After I spent a week using the organizational tool Trello, I wanted to learn more. So I tracked down a few Trello “power users” to get some insight into how three very different people use it to facilitate their work and lives. One of them shared a hack that actually turns Pinterest into something productive! So without further ado, allow me to introduce my organization mentors...
I used Trello to create my own personal productivity system. And then I realized all of the things you could do with it, and I built tons of processes related to it. I got everybody at work to convert from Asana to Trello, and got some other teams to start using it as well.
One process that I’m starting to get a little bit known for is my personal system on Trello... a board called “Make it Happen.” It’s kind of my life’s dashboard. My first list on there is called “Future Ideas.” That’s where I dump all kinds of stuff that comes into my mind. The next list is called “To Do,” and that is just a queue of things that I need to do. I used to be really strict about this and have a To Do for the week, a To Do for the quarter… at the moment, my structure is simply To Do. The next list is called “Doing,” and obviously that’s things that are in progress. Then the next list is Done, where I’ll move over my completed projects.
I used Trello for Christmas shopping this year, and it was incredibly handy. I made a board and had one list for all the people I needed to buy for, and I had a list for gifts I’d bought. Each person was a card on the list. Trello worked really well for this because I was able to put ideas in there as I thought of them. I also used the Package Tracker Power-Up. That was the easiest way I’ve ever managed my Christmas shopping. I actually wrote a blog post about it.
I used to use Excel at work. It was kind of annoying. I figured, it’s the 21st century, I’m sure there’s a better solution. So I just started doing some Google searches and I came across a Lifehacker article that talked about the Kanban method and organizing yourself, and Trello was a tool that was recommended. I checked it out, and it was a perfect fit from day one. I’ve been using it ever since.
When I first showed Trello to my coworkers they were like “Yeah, we’re already too busy with everything else. We’d rather just keep everything in our email inbox.” Which kinda blew my mind. After a couple years, we had some turnover, and every time someone new came in I’d be a Trello advocate and show them what it was capable of.
One day, we had some duplicate printing requests when it was getting really crazy in the office. We accidentally printed triple the amount of copies that we needed. There was a lot of waste and a lot of hard feelings. After a blow-up with senior management, we decided there’s probably a better approach to managing our production requests. I showed off a Trello board and how we could use it to manage a ticketing system whenever we needed something to be printed off. We got some buy-in, and rolled it out, and we’ve been using it ever since.
I use it in my personal life, too. I share a board with my wife. We’ve got a bunch of our favorite recipes on there. When we’re doing meal planning for the week, we’ll look through what we want to eat for this week, and we’ll slide things over and add new recipes as our collection grows. I’ve been practicing piano again recently after years of not touching the piano, so I’ve got a board showing different pieces of music that I’m working on.
I work in Cub Scouts as a volunteer, so I’ve made a board for all the boys and organize it by what group they’re in, like Webelos or Bears or whatever. It’s just a way to organize my thoughts. It’s so intuitive. You can share information, you can use @ comments like you’d use on Twitter or Slack, you can organize it so it’s clear who’s responsible for a given project at a given time. All the collaboration features have been a big help for me.
For my blog, Balanced Mamas, I teach moms how to create a more balanced life for themselves. One of the ways that I do that is teaching them to use Trello to organize their lives. I started using Trello for the blog, just to organize my thoughts, my marketing stuff, links, you name it. My editorial calendar, my podcast.
I quickly realized after about a month that I could use it for my home, so I started using it for meal planning. I created an automation between Pinterest and Trello using IFTTT. I would just pin my recipes while waiting to pick up my daughter from school. If I was standing in line at Walmart, I’d be trolling Pinterest, finding recipes to cook for dinner. Every time I pin a recipe to my recipe board, it fires to Trello, and then once a week I can sit down and instead of getting distracted with everything on Pinterest, I can look at my meal planning board. All of the things I’ve pinned throughout the week are there.
I figured out I could use this for cleaning, so I created a cleaning board. I created a board for all of my daughter’s school stuff. I recently started going paperless with all of her school projects and all of the artwork that comes home from school. It’s overwhelming! So I bought a scanner app for my iPhone and I scan the item, it crops it and makes it pretty for me, and it puts it in my Trello board. We don’t have to worry about keeping all that stuff, or her losing her memories of creating that beautiful artwork — it’s in Trello. I can have them printed as photos, or take them to Office Depot and have them printed on paper too. I started teaching moms through the blog to do the same thing.
I’ve created so many boards now. I use Trello for the holidays, planning out gifts for family members, and all of our Christmas cards. I use it for all of our family contacts. The list goes on. It’s kind of ridiculous.
Dang, those are some Trello power users! You don’t have to be one of these organizational masterminds to get the benefits of Trello, though. Even if you just use it to loosely structure your life like I did, it’ll probably be an improvement. Check it out!
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.