You’re focussed on another client right now, and the request is not something you can quickly cross off your list, but you don’t want to lose sight of it.
With Trello, you can use the Email to Board feature to forward that email from your inbox directly to your Trello board of choice.
- To get your board’s email address (this is unique to the board and the team member), you would click “More” > “Email to Board” Settings
- Email subject line = The card’s title
- Email body = The card’s description
- To add team members, simply add @name in the subject line or put @name in the body of your email on its own line
- Attachments get sent across too!
Search & Filter:
Both the search and filter functions in Trello are super useful. With it, you can:
- search for cards across all your boards (including the archived ones)
- (within a single board) filter by specific labels, members assigned to cards, due dates, and keywords.
To search across multiple boards and card descriptions, simply type your keyword(s) in the search bar.
To filter within a specific board, go to that board, click “Show Menu”, followed by “Filter Cards” and select the filter(s) that you’d like to apply. At this point, you should see a “Filtering is on” tag at the top of your board and only those cards fulfilling your filter criteria will be on display.
Removing a filter is as simple as clicking ‘x’ against the “Filtering is on” tag or following the “Show Menu” > “Filter Cards” > “Clear Filter” flow.
Create multiple cards based on an Excel list:
Let’s say you have an Excel-based task list of everything that you need to get done between now and the launch of a webinar you are hosting – 45 rows of tasks. Now, you find yourself wanting to get this list into Trello instead (because Trello is just awesome for that sort of thing 😆). There is absolutely no need to manually create 45 new cards and type each task out. What you can do instead is:
- Highlight the 45 Excel cells carrying the task list
- Go over to the relevant Trello board and list
- Click “Add a Card”
- Paste the Excel task list into the new card
- Click “Add”
- At this point, Trello will tell you that it can either create a card for every new line or create just the one card with a super long title. Go with “Create 45 Cards.”
- All that’s left is for you to assign task owners and due dates.
What I tend to do when starting a Trello environment for a client is (1) understand the different types of lists and cards that are likely to be created in their business, (2) identify those task cards that follow a consistent process and (3) create template cards and checklists that I can draw on anytime I need them.
In the same way that you are able to copy a Trello card for recurring tasks, you can also copy checklists. All you need to do is, starting at the card to which you are adding the checklist, click “Checklist”, give the checklist a title if you need to, and then use the “Copy Items From” drop-down menu.
I find this process reassuring particularly with longer workflows- because I know that I have taken the time to create a complete and accurate checklist upfront, and from then on, I just have to trust that if I follow the checklist through – I’m not forgetting anything (Note: even here, you still have the flexibility to add/delete checklists items.)
Format Your Text:
There’s no reason to settle for plain text in Trello. Here’s how you can bring attention to specific parts of your card descriptions and comments:
Bold – Wrap your text in double asterisks like this **your bolded text**
Italics – Wrap your text with an underscore like this _your italicized text_
> This line will appear
> as an indented quote in Trello
A list of bulleted points – You’d add a space between the paragraph directly before the list and the list itself. And then…
– Bullet point number 1
– Bullet point number 2
– Bullet point number 3
– and so on.
So there. Trello is a hunk of a solution for keeping you and your team organized. It’s simple, fluid and visual nature makes it easier to stay on top of all the moving parts in your business. But it is in itself a means to an end. How well it works will boil down to the processes and habits that you and your team apply to it.