We use Trello for all of our task and project management. It gives us a view of everything that we’re doing, have done, or need to do from big projects to the smallest task.

Flexibility beats consistency

The most important thing to understand and accept about Trello is the flexibility of what a card, a list and a board mean to you. There is a tendency to formalise Trello by, for example, making a board represent a team or business area, making lists represent projects that team is working on, and cards represent features or tasks that are part of the project. Or think to yourself that lists need to be steps in a process such as To Do, Doing, Done, and as each of those lists as representing a state that the cards step through as part of the workflow. This is wrong. Don’t do it.

The strength of Trello is that lists and cards can represent all kinds of things, even on the same board. One list could be for all outstanding tasks with the cards as each task, another list could be for all projects with the cards representing each project, and if you need to, you can create another list for a specific project, add cards to it whilst the project is live and delete the list once all the cards have been moved to the Completed list. This flexibility of what the various elements in Trello represent to you is it’s strength as a system. It allows something like a project to easily move between a micro and macro level depending on it’s complexity, how much of a priority it is for the team, or how diverse the work required will be. It’s important to accept this fluidity of what represents what in order to use Trello to its best.

Tools and Workflows

There are four parts to our workflow for using Trello. We have a single Trello board, use email to create cards, ifttt to create recurring cards, and butler bot to automate jobs.

Trello Boards, Lists and Cards

Trello Board
We use a single Board so that everything is available to see in one place. We could have one board for tasks, another for projects, etc., etc., but that makes it difficult to see all of the work of the whole team, especially in Calendar view which only shows an individual board.

We only have a few Lists. One is a backlog of ideas we might do one day, another is all our tasks, and three others are Queued Projects, Current Projects, and then Completed, which is where all cards eventually end up.

We have lots and lots of Cards. As cards are easily moved between lists they have an easy flexibility about them, and we like flexibility. A card can represent an idea, a task, or an entire project. So, we might collect idea on separate cards and then find that a few of those cards are related and can be grouped together to make a piece of work, so then the details on all those cards might become a checklist on another card and those original idea cards get moved to the Completed list.

Each card has a Description, an area of text near the title of the card. We use the description to record anything that you might want to find again and again such as a link to the Google Doc of the project requirements.

Comments are a good way to keep track of the state of a project without having to write a formal status update. When something changes in whatever that card represents its easy to just add a quick note about it or copy and paste an email.

Checklists are another way of keeping track of and showing the current state of a card. If the list has ten items and six of them are ticked then it’s easy to see that the card is sixty percent complete. Again, the tendency to try to formalise Trello and say Checklists are for this and Comments are for that takes away the flexibility.

Using IFTTT to create recurring cards

Trello IFTTT
We have a number of tasks that have to be completed every day, week of month. We don’t want to have to manually create all of cards ahead of time or have to remember to create them when they are due. So, we use IFTTT and have a number of applets that creates cards on schedule, assign members and set a due date and time.

ButlerBot to automate jobs

trello butlerbot
Butler bot does a few different things for us. If someone is mentioned in a card it adds them as a member. Every day it counts the number of cards in our task list to tell us how much work is outstanding. And when a card is moved to the completed list it changes the date to today. Using ButlerBot for these kinds of regularly occurring jobs that are part of administering any system says time and ensures consistency. ButlerBot doesn’t forget to do things.

Email to create cards

Trello Email
Sometimes being able to send a quick email to your Trello board to create a card is easier than actually going to Trello to do it. Trello understands using @membersname in the subject and assigns the card to that member, but it requires everyone to remember everyone else’s user name. We get around this by using ButlerBot to look for cards with each team members name and then assign that member to that card. Adding labels works in a similar way, just include #reporting in the subject line of the email and Trello will assign that label to the card. Adding cards by email falls short of being about to assign a due date to the card but again this can be handled by asking ButlerBot to look for words like ‘today’ and changing to due date to today’s date.

This combination of using a really flexible tool like Trello, the usability of being able to and cards by sending an email, and simplicity of using services like IFTTT and ButlerBot to automate jobs makes Trello a great way to manage all kinds of tasks and projects, and provide an overview of everything in one place.