I’ve been wanting to write about Trello for awhile now, especially considering how much I’ve been evangelizing for it. My evangelizing finally hit Reddit, I received the following question/comment:
I’m starting to get into GTD— do you mind showing a screenshot of your Trello setup as some inspiration?
—Reddit user dysuke
Instead of posting screenshots, I decided to actually write this blog post instead.
So, before I get into my Trello setup, I need to talk about my work setup. My work setup often involves managing large amounts of written information, and its not uncommon for a pile of index cards that looks like this:
Because of the sheer volume of index cards involved in my day-to-day life - I’m going through something on the order of 1000 index card a month these days - a fair number of them need to be digitized. Omnifocus didn’t really work for me because I don’t have the iOS version, and I need my digital information with me everywhere. Creating separate notes for each card in something like Nebulous Notes or Simple Note would work, but its annoying to sift through them to find what I need because its hard to organize the number of collections I need stuff for and I’ve never been big on tagging.
I’m not a big fan of Evernote period, so that’s out.
The thing that makes Trello so attractive to me for this purpose is that it is essentially digital index cards. They’re organized in columns by heading, and you can create a new collection of index cards for each project you have. Admittedly, the universe makes sense to me through a narrow lens, but digital index cards make a ton of sense to me.
I use Trello on iOS, as well as on OS X. I use an app called Fluid, which takes webapps and runs them as an OS X app. The paid version of Fluid creates dedicated browser windows for each instance, so I never have to actually log into Trello in Chrome. When I’m working at home, I use the 2nd monitor as a dedicated full-screen Trello window, occasionally watching TV over the top of it.
Now that the administrative stuff is out of the way, let’s dig into how I get stuff done with Trello.
I have relatively few boards compared to other Trello setups I’ve seen, but this number encompasses everything I need Trello for. I use Trello to manage personal projects, and it has allowed me to replace the 37 Signals suite of apps (Highrise/Basecamp), acting as my client relationship manager & collaborative project platform (when necessary; it isn’t necessary right now).
My CRM board is setup a little differently, but most of my boards look like this (redacted, when necessary):
No matter how many headings I have on most of my boards, I don’t even bother with the default “Doing” column, opting only for the project heading and the “Done” column. I’ve never had a need to actively track the stuff I’m “Doing”; I know what things I’m working on vs. stuff I’m waiting for next steps for.
But let’s say that I’ve found a loveseat that I like on Craigslist and I’m waiting for next steps on it.
After you input the note, it will show on the board that there is a note there.
So for a board like this, where I’m tracking Uncompleted Projects and thats it, this particular setup works very well. I only see uncompleted projects (every item on the board) and stuff with next steps (anything with a note icon). As soon as a project is completed, I drag it over to the “Done” column and immediately archive it so that it disappears from the screen.
In this heavily redacted screenshot, you can see my Action Items board:
It has the same basic layout, except I moved the “Done” column over to the far left to prevent myself from having to scroll to find it. Each heading is a different client, each card is a different item for that client. Things with notes are still things I’m waiting for next steps on, and everything that’s done isn’t visible, because its been archived in the “Done” column.
The only board that’s different is my CRM…which I won’t screenshot because I’d literally have to redact the whole thing. It has 2 columns:
- Client Phone Numbers - Each card under this heading is a different client, and each card has the names, numbers, and email addresses of everyone I might conceivably need to talk to at each client.
- Client Contact Notes - Again, each card is a different client, and each note on the card describes each point of contact; who I talked to, when I talked to them, and what I talked to them about.
In terms of actually getting things done with Trello, here’s my system:
- I process my email to zero 3 or 4 times a day. Usually 4 on Mondays & Wednesdays (typically higher volume email days for me), and 3 on Tuesday/Thursday/Friday (lower volume email days).
- After I process my email to zero, I look at each of my “open” index cards and process them to zero as well; I ask myself if anything I just learned from email allows me to get rid of any index cards (if yes, I tear them up and throw them out), or if any cards need to be deferred, or if any of them have become mission critical.
- Twice a day (usually after the first and last email/index card batches), I process Trello using the same outline as my index card process. If a card can be deleted, I delete it; if it needs a next step, I add it; if I need to do it ASAP, I move it to the top of the column.
One of my favorite things about index cards - aside from the ubiquitous capture, versatility, agility, and miniscule cost - is tearing them up and throwing them away. It gets old information out of sight and out of mind, helping reinforce the ideas behind Inbox Zero, where its not about how much email is in your inbox, but rather how much of your brain is in your inbox (especially when you don’t want it to be). Archiving Trello cards services the same idea; it gets them out of sight and out of mind, allowing your brain to focus on the Next Thing that needs to be done.
And so that’s how Trello helps me get stuff done. Its a very lightweight solution to a problem I’ve had for a couple of years now, and at this point its hard to imagine myself using anything else. It fully replaces Omnifocus, Highrise, and Basecamp, and mostly replaces Nebulous Notes/Simple Note for a lot of my notetaking needs.
It is absolutely a must-install app for me, and is one of the seven apps that I absolutely cannot live without (the others being TextExpander, Quicksilver, 1Password, Keyboard Maestro, Byword, and Chrome).
Thanks for reading.
I appreciate you