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How to manage your writing projects with Trello

An old school kanban board

(Note: This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at Notes From a Floating Life. It appears here via a Creative Commmons licence)

Managing your writing — figuring out which tasks to carry out and scheduling them — can be difficult. Not only are there other things competing for your attention, there’s only so much time in the day.

There are any number of tools that you can use to help you manage your writing. You’ve probably used or test driven as many (or maybe even more) than I have. One tool that I find effective in helping me manage some of my writing is Trello.

Trello is an online tool that represents tasks visually. It’s based on an idea known as kanban. Kanban was originally used to schedule tasks in factories by representing tasks on cards and then moving those cards through production process.

The idea behind kanban was adopted by software development shops that use a method of creating software called Agile. Instead of cards, those shops used sticky notes which they move across a whiteboard divided into the phases of the software development cycle.

Trello takes that idea and puts it on the web, in a graphical and easy-to-use format. While Trello is usually used by teams for all sorts of work, you can also use on solo projects.

Let’s take a look at using Trello to manage your writing.

What you can use Trello for

You can use Trello for managing writing tasks like:

  • An article or blog post
  • A series of articles or posts
  • A book
  • Collaborating with other writers
  • Planning a corporate writing project

It’s easy to try to use Trello for everything. I know people who use Trello to manage their daily task lists and their shopping lists. Those uses, in my opinion, are overkill. I prefer to use Trello for larger writing projects, like planning and writing ebooks or developing the outline of a plan for clients.

Learning the language

There’s a little terminology that you’ll need to learn before you can effectively use Trello. Those terms are boards, lists, and cards which are:

  • A board is the container for your project
  • A list represents a stage of project — for example, In Progress or Done
  • A card represents a task

That wasn’t too difficult, was it?

Before you begin

When you’re creating a project, try to limit the number of lists on your board. I usually have anywhere from three to five lists. Most of my projects have the following lists: Planning, In Progress, Blocked, Ready for Editing, and Completed. Sometimes, I don’t use a Blocked list (which indicates that a task has stalled).

Formulate a plan before you create your board and its lists. Focus on a single project and think about the phases and tasks that make up that project.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into using Trello.

Getting to work

I’m going to walk you through the process I used to create and use a Trello board for an ebook I published in early 2016. I’m sure there are Trello gurus out there who will pick apart this process, but I don’t care. This is what worked for me.

Start off by getting a Trello account. It’s free. Once you’ve created the account, sign in. You’re taken to a screen with a list of boards.

Creating a new Trello board

Click Create New Board. Give the board a title and then click Create.

Details about the new Trello board

You wind up with an empty board. The board is a blank canvas, onto which you’ll need to put some lists. To do that, click Add a List. Give your list a name and then click *Add.

Adding a list to a Trello board

Repeat that for all the lists you want to add to your board. As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, the lists I used for my ebook project were:

  • Planning
  • In Progress
  • Blocked
  • Complete

A quick word about Blocked. I used that for task that were either out of my hands (like getting the book’s cover created) or if I was having some trouble writing or rewriting (in the case of this ebook, the introduction).

Next, add some cards your first list. Think of that first list, the one on the far left, as the staging area for your cards. Click Add a card, then describe the task — for example Write blog post announcing book. When you’re done, click Add.

Adding a card to a Trello list

You can assign due dates to your cards by clicking the Edit icon and then clicking Change Due Date. Select the date by which the task needs to be done, and then click Save.

Editing a task in Trello

Again, repeat that until you’ve created all the cards you need. You can, if necessary, add more cards later.

Now that all set up, what next? As you start to carry out tasks, move your cards from one list to another. Just click and drag the card with your mouse. Keep doing that until all your cards are in your Completed list (or whatever you named it).

While a project is in progress, your board should look something like this:

A Trello board in action

That’s a pretty simple use of Trello for managing your writing. But it works well for me. I don’t always use Trello to manage my writing, but when I have a fairly hefty writing project, Trello helps me stay on top of what I need to do.

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