Trello came to my attention about six weeks ago and, being a technology and productivity nerd, I quickly created an account and was eager to check it out. It’s always interesting to see how different companies approach task management and collaboration – whether it’s an obvious interpretation of David Allen Co’s Getting Things Done (GTD), or whether it’s a completely new way of looking at to-do’s. In any case, only those companies that strive to be unique end up making a mark for themselves and help the productivity of many people.
When I logged in to Trello for the first time I was a little confused. Each new account is given a “Welcome Board” to help guide you through how to best use the application. I was so used to basic lists that when these “boards” and “cards” appeared I didn’t know what to do. Where was the tick-box that would let me mark something as complete? How do I make something a priority? And what are all these columns anyway?
I dismissed Trello as a practical task management application.
A few weeks later I heard “Trello” mentioned again somewhere and went to take another look thinking I’d missed something that would make it all make sense. About 2 minutes later I again dismissed Trello.
Later still I read that Dan Gold mentioned Trello in his post “How to Trust an App Developer with Your Data in Getting Things Done” and decided I’d give it one last shot. This time it all fell into place, perfectly.
Trello is a very visual application and is great for organising actions. When I set out to try Trello for this third time I wanted to try to work out how I could collaborate with my colleagues so that they could see what I was working on for them and I could assign them things to do if I needed to. My first attempt at this was to lump everything I needed to do for all the colleagues I work with into a single Board – this didn’t work.
What is a “Board”?
Trello’s approach is to make something like whiteboards – a place you can throw all your ideas down and then organise them into lists. A board could be used for a single project, for example. You can have as many of these boards as you like. Each board has a number of lists and cards, but I’ll come to that later.
So when I tried to lump everything I needed to to for all my colleagues it was obvious it wasn’t going to work for me – too many different projects (colleagues) colliding.
It was then, as I was about to create a new board for each person, that I discovered “Organizations”.
Trello defines “Organisations” as a way of grouping people and boards. The beauty of this is that I could create an organisation for all my colleagues and then create, inside that organisation, a separate board for each person. Trello has awesome permission controls that are really easy to understand and use. This means that I can allow all my colleagues to go in and view what I’m doing for anyone, but only edit the board that I specifically add them to! Perfect! Now when someone asks me what I’ve got on I can point them at the organisation in Trello and they can browse around the boards to see exactly how much I have one at any time.
The real power of Trello is in the cards.
Cards and Lists
In each board there will be a number of lists and cards. A list can be anything, such as a category or a status. For me, I use lists as status’. When you create a new board with Trello it’ll contain three lists by default – To Do; Doing, and; Done. I’ve added another list for now and called it “Waiting”. There is not limit, as least that I’ve seen, to the number of lists a board can have. For Cloud Productivity I use lists a little differently. I have lists for things like posts to write, networking, ideas and more.
Each list has any number of “Cards”. A card is a single item and adding a new card is done by just clicking on the list you want to add it to. I have a card that says “Productivity Presentation” on my “To Do” list (ironic, right?). That seems a little generic, true, but that is just a title, a prompter. Clicking on the card flips it over and allows for much more detail. Here I can add a detailed description of the presentation, I can assign it to a board member or myself, assign labels (these are like coloured tags that can be customised to your liking), attach files up to 10MB in size (if it’s an image Trello will show the image in the list!), set a due date, add comments to the card, where every comment for every person is shown in sequential order and I can also add a checklist to the card. By adding a checklist I can breakdown the card into smaller discrete activities. For the presentation card I have:
As I complete each action and tick it off the card shows me the percentage of the way through the process I am. Not only this, but it’s possible to add multiple checklists to a single card. This is perfect when more than one person is working on a card.
Now I have a bunch of cards in my To Do list. When I’m ready to start working on one of them all I do is drag the card from the To Do list into the Doing list. And when the task is complete, I drag it over to the Done list. If the Done list gets too long, or too outdated, Trello allows me to archive all the cards on the list, giving me a clean list to work with without actually deleting anything.
Trello is still fairly new so many parts of the application which are continually being worked on. While there are great apps available for both iPhone and Android, there is no iPad or Android Tablet app just yet, but this (iPad) is being developed. Oh, and you can make any board public too. For example, Fog Creek Software, the people behind Trello, provide public access to their development and mobile development boards, so you can see exactly what they’re working on, you can even vote up certain cards. One particular feature that I’d like to see is being able to mark a card as “complete”. At the moment, if you set a due date on a card, it’ll forever sit there trying to get your attention. The only way to stop it is to remove the due date from the card altogether.
I’m so glad that I kept trying out Trello. It’s such a different way of approaching tasks that it took just that bit longer to click for me. I truly believe that this application will resonate with my colleagues too – its clean and intuitive for someone who hasn’t used many other task management apps. There are loads more amazing things that Trello can do that I haven’t mentioned here. I urge you to go and register an account and check it out – it’s free! If at first it seems a little weird, give it some time. Let the process, the boards, the lists and cards, stew over in your mind and think about different ways you might use them. Like I mentioned, for me it was the easy collaboration which sealed the deal. How are you using Trello? Have you discovered any other applications which have a unique approach to productivity? Also, if you have any questions I’d be happy to help you work them out. Let me know int the comments.