Trello workflow

The importance of streamlining and linearizing task workflow

Staying productive in a world full of distractions is a huge challenge for anyone. Our attention spans are getting shorter and our workloads are increasing daily. I have always felt the need for systems in life to make things easier, maybe because of my academic background, I see my daily activities as being contained in some system that can be optimized with some rules. I call it productive flow-through.

The fundamental idea is very simple really: Move tasks progressively through a system whereby each transition makes it closer to being actionable. Here, actionable can mean one of two things:

  1. Doing it right now or being worked on right now
  2. Set to be done in the future within a given time-block

I accomplish this using a tool called Trello which is a very straight-forward implementation of a technique called Kanban. The main principle behind Kanban is to visualize tasks in an manner so that they become part of a workflow and Trello does an incredible job at allowing a user to do just that. Now the interesting thing about Kanban is that it is only an organizing tool, the way you use it is totally up to you. So it can be customized in any manner the user wants. In this post I will go through the way I organize mine and it’s very simple. Trello allows you to make lists to be used in Kanban, the whole idea is that you will enter cards (which are tasks) into Trello and then move them from one list to another as progress is made on them. In other words, the cards are moved as they get closer and closer to being actionable. My layout is shown as follows:

So the lists are very self-explanatory however the workflow is what makes this organization really interesting. Tasks enter the left side and move through to the right side as they become more actionable. I manually enter the tasks as I remember them all in the first list. Eventually through the day I move them to Today as I want to complete them or start them and if I need to come back to them, I put them in progress. Finally, all tasks move to Done and I archive the cards to make room for other tasks to be moved there. A few other quick hacks to organize the entered tasks within the lists are moving the cards up and down the list. For me, the tasks that will be completed in foreseeable future are put near the top of the list. This is somewhat natural, the closer a task is to the end, the faster it will be moved to another queue. By default, tasks are added to the bottom of the queue and it moves the older tasks up. Trello has many other very powerful features to organize the tasks, one such example is coloring the cards. Similar tasks belonging to one project can all be tagged with the same color to help with better visualization:

Beyond this, there are many other advanced organizational features for individual cards present in Trello but I don’t really use them. No particular reason but mostly because my needs are served with this limited set of functionality. Maybe in the near future I will use more of Trello’s features to do project management. I haven’t explored that set of ideas just yet but maybe I’ll do a post on it in the near future.