Okay, so you know what Kanban is and you’ve figured out roughly how you want to adapt it for yourself. You set up a Trello board and you have a few lists & cards for the things you want to get done. But how do you make it truly powerful for managing your (solo or team) project? Here are the top seven most useful features you should know about!
Labels let you add some coloring-coding and filtering capability to your boards. While the color options are limited (there are only 10 options, and some of them kinda suck), you can have as many labels as you want if you double up on colors! You don’t even have to have a color for a label if you only need it for filtering purposes & don’t want it to show on the front of the card.
6. Members & “Watching”
This is key if you’re working with a team! When someone is assigned or takes ownership of a task, they should be added (or add themselves) as a “member” of the card. Their picture will show up on the card so everyone can see at a glance who is working on it. It also signals that someone is working on a task so folks know they don’t need to pick it up. Even if you aren’t assigned a card, you can “watch” it to be notified of activity on the card. This is super helpful if you’re a subject matter expert or project manager who might need to weigh in on or keep tabs on issues that you’re not necessarily doing the core work for.
Good old-fashioned checklist– nothing quite like them. To break your tasks down into even smaller steps, you can add a checklist (or five) to your card. The percent completion shows on the front of the card, too. If you have a paid account, you can even add due dates and members to specific checklist steps.
If you use the same steps for many tasks, you can import checklists from other cards to save you from having to remember what all those steps are.
4. Due Dates
If you’re anything like me, you live and die by your calendar & can’t do anything without a deadline. Trello lets you add start & due dates to cards to help you schedule out your tasks. When a task is coming up due soon, the date turns yellow on the front of the card. If it’s past due, it turns red. You can combine due dates with the Calendar power-up to get your Trello calendar in Google Calendar or iCalender.
Attachments let you keep Trello your team’s number-one go-to source of information. You can attach files, links to anything on the web, and links to other cards and boards. The card & board attachments, especially, are a game-changer. While not the perfect dependency system, you can use card attachments to link sub-tasks to their parent task and vice-versa. You can also use it to sync up cards on multiple boards. For example, I keep crucial project tasks on my personal to-do board and on the project’s board. I link them with a card attachment so when I change the due date, checklists, etc. on one card, the other card changes too.
Speaking of power-ups! If there’s anything base Trello doesn’t do but you wish it does, odds are very good there’s a power-up for it.
Here are some of my favorite plugins
- Bulk Actions: What is says on the tin. Change labels, dates, members, etc. on many cards at once. Most useful for data processing boards in my experience, less useful for general task management boards.
- Countdown: Shows a countdown to your due date on the front of the card. Great if you need, at a glance, to see what is coming up this week. By default, Trello’s due dates only change color the day before.
- List limits: Limit the number of cards in a list, and show a count at the top of the list. Great if you want to make sure you’re not kidding yourself about how many tasks you can handle simultaneously. Or, if you just want to know how many cards are in a list, set the limit suuuuper high and just use it as a counter [I do this for brainstorm lists, for example].
- Hello Epics Card Relationships: If you want to indicate dependency between cards, this is a great option, Unfortunately, it isn’t free to use. There is a free alternative (Card Dependencies by Screenful) but it’s very clunky. Hello Epics is clean & very visual. If you need more advanced dependencies than you can create with card attachments & checklists, it’s worth the investment.
- Card Repeater: Have a task that needs doing every week? Automatically add it to your backlog! I do this for things like “Lesson plan for Tuesday” or “Set out trash cans,” and it’s a real blessing for my ADHD brain that doesn’t like to remember recurring tasks.
The one bummer about power-ups is the associated cost.
Free-tier boards are limited to one active power-up at a time; power-ups limits are, I would be, the biggest driver of upgrades for Trello. But if you’re at the point where you need more than one power-up to do what you want to do, your project is probably at the level where you want to invest a few dollars. I’ve gone most of my digital humanities project and chaotic academic life with free-tier boards, and the basic features were more than enough. Only recently when I started managing nearly my whole life with Trello that I invested in a tier that gives unlimited power-ups.
1. Butler Automation
I want to do an in-depth post about automation because there is so much to learn here, but here are the basics. Butler used to be a plugin for Trello, but they’ve integrated it in as core functionality now, that’s how amazing it is. With Butler, you can create rules for your boards to automate all the mundane stuff you don’t want to do yourself. I use it most often to automatically add people and labels to cards when they’re added to certain lists, to automatically mark a due date as complete when a card hits my Done list, and send a weekly progress report to my email. As if that weren’t great enough, it will suggest new rules based on actions you frequently take! Seriously, if you’re not automating project management tasks, you’re missing out.