Back in May, I wrote a blog post, called Trello + automation = productive bliss, about the daily task management Trello board I’d been using for a couple of weeks. As you can tell by the title of that post, I was really excited about this task-management system. Now, three months later, I’m even more excited about it. I’ve used it every day (many times a day) for about four months now and it is helping me be more productive and, even more importantly, it’s keeping relatively stress-free. I’m holding less in my head, which gives me a clearer brain.
On Episode 118 of our podcast Getting to Good Enough, published today, my co-host Shannon and I discussed this task management system—which I’ve roped her into trying—and I promised listeners a granular blog post about how I use it. If you’re a podcast listener, I’m glad you clicked over to this post and I hope you find it helpful. (If you haven’t listened to Episode 118, and this topic interests you, I encourage you to listen to it.)
As I wrote in my original post, my board is based on a template created by Mitchell Fry that is a free download from Trello. The template includes a link to his blog post with two tutorials about setting up the Butler automations for this board. I encourage you to check it out. Please understand that give full credit to James for this brilliant board.
I’ve modified the daily task management (DTM) board a a bit for my needs and I’m so happy about it I want to share it in detail in hopes it will help you too.
Just to give you a point of reference, here’s a picture of a sample board I created. It looks like my regular board, with some of the more personal tasks removed. (It’s the same photo I used in the previous post.)
I’m going to break this post down into a few sections:
My DTM board is broken down into lists. The key lists with which I interact every day are (in left-to-right order):
The Backlog list contains my master task list. Each is written on a card, which are like electronic sticky notes. For the most part I have one task per card.
The Daily Tasks list contains, as you would expect, the tasks I like to do every day, usually seven days a week. There are 13 cards in there, including things like yoga, blog, walk Bix, and write in my gratitude journal.
The To Do Today list is populated by my daily tasks (which are automatically moved to the To Do Today list while I sleep—more on that in a minute) and the tasks I select each morning from the Backlog list.
The Done Today list contains cards that I drag manually after accomplishing a task. When I drag something into Done Today using the Trello app on my computer, it explodes with confetti. You read that right. It’s as awesome as it sounds. To get the confetti, all you have to is copy a little icon into the title of the list. You can find the icons on this blog post from Trello. (Scroll down to “Party Your Pants Off.”)
Here’s the video of the confetti I created for the last post, so you can see what I mean:
of our podcast Getting to Good Enough
I want to interject right here that automations are not available in the free version of Trello. Trello Gold, which costs $5 a month (or $45 when paid annually), provides a limited number of command runs every month. I found out within two weeks that in order to have all the automations I use, with the frequency I use them, I have to pay for Trello Business Class. (I pay $120 a year for that.) It’s absolutely worth it to me, obviously. But I wanted to make that clear before you read further.
I’ll be the first to admit that setting up Butler automations isn’t intuitive for a non-coder like me. But Mitchell Fry’s blog post Using Butler Automation with your Trello Boards recreates, step by step, how to do them in its two tutorials. So you can just replicate what he teaches. And once you understand it a bit, it becomes easier to branch out and create additional automations of your own invention.
These are the automations that I’ve employed. They are the secret sauce of the system and they are the reason it’s been so sustainable for me.
While I’m asleep, these things happen:
Those are my daily automations. I also have weekly and monthly automations as well. For example, on Saturdays, two cards appear in my Backlog list: weed rain garden and laundry. Every other Wednesday a card appears in my To Do Today list that says “get ready for housekeepers.” And on the last day of the month, a card appears in my To Do Today list, reminding me to gather social media analytics, something that I do every day on the last month.
The types of automations described above are in the Calendar section of the Butler automation. I also use Board Buttons. The one I use most often shuffles the Backlog list so I don’t get in a rut of looking at the only ones on the bottom or the top. I also have a board button that selects a random task from the Backlog and puts it in my To Do List. I love that.
When I wake up in the morning, my DTM board is ready for me to finish setting up for the day. My To Do Today list is populated with my daily tasks and nothing else. I look at my Backlog list and archive any daily tasks that I didn’t accomplish the previous day. (They’re easy to spot because they have stickers. More on that in the Extra Goodness section below.) If there are tasks I actually did but didn’t manage to drag to Done Today, I move them to the previous day’s Done Today list (which is also equipped with confetti). Then comes the important part: I drag those things I want to get done today into the To Do Today list. As I look that list over, I usually put the cards in the order I think I’ll do them.
If I have appointments or other key events in the day, I’ll separate them out with dividers. I make a divider card by typing three dashes in a blank card. That creates a card with nothing but a line in it and I use the divider card to separate chunks of the day. So, for example, if I have a phone appointment at 11, I’ll add the appointment as a task and put a divider card before it, which indicates to me that I hope to get everything above the divider line done before that appointment. That’s a level of detail that’s certainly not necessary, but it works for me.
Here’s what that looks like. I took this photo of my actual board today.
Throughout the day I’m scanning my To Do Today list and moving items I’ve accomplished into the Done Today list while I bask in my confetti explosion. Also throughout the day I’m adding tasks. Usually I add them to the Backlog list, but sometimes I add them to the To Do Today list, depending on their urgency. And, yes, I’ve been known to create a card after I’ve done something that wasn’t on the list, just so I could drag it to Done Today and get confetti.
Everything I’ve described is great, in my opinion. But there are some little extras that are cherry on the sundae. They include:
It’s easy to add a new card to a list by clicking on “Add another card” at the bottom of a list. I do it all the time. You can also insert a new card under an existing card by hovering over that card and pressing N. But my favorite way to add a task to my Backlog list is to dictate the task on my iPhone using a Shortcut. This was a game changer for me. It’s the easiest method I’ve ever used for adding a task to any kind of task list (digital or analog).
I find iOS shortcuts a little hard to put together, so here’s a picture of my shortcut recipe for adding a task to my backlog list:
And here’s how it looks on my phone.
I get to it from the Control Center on my phone (swiping right as far as I can, and then scrolling to the bottom of my screen, where my Shortcuts widget is.) I simply press Add to Trello and start talking. The task is automatically added to the bottom of my Backlog list. It’s like a miracle. (As you can see in the photo, I also have a shortcut that allows me to dictate a blog post idea and it’s automatically added to my Blog Post Ideas Trello board.)
Shannon uses Siri on her Apple Watch to dictate tasks that are added to the bottom of her Trello task-management list. She never even has to touch her phone. That feels miraculous too.
Implementing this new system has revolutionized my desk time. Because of the pandemic, I’m spending a lot of time at my desk and I don’t want to look back at all this available time and feel I squandered it. My DTM board keeps me focused and on task. It’s the touchpoint for my day. Whenever my focus shift away from what I’m doing, I go to the list and I’m reminded of what to do next. I no longer have days where I can’t figure out how the day passed without my getting anything done. I do a lot and what I do is all captured on my board.
One important note: the success of this system (like any task-management system) depends on daily interaction with it. If you were to implement the same automations I have and then ignored your board for a week, your undone daily tasks would pile up in the Backlog list and become overwhelming. If you try it, I encourage you to commit to daily interaction with it until you can reap the benefits that will keep you going.
I hope this post answers questions you have if you’re interested in giving it a try. Feel free to reach out in the comments below through the Contact form if you have further questions you think I can answer.