Using Trello – Part 1 – An Overview

The first in a two part series. Here is part 2.

Email, e-meh


..great for conversations.

Big projects? Not so much.

Re. re. re. re. re. re. what?

If you've ever tried to use email for a complex project you'll probably have bad memories of digging through threads of emails running into the hundreds.

And that's not all. Emails would probably start with a project-related subject, but then veer into unexpected plot-twists involving conversations between characters from another movie entirely.

So when you composed your response much explaining had to be done to re-contextualise the task within the current project status, making the already-epic thread even longer.

And of course each email contained a copy of the entire thread prior to that.

Then finally the placeholder text:

[Message Clipped]

.. would eventually be a call to abort the whole thing and start a spinoff.

But as time went on, the email headed south and became buried under whatever came afterwards.

Unless you had a filter / label / folder system, emails from multiple clients and multiple jobs were all in one list.

Going back and searching that chaos? . . NIGHTMARE

No more email?

No, look, I don't hate email.

When email is kept as a place to discuss work, how the project is going, and for casual talk, email can be an away-from-desk space: the board room, coffee area, watercooler, bar, or nearby diner / eatery / café.

But email is not a good project space, nor really a space at all.

Ok, I did just make an analogy comparing email to various spaces, but what they have in common is the lack of a workspace.

But people work in boardrooms and diners you might point out.

yes.. ok look, I'm going to move on now..

Project Space

A project is a collection of tasks.

In fact a project is a collection of collections of tasks.
Perhaps with each involving different groups of people.

And the tasks of a project are not necessarily happening chronologically in order, or one at a time by priority in linear fashion.

To track each task, you need a space where you and the other team members can see all of them, and what their status is.

A status is a complex thing, however, with a history of discussions and decisions, so you need to be able to drill-down into each task to see what was discussed.

Sound complicated? Not really actually..

Hello Trello..

Trello uses an approach which is such a simple and obvious solution to email's shortcomings that you'll wonder why you hadn't thought of it yourself.

Then you'll realise you probably had thought of it.

And essentially probably use aspects of it in other activities, starting with thinking itself.

..then maybe making a list.


Trello, and other similar web applications, base their concept on the Kanban system

It's a scheduling system and concept used by Toyota which developed in the 1940s and 50s.

Today's Kanban-based web applications are a distillation and reworking of - and some have said departure from - the Kanban concept.

Sign up

First create your Trello account here.
It's free (or rather you can do everything we need to do with the free account).

How it works

"So what exactly is this mind-blowing organisational invention?" I hear you ask.

Well before we get stuck in with a screenshot, perhaps this will lay down the foundation.

  • Trello
    • Board (project)
      • List (stage / priority)
        • Card (task)
          • Title
          • Description
          • Comments
            • Comment
              • Checklist
              • Attachment
      • Another List
        • Another Card
        • Yet another Card
        • Such a Card
        • etc.
    • Another Board (another project)
      • etc

Ready? Ok, let's go..


Each Trello Board is a separate project.


Each board can have many lists.

Lists are.. well, you know.. just lists.. of anything:

To Do, Doing, Done
- or -
Bad, Ok, Good, Better, Best
- or -
Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow
- or -
Whatever, You, Want


Items in the list are cards.

For a traditional To Do list - which we'll be using Trello for - a card is a task.

Cards (and lists) are made to be moved around.
Just click and drag a card from one list to another.
Or into a different position in the same list.

4. Trello Card priority

If you're a multitasker, or if a task is on-hold, then you'll likely be doing several tasks at once.
The top card in the Doing list is the top priority.

Similarly, the To Do list should be organised in order of priority from top to bottom.


Card titles are taken from the name of the card when you create it.

The title will appear on the card in the list, and also at the top of an open card.

Open a card with a single click.


Cards can optionally have a description, which will appear beneath the title when you open the card.

The recommended best practice is to use a short title that fits onto one line.

Then a longer description.

A Workflow for Creating Cards

You can work like this:

  1. Take your brief and split it into paragraphs, one per task.
  2. If it's not too long, Copy and Paste the entire brief - or do this in chunks.
  3. Click on the "Add a card.." link at the bottom of a list.
  4. Paste.
  5. Trello will ask you if you want to make separate cards for each paragraph. Do it..

Now you can edit each card to have a short title and long description.

  1. Open the card
  2. Click on the long title.
  3. Select all and copy.
  4. Paste it into the description field.
  5. Type in a short title


Each card can have a thread of comments..
..much like an email thread.

A role for Email

A Trello card is what an email should be: a discussion with a subject line that's adhered to.

In pre-Trello-land everyone uses a different email program. Some prefer threaded emails, and some prefer stand-alone emails.

Somewhere in-between the subject is ignored.

With Trello's lists and cards, this is much less likely to happen.

To Do Doing Done
Task 7 Task 5 Task 1
Task 8 Task 6 Task 2
Task 9   Task 3
    Task 4

But Trello has a role for email.

You can subscribe to a board, list, or card, and when someone comments there you will get an email from Trello.

You can also tag members to get their attention if they are not subscribed.

When you reply to the email in your email program, your reply will be added to the card as a comment in the thread.

So if you're finding you can't kick an email habit - a rare thing - then there's no need to change!

Not that you wouldn't really want to..

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