In January 2018 I wrote about my Trello set-up. Based on a question on Twitter by Daniel C Berman, who inquired as to the state of my Trello use, I felt I had to update this post.
But rather than just updating the post, it actually made sense to describe my entire productivity system. Because the system has become both more simple and more complex while still retaining the essential elements that I described over a year ago. So here we go.
Why I use Trello
I’ve tried most of the productivity systems out there, both electronic and analog. I’ve used OmniFocus, I’ve been enamoured with Things because of its killer design, and I’ve spent quite some time using the Bullet Journal approach. But I keep returning to my Trello set-up because I just love the feeling of moving cards around. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to have a card move across the simpler mixed Kanban – Bullet Journal Trello board I’m using now, ultimately resulting in a task either completed or waiting for a third party to provide the next piece towards completion. Ordinary task management systems, complicated as they may be, don’t provide that simple pleasure of having a simple card you can attach many things to and document the entire task evolution on while still remaining, in essence, a card.
My current set-up
My experiences with bullet journaling have changed my approach, however.
I adore writing with pen on paper or with my Apple Pen on my iPad Pro. The analog nature of the writing process makes for a very different type of information capture and retention then when I would take notes in my favorite text processing tools on iPad (Drafts, Bear and Ulysses, in which I am writing this post). My digital tool of choice for analog notes is and remains Notability. I know all the cool kids are raving about GoodNotes 5 but I simply don’t have the time to switch my system over every time a new flavour of tool hits the App Store.
My Trello structure
Bullet journaling as a practice has changed my Trello structure as well. While the essence of the January 2018 post remains applicable, I’ve adopted some of the traditional Bullet Journal lists as Kanban lists. Let’s dive in!
The first list is the inbox. It is simply a capture place where I sent everything I may want to consider as a task. From a GTD point of view, this is a capture zone where I gather everything and process it later. May want to consider is important here as this is where my filters come in.
I remember I used an intricate system with different types and levels of filters. However, I’ve been simplifying that system a lot because it became too complex and therefore did not add value nor was it being maintained. My filters now are really a list of questions that help me to think about whether a specific task is really what I should be doing with my time. These questions touch values (is the task aligned with what I truly value?), ethical positions I hold as well as relevance for business or family or relevance for me as a growing person. If a task does not comply with these filters and if I can avoid it, I will not do the task. This list may seem obvious and even redundant, until you realise it is not. It is necessary to stop and consider what you are loading your agenda with every single day. If you don’t, you may start doing things that are completely unaligned with yourself. And that is a waste of time.
This is the Bullet Journal future log. Things I consider relevant to do, having passed through the filters, but won’t get to doing right now. This list gets revisited and weeded every month when I consider what to move to the next list. If I don’t, it will build up. And sometimes what seemed like a good idea a while back is no longer that relevant.
For example, a specific to do mentioned to involve a colleague in a supplier negotiation, as he had a long standing relationship with them. Given that we decided not to continue with this supplier, the implication of this colleague, while a good idea at the time, is no longer relevant. So I archive the task in the Future log list.
As with the Bullet Journal monthly log, this log lists what I have to do this month. I have some automation with Trello Butler which moves tasks with a due date within a month from my Future log to my monthly list to be picked up there. I still review the Future log to ensure nothing gets passed over. But this gives me a good idea about what I will have to do during the next month. Often, I weed again or I push a task back to the Future log with a later date, or no date at all.
This is not a standard Bullet Journal log, but some Bullet Journaling adepts use it. I use it as well as my work is often defined by weeks with set blocks of time for 121’s with my direct reports. And those are by far are the most relevant meetings in my agenda. The weekly log is the place where my week takes form. As I know what my capacity for an ordinary week is in terms of work, I can easily see whether what is on my plate – moved from the Monthly log – is feasible. Both the monthly and the weekly log are places where I do a lot of delegation. It’s also something I suggest my direct reports, who are managers or managers of managers, to do: first delegate, then execute. And don’t delegate the stuff you don’t like. Delegate what makes your people grow as well as what you are not good at. In an ideal world, the role of the director is to ensure the runways for your teams are clear so they can safely take off and land. That as well as pointing the team in the right direction is good leadership.
This is what is on my plate today. Moved over from my Weekly log, either automated or not, I just do the work. Like the Nike commercial. If the task is adequately clear and documented – subject of another blog post for the future – I can do the work from the Trello task, with limited tool switches.
This is a typical Kanban task list I don’t use that often but that still remains in my list of Kanban lists because it does serve a purpose when I am working on a task and need to halt the work because of an important interruption. In some cases, things happen which require me to immediately put down what I am working on. The work that gets interrupted gets parked here, in this list, with some quickly penned notes or words to help me find back my train of thought when I return to it. It actually works rather well as a reminder list.
Any task that need intervention by someone else before I can finish it, lands here. I note whom I’m waiting for. Butler provides some automation here as well, because it kicks back the tasks to my today list exactly one week after I’ve put them in this list.
And finally, when a task is done, it gets captured in the done list. Once a week I run an automation which allows me to export the entire done list, structured according to my labels which reflect my areas of concern, to a markdown document which I save in OneNote, for easy retrieval. The markdown document contains the links to all the cards, which are therefore easily retrievable if anyone has any questions. The entire list gets archived … and since archiving retains the links the markdown reference remain valid.
Responding to the question asked on Twitter, yes, I still use Trello as a core element of my productivity process. There is more to tell, especially on the way I use the Bullet Journal note taking method to identify tasks and how they get from there to my inbox, and there is a lot to tell about what one can do with an individual card. But those are blog posts for another day. Because now I’m getting a bite to eat.