How to Use Trello to Stay Organized

Keep track of personal tasks and professional projects with this tool

Trello is a Kanban-style project management tool that is a visual way to see all the tasks that you or your team need to accomplish, which makes it easier to see what everyone on the team is doing at a given time. It's also free, which means that it's accessible to small and large groups and individuals who run businesses or who want to track personal tasks. Among project management tools, Trello is one of the easiest to use and implement, but its blank-slate interface can be a bit daunting. Here some tips to help you and your team get the most out of Trello, no matter what you're using it to track.

What is Kanban?

A Japanese manufacturing process that Toyota implemented in the late 1940s informs the Kanban-style of project management. It aimed to increase efficiency in its factories by tracking inventory in real-time, using cards that passed between workers on the floor. When a particular material ran out, workers would make a note of that, which would make its way to the supplier who would then ship the requested item to the warehouse. These cards were often called Kanban, which means sign or billboard in Japanese.

So how does this translate to project management? Software like Trello takes this concept of passing around cards and puts it into a visual interface, where tasks are laid out on a virtual board and matched with a team's work capacity. At its most basic, a board will have three sections: to do, doing (or in the process), and done. However, teams can use this tool in any way that works for them. Some may prefer a real board, while others want the convenience of a virtual solution, like Trello.

Getting Started With Trello

Trello utilizes boards, which contain lists and cards. Boards are projects (website redesign, bathroom renovation), lists are tasks (graphics, tiling), and cards are sub-tasks or options (hire a designer; tile sizes and colors).

Adding cards to a Trello board.

Once you've decided how to organize your lists, you can start adding cards, which can have checklists and labels. Checklists are a way to break down tasks into sub-tasks. For example, if you're using Trello to plan a vacation, you might have a card for a restaurant you want to try, with a checklist that includes making a reservation, researching the best dishes to get, and checking if it's child-friendly.

Adding a checklist to a Trello card.

You can use labels to represent a card's status (approved, submitted, etc.) or category (science, technology, arts, etc.) or any tag you want. Then you can conduct a search that will bring up all science-related cards or all approved cards, for example. You don't have to add a title to a label, though; you can also use them for color-coding (up to 10 colors are available; a color-blind option is available).

Adding labels and color-coding to a Trello card.

As you start working on and completing tasks, you can easily drag and drop cards from one list to another, and eventually archive cards and lists once the interface becomes unwieldy.

Trello Notifications and Mobile Apps

Users can assign cards to team members and add comments, file attachments, color-coded labels, and due dates. Team members can @ mention others in comments to start a conversation. Trello accepts files from your computer and cloud storage services like Google DriveDropboxBox, and OneDrive.

Also included is nifty email integration. Each board has a unique email address that you can use to create cards (tasks). You can send attachments to that email address as well. And best yet, when you get an email notification, you can reply to it directly rather than launching Trello.

Notifications, including mentions and comments, are available from mobile apps, a desktop browser, and via email. Trello has apps for iPhone and iPad, Android phones, tablets, and watches, and Kindle Fire tablets.

Trello Power-Ups and Trello Gold

Trello offers more than 30 add-on features and integrations, which it calls power-ups. Examples of power-ups include a calendar view, a card repeater for recurring tasks, as well as integration with EvernoteGoogle Hangouts, Salesforce, and more. Free accounts include one power-up per board.

All of Trello's core features are free, though there is a paid version called Trello Gold ($5 per month or $45 per year), which adds some perks, including three power-ups per board (rather than one). It also includes attractive board backgrounds and stickers, custom emojis, and larger attachments uploads (250 MB rather than 10 MB). Trello offers one free month of Gold membership for every person you get to join Trello, up to 12 months.