Task management is an essential part of any project. Getting it right can be the difference between success and failure. Fortunately, if you need to get more organized, there is plenty of help at hand. There are many good, free tools available to make things easier, among them Trello. Though it’s pretty simple, we’ve put together this Trello beginner’s guide to make the transition even smoother.
Trello is a simple and effective tool to manage and organize tasks. It is aimed at teams as a way of organizing items within a project, but there’s no reason you can’t use it yourself. It is quite versatile and has lots of customization options.
That means you can easily set it up for different tasks.
For more advanced features, such as resource management and cost tracking, you might want to look at more complex tools. Our list of the best project management software is a great place to start.
Using Trello is a breeze. We use it ourselves at Cloudwards.net to manage our workflow and if that’s not a recommendation, we don’t know what is.
To sign up, you just fill in a simple form, respond to the confirmation email. Then, you can get straight to setting up your first board, which already has a few sample columns in place for you.
A basic Trello account is free and allows you to do most of what you need. It isn’t an application that you sign up for only to find yourself hitting its limits within hours. The basic package is excellent and it doesn’t pester you to upgrade, either.
If you want to sign up for its gold package, though, there is plenty to like. Your attachment limit increases from 10MB to 250MB. You can add custom backgrounds to your boards and there are many fun features, such as stickers, custom emojis and power-ups.
The gold package is $45 a year, so it won’t break the bank, either. In addition to running in your browser, Trello is available for Android and iOS, so you can manage things on the go, too.
What Can You Do with Trello?
You may well be introduced to Trello via an invite from a team or company, in which case you will be working with their board at first. If you are starting it for the first time, though, you’ll need to set things up yourself.
To do that, begin with the default board provided for you or click the “boards” button in the top left of the screen. If you have boards already, you’ll be able to switch between them there. Either way, to create a new one, just click “create new board” to bring up the new board dialogue shown below.
There, you can name your new board, choose its background color or image and decide whether to make it private or public. A public board will be visible to the whole internet, which is great if you’re running a venue or public gathering place, but less so if organizing your office tea roster.
Once you’ve chosen the options you want, click “create board” and voila. Your new board appears in all its glory.
At its heart, Trello is a kanban board, allowing you to move work from column to column. When you create a new board you will see three columns, or lists, added already: “to do,” “doing” and “done.” That gives you an idea of how to lay out your Trello projects.
Your workflow should proceed from left to right, but you can add as many intermediate stages as you need.
Working with Lists
You can use the lists provided as a ready-made to-do list or, if you prefer, rename them to represent different stages of your project.
If you need more than three categories, click “add to list” to create another one. Again, you can call them whatever you want, so there is plenty of scope for creativity. For example, you can name each list after a team member or different group in your company to indicate who is assigned to what.
You can have an unassigned column on the left for team members to pick work from, followed by columns that represent what stage the work is at. There are many ways to use it. Think about how to subdivide your tasks, then name the columns accordingly.
Lists are empty at first, but act as holders for cards. You can add them by clicking “add a card.” Then, name your card according to the task you want it to represent, click “add card” and you are done.
You can move cards from place to place by dragging and dropping them. When you move one, everyone working on that particular item will get a message telling them it has been moved, so whoever needs to look at it next can get going on it, regardless of whether you remember to tell them.
Clicking a card brings up a dialogue allowing you to comment on it, see previous activity associated with it and assign team members to it. You can watch specific cards to make sure you are notified of changes.
You can also add deadlines and set up messages to remind people when they are approaching. Though it never happens to us, we’ve heard missed deadlines are quite common elsewhere.
Making it Look Better
If you want to make the cards look more attractive, you can add stickers to them. Stickers are pictures that can be found by clicking “stickers” in the menu to the right of the screen. They can be dragged onto cards and are a great way to make them visually distinctive.
Twelve are offered in the free package, with more available if you upgrade to a paid plan. Upgrading also allows you to use your own images. Using your company designs, for example, is an excellent way to add ownership to your projects.
You can also assign cards labels, which is essentially just color coding them with optional text. That is another useful way to categorize them and make your boards easy to read visually.
If you want to subdivide a card even more, you can add a checklist to show what needs to be done to finish it. Checklists include specific sub-tasks that you can tick off as you work through them. A helpful bar shows how close to being finished you are, which is especially useful if you have lots of items to complete.
Rounding up the Basics
Those are the basics of using Trello. You can achieve a great deal with just the basic functions and there is a lot you can do to tune it to your needs.
It is fast, intuitive and responsive. The user interface is easy to read and most of what’s there can be figured out by looking at it. We’ve never had to look at the help pages when using it and never did before writing this guide.
Should you require it, though, the help system is comprehensive, with over 200 articles explaining how it all works. There is also an active community forum. If you can’t find an answer to your question there, you can probably get one within a few hours. You can also ask Trello’s support team for help via a contact form.
Building Your Trello Team
At the top of the main display, there are little circles representing the people who have access to each board. You’ll see people’s profile pictures in the circles if they’ve set them or their initials.To invite more people, click on the little figure with a plus next to it to the right of the current users.
If your business uses several boards, you might want to go further and set up a team. As with boards, you can invite people to the teams you create.
Once you have your team members ready to go, you can create the various boards you need. They can be managed as before. One cool feature is you can associate Slack boards with your team. That allows you to do things such as notify everyone about Trello changes via Slack.
If your team uses Slack for regular communication, having Trello changes visible in the same place is useful. For other ways to use Slack to benefit your team, read our best cloud storage for Slack article.
Delving Deeper – Trello’s Advanced Functions
Once you are familiar with the basics of Trello, there are a few useful tricks to help you get more out of it. You can drag attachments to cards to share them. You can create lists by double-clicking and you can bring up the keyboard shortcut list by pressing “?” on the keyboard.
Trello has useful features in its options screens, too. There’s a color blind mode, so if you’ve color coded your cards, you can be sure everybody can see what’s what. You can also set up things such as two-factor authentication if you want to protect your account from cybercrime.
It is also possible to download the personal information Trello keeps on you. Though we don’t have any particular privacy concerns about Trello, that is a nice feature to have. Our article on how to protect your privacy gives pointers on what you can do to keep your information private on the web. You can view more useful tips in the Trello documentation.
Another great feature Trello has is power-ups. They allow you to integrate it with many other applications and services. Around 30 are provided by Trello, but other, third-party power-ups are available. There are too many supported services to detail, but the selection includes Twitter, Gmail, GitHub, Salesforce, SurveyMonkey and Jira.
There is also a calendar, so you can get an at-a-glance view of what needs to be done when. You will need to upgrade your account to use multiple power-ups, though.
With a million users a day, it is easy to see why Trello was recently valued at $400 million. It is easy to use and free to get started, so it’s well worth checking out if you’re in the market for new task management software. Even if you’re not, its to-do list capability might be worth a look to help you get more organized.
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If you are working in an online team and want to improve its productivity, Trello is a great tool to do so. For other useful software, take a look at our list of the best virtual team software tools.
We hope this guide has helped you get to grips with Trello and shown you a little of what you can do with it. If you’ve tried it and have anything to tell us about your experiences, tell us in the comments below. Thanks for reading.