Saturday, May 6, 2017

Bringing order to your chaotic life with Trello

Ever feel like your life is a hurricane of responsibilities? Of course you do. So do I. That's why I write so much about managing stress and priorities. That's why I've been using the Bullet Journal method for a few years now. But I've recently retired that stack of black journals on my shelf and discovered an even cooler tool for time and task management.

Last fall, Elizabeth Brott Beese, a Ph.D. student from Purdue who spent some time studying our program, saw my notebooks and knew what they were. I thought that was really cool, because I'd never met anyone who knew the system. I told her how much I loved it. Then she told me why she didn't use it. She'd discovered something better. It was called Trello.

It looked really cool. I tried it. I said goodbye to my black journals.

Why is Trello So Darn Cool?


What I like about Bullet Journal is the physical feeling of writing stuff down and drawing little boxes and arrows and checking things off my list with a G2 pen. It's an ingenious system designed by Ryder Carroll that enables you to move tasks from week to week and manage tasks by category or calendar.

But it has weaknesses. Though you create your own index, it's still hard to find stuff when you try to go back in previous journals for important info, and everything becomes disjointed. Pages of unrelated stuff separate related tasks and topics from each other.

Trello is better. It helps you visualize your tasks by category, and it's super easy to move stuff around, reschedule, and find stuff you need, when you need it.

My Trello System

There are lots of ways to use Trello, which is of one of the cool things about it. I made this video about Trello for my students that explains the basics--the four essential pieces of the Trello system: boards, lists, cards, checklists and calendars. Start there for the basics, but here's how I use it for my stuff:

I like to make the boards very broad. For example, I have one board for my whole, entire job at the Depot Campus. On my Depot Master board, I divided all of my responsibilities into categories. This was a cool exercise, because it forced me to really think about what were the most important aspects of my job. It helped me bring order to a job that involves a sometimes bewildering array of very different responsibilities.

In each of those categories, I create cards for particular projects and tasks, and then within each card, I create checklists. I set due dates for each card based on the next checklist item that is due in each card. When I complete a checklist item, I change the due date.

Once in a while, I'll go through each list just to remind myself of what I need to do, what's coming up, and do a priority check. It's a great way to reorient myself when I'm overwhelmed or refocus when I feel like I'm running around like a chicken with it's head cut off.

When I have new ideas, I jot them down as cards and tag them with follow up dates.

I periodically go through the whole board and archive old stuff, finished stuff, and stuff I no longer care about.

Trello is also really cool for delegating. I can easily move cards to my program assistant's board, for example.

I have a dual-screen set up on my computer, and I always keep Trello open on the right hand screen. This gives me a continuous birds-eye view of my job.

It's not perfect, but neither am I. You see all those little red rectangles on the screen shot above? Those are missed deadlines, or just cards I haven't updated.

But it still helps... a lot.

It's like a map of my working life.