Productivity Tip: Use Trello For Those To-Dos

I’ve always had trouble with to-do lists. While I’m generally organized about how I approach my work — be it office or personal stuff like this blog — I tend to jot down everything on either Sticky Notes or an actual, physical notepad.

Both approaches fail. It’s not just the three tons of random ideas and scribbles: it’s the problem of retrieving the information once you’re done recording it. Sticky Notes becomes a chaotic yellow mess. The notebook becomes an equally chaotic mess of ideas and random notes, quotes, clippings and the occasional meeting record. The fundamentally chronological order of a physical book simply does not cut it.

So I was quite intrigued when I saw Adnan using Trello. Trello works like this: you have Boards, which can be used like rough demarcations of the work (say, Work, Blog, Studies). Inside a board’s virtual space you get this interesting row / column mechanic for recording to-dos and ideas. It’s a lot like a Solitaire game: a row of horizontal cards that you build on — vertically. These are the actual to-do lists.

I use these to-do lists for adding and padding out a project. Say, a product video? A blogpost on the death penalty? Alright. That’s a project.

Under each project I add little cards that serve as deadlines, notes, whatever -all the material I need to know on that thing. Very much like, say, a folder that your friendly neighborhood intelligence agency might have on a spy.

The beauty of Trello is that because of the board/list separation, this allows me to maintain fairly detailed to-do lists that are miniature starter kits for when I actually pick up a project. It’s also not linear, like a notebook. I can move items up and down with a click and drag. Retrieving stuff is easy: it’s an x-y grid of stuff. That extra dimension added to the list makes it so much better.

Mind you, Trello is ugly on the web. As you can see, it’s got so much blank space it looks like Taylor Swift made it. That monotone background with the white cards — yes, it doesn’t really get better: you can purchase backgrounds, but those just end up looking like those hideous Gmail inboxes that some people have. The font is also a bit meh. Some of the advanced stuff you can do to a card — like embedding deadlines — is time-consuming: it’s easier to just type up a new card saying “deadline”.

Nevertheless, I’m in love with this thing. I’ve tried Ta-da Lists and Wonderland and Google Keep and Evernote: this is the only thing that I find myself consistently going back to, updating and making it work.

Job well done, Trello. Thanks for the sanity.

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