How I use Trello

When I first encountered Trello a few years ago it confused me and I didn't really know how I was supposed to use it. I can be both extremely stubborn and extremely impatient, and in this instance the impatience won. I gave up.

Now I realise that it's a bit like a secretly sexy librarian. At first you think it's all about practicality but then all of a sudden it takes off its glasses and shakes its hair in slow motion and then BAM! You can see that it's got both style and substance. Take the app for instance. Yes, it's basically got the same functionality as the web version (pretty impressive) but even how you interact with it is pleasing, such as being able to drag and drop with ease (something that so many apps seem to struggle with).

The basic concepts of Trello revolve around “boards”, “lists” and “cards” and to explain a bit how these work together I'll go through how I use these different elements.


Boards are like big projects or topics. I've currently got two boards: “Pembrokeshire” and “GTD”.


Lists are like sub-topics within projects. Within each board I currently have between three and eight lists.


Cards are items on a list. On my GTD projects list I have 56 cards and on my largest Pembrokeshire list I have three cards. Within cards you can also add comments, checklists, due dates, files, images and more.


Board example: Pembrokeshire

A fairly straightforward use of Trello

I'm going on a walking holiday in April to Pembrokeshire with my boyfriend and on a recent Saturday I felt compelled to plan the entire trip. I knew that we were going for a week, but we hadn't chosen the start day or date yet. Within the week there were some restrictions as to what could happen on each day (some buses didn't run on Sundays, one hotel had a minimum two night stay on Saturdays) but we didn't yet know how much walking we would do on each day.

My boyfriend just loves Evernote but I find it buggy and clunky, and Google Docs is fine for sharing but at the end of the day it's just a document editor (incidentally, I prefer Quip to Google Docs but more on that another time). Suddenly I had the epiphany that I could use Trello for planning the holiday.

Here's how I did it:

  1. I created a board called “Pembrokeshire”.
  2. Within this I created eight lists, one for each day (e.g. "Day 1")and then one called "Additional Information"
  3. I knew we wanted to start in St. Davids so I added a card to the Day 1 list called “Travel to St. Davids”
  4. I knew we wanted to end in Saundersfoot so I added a card to the Day 7 list called “Travel back from Saundersfoot”
  5. As we need to get a bus to St Davids I added a card to Day 1 called “Not Sunday” as there are no buses on a Sunday
  6. I then looked at my Pembrokeshire guidebook to see the distances between places and started to add cards to different days such as “Walk to Solva - 12 miles” and again adding in cards for any restrictions such as “Not Saturday”
  7. Once I'd populated the lists it was easy to test whether a particular start day would work or not based on the restrictions
  8. I added two optional days to each list name so it read “Day 1 - Monday or Thursday”
  9. Based on availability I could soon narrow down the start date and changed the list names to the actual dates such as “Monday 7th April” and deleted the cards with the restrictions (technically I should say I archived them actually as on Trello you don't delete)
  10. As I found nice looking accommodation I added a card with the B&B or hotel name to the relevant list and added the website link as a comment within that card
  11. To the Additional Information list I added a card for bus information (where I uploaded a PDF file and added a link) and a card for packing information (to which I added a checklist for items to remember)
  12. I shared the entire board with my boyfriend so he could add items to the packing list and generally avail himself of what we were doing

Here's how my Trello board looks now:

Trello Pembrokeshire Board.jpg

Board example: GTD

A slightly more complex use of Trello

I first encountered Getting Things Done by David Allen (or “GTD” as the kids in the know call it) about five years ago after my colleague evangelised about getting her desk clear for the first time in years thanks to the GTD system outlined in the book. Since then I've come across a whole raft of content online about this approach to productivity so I won't go into detail about how it works here. That's what Google and Leo Babauta's handy summary are for.

All you need to know is that such a system exists, and one of its key teachings is that you need to get tasks and actions out of your head and into a trusted system. Trello is this trusted system.

How my GTD board works:

  1. I have a board called “GTD”
  2. Within this board I have two key lists: “Projects” and “Someday” (note: in GTD, a “project” is anything that will require more than just one step to complete, so “Get the car serviced” is a project rather than an action as it involves finding the number for the garage, phoning the garage, taking the car in to the garage etc.)
  3. On my Projects list I have a card for each project that needs to happen within a year
  4. I tend to write my projects in the present tense (as if they have been achieved) for example “Three blog posts are written and uploaded to The Wheel Exists website”
  5. Each card has a due date assigned to it
  6. You can get a calendar feed for a list so I have due dates from my Projects list displaying in my Google calendar
  7. Each card has one or more labels assigned to it based on whether it's for a personal project, a joint project, or a business project
  8. Any supporting information relating to each project is added to that card (such text from an email, a link, or a document as an attachment) which means I don't have to go back into my email to work on that project
  9. Trello has an option to enable “card ageing” which means that projects I've not updated in a while start to fade, and this is an easy visual reminder for me to take action to keep them moving along
  10. My Someday list is for any projects that are probably a year or more away (or for any that I'm just considering but am not sure about)
  11. On this list I don't bother with labels or due dates but I do add links and ideas to each card as they come to me
  12. If I decide to do them sooner, I'll move them to the project list and assign a due date and a label
Trello GTD Board.jpg


Other tips

As you can see, there's so much potential to use Trello for managing projects and planning collaboratively, especially as even in the free plan there's so much functionality, and you can share at a board or a card level.

Yesterday I also discovered that you can integrate the brilliant time tracking software Toggl with a number of other apps (including Trello) via a Chrome extension so you can track the time you spend on a particular project right from within Trello.

Do you have any innovative uses for Trello? Tell us how you use it in the comments section.