Trello is a project management tool based on the principle of “Kanban flow”, which is the main difference between Trello and most of the other project management software. It comes in three tiers: Free, Gold and Business Class.
In this post, I’ll share the positive, as well as negative sides of Trello, so you can decide if it’s the right tool for you. I’ll also share tips for getting started, so you can quickly set up your own Trello boards and use it immediately.
Why use Trello?
One of the main benefits of Trello is that it’s very visual. This is especially important for those of us who are sensitive to the visual appearance of apps.
Trello uses columns or “lists” to display different phases in the project, and each “card” represents a task. However, Trello is very flexible when it comes to organizing your process.
There are also color coded labels and “power-ups” that add more features, such as a calendar view of tasks, or a decaying effect on the cards that weren’t used in a while.
You can attach images and other files to each card, add checklists, team members and comments.
All Trello items can be easily duplicated: lists, cards, checklists and even the entire boards. This enables you to create templates you can use over and over again, and share them with other users.
Trello also has a fully featured mobile app.
All the important features are available in the free tier, including working with a team. Trello Gold and Business Class offer additional bells and whistles like custom backgrounds and app integrations.
The downsides of Trello
I’m a huge fan of Trello, but it would not be a fair review if I didn’t mention any issues.
The biggest thing I’m missing is a calendar view that displays all of my cards from all the boards at once. Right now, the closest you can get is located under the “My cards” option, but it’s not a calendar. I’ve found a patch for this issue by importing my Trello calendar feeds into Google calendar, but unfortunately they don’t refresh as often as they should, and I can’t drag-and-drop cards as I would in Trello.
Trello is also missing a recurring task feature. You can emulate it by duplicating the card and assigning a date in the future every time you complete the current card, but if you need to do certain tasks daily, it’s too much work, and I prefer to use simple Google reminders for that.
The Trello team is constantly updating the app, so I expect that these features will eventually become available – for now, I’ve learned to live without them.
Setting up Trello for the first time
If you want to give Trello a ride, I’ll recommend some settings so you can get the most of it.
1. Creating a new board
Making a new board is very easy and can be done from any place in Trello – just click the plus icon at the top right of your screen, and click on “Create Board…”
Choose a name for your board, and you’re done!
2. Organizing task lists
Because Trello is soooo flexible, you can choose in which way you want to use every single feature, so there are some decisions you need to make when creating each new board. One of those decisions is how you will use lists.
The Kanban way of using lists is for phases in the process – the first phase being on the very left side of the screen, and the later phases moving from left to right. The benefit of this approach is that you can clearly see what needs to be done when, and where the bottleneck in your process is.
Another approach is to use lists for context – that way, tasks can be grouped by sub-project, type of work etc. This makes more sense in some cases. I use both approaches, depending on what I’m using the board for.
Cards are used for individual tasks. Clicking on the card reveals additional information and options.
If you need to break down the task into further steps, you can assign one or more checklists to the card.
When you create a card, add the due date and assign a team member who needs to complete the task. You can send progress updates to your team through card comments (mentioning people works just like on Twitter, with @username).
If there are any resources connected to your task, you can link them in the card description or attach them as a file from your computer, Google Drive or Dropbox. If you attach an image, it will become visible as a card “cover”.
Labels are used to categorize your tasks for easier filtering (think of them as tags). For example, if one of your labels is “Writing”, you can filter the board to only show the cards with that label.
When you have more than 20 cards on the board spread across multiple lists, this helps you get a better handle on them, and focus on the type of work you want to do at the moment, and ignore everything else.
Power-ups are additional features you can choose to turn on for each board you control. You can do this by clicking on the “Show menu” link in the upper right corner of your board, then click “Power-Ups”, and then the “Enable” button next to the power-up you want to turn on.
The first thing I do when I create a new board is turn on the Calendar power-up. To toggle between the regular and calendar view, click the “Calendar” link at the top right of your board. This arranges the cards visually by date. You can change the due date of the card by dragging it to another date while in the calendar view.
6. Starred boards
If you start using Trello for everything in your business, you’ll quickly add the boards up, which are arranged alphabetically on your dashboard. If you use certain boards very often, you might want to “star” them so they show up at the top of your dashboard.
I hope this post will tickle your curiosity and give you a nudge to give Trello a try.
If this seems a bit abstract at the moment, stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll share some of my Trello workflows – including how I manage my clients, editorial calendar and admin.