laptop on a desk

Ever felt like you had too much going on and wondered how to be more organized? I was the same.

Until I found out how to be organized with Trello.

Why I needed to find a way to be more organized

Just like you, I struggled with not having enough time to get everything done.

I often found myself running around all day feeling extremely busy. Then, exhausted at the end of the day I thought, what did I even accomplish today?

Even though I was busy, it felt like I didn’t achieve much.

Do you know what I mean?

I’ve read tons of books and implemented loads of productivity strategies (and documented my favorite 3 here) but I felt I needed some extra help. A to-do list on a piece of paper just wasn’t enough!

I was so frustrated because, being a Project Manager, my job is to be organized and make sure every action and step required to complete a project is done within the appropriate timeframes.

I thought, surely there must be something I learned at work that I can add to my personal life?

Then I remembered Trello, as a free tool used to managed projects all over the world, and decided to give it a try to see if it would work in my personal life!

(Spoiler alert: it does, and it’s great!)

What is Trello?

Trello is a free app and website created to make managing projects and personal life easier.

Even though this online tool was originally born to support business environments, it has since evolved, and it is now used by millions of people around the world to stay organized and get stuff done in both their professional and personal life.

The reason for its success lies in its ability to turn any project, from a house cleaning checklist to a business plan, into visual boards.

In very simple terms, Trello is a list-making application, although in reality it is so much more: it is a diary, a brainstorming tool, an inventory, a planner and so much more.

The history of Trello

Trello was first developed in 2011 and continued evolving since. It is based on a Japanese tool called Kanban board, used to implement the Kanban methodology.

The Kanban method was inspired by the Toyota Production System in Japan. This approach aims to balance demand with capacity and to improve processes by reducing waste (waste of time, resources, etc). Everything that needs to be done is shown in a board (the kanban board), which helps decision making and prioritization.

Have I lost you here? Bear with me, I promise there is a reason why I am telling you this.

Kanban boards

So, Kanban boards…

Basically, Kanban boards are just a way to visualize everything that needs to be done for a specific project.

They do so by splitting all the actions required in various columns, each representing a step in the process. All columns from left to right follow the chronological order or the flow of the process.

Imagine you’re making a series of pizzas using a Kanban board, the columns would be:

  • Ingredients to buy
  • Mix ingredients
  • Knead the dough
  • Leave to rise etc.

Your action ‘make Margherita pizza’ will move through the steps (the columns) from left to right until it reaches the last stage, ‘complete’, or ‘cooked’ in our pizza example.

To make a pepperoni pizza you will start from the first column again.

The visual board will let you see at which stage each pizza is, and you will be able to keep on top of all of them. No need to finish one before starting the next…

Generic Kanban boards might have columns for “to-do”, “in progress”, “done” and “on hold”, just as an example. Complex boards might have a lot more columns to split each step into more detailed activities.

Kanban boards are traditionally done on a wall, with post-it notes and look something like this:

how to be organized, an example of a kanban board

Each column is full of post-it notes, and each post-it is an action that will move chronologically from left to right until it’s done.

Trello boards

Trello boards are fully customizable.

You can see the similarities with a traditional Kanban board in the example below of a very simple Trello board:

how to be organized with a trello board

A Trello board can be described as the young cooler brother of a Kanban board: fully digital, portable, and prettier.

Trello can be accessed from any device: browser, mobile (android and iOs), and as a desktop app (Microsoft and iOs), so you don’t have to worry once you get the hang of it and you realize you can’t live without it.

Each board can be customized to suit each preference, maybe with your favorite color or with a picture in line with the theme of the board.

For example, this is the Trello board I am building for my gardening project:

how to be organized - an example of my gardening board

As you can see I have decided to use different columns to what a traditional board would show, whilst following the chronological flow typical of a Kanban board.

You can rename your columns in any way you like, I had to personalize them to suit my gardening needs.

And that’s ok, there is no right or wrong way to create a Trello board!

Each action (a ‘card’ in Trello’s language) is a thing you need to do, an activity. And they move from left to right across the flow.

Cards don’t necessarily have to go through each column to get to the end, they can jump and move around the board to suit your organizing needs.

How to be organized with Trello

By now it should be clear I love Trello! I use it to organize all aspects of my daily life, and I have a board for each project.

I review it periodically to make sure I am not forgetting anything and I use deadlines to keep me accountable.

The “home” section of the tool will show you all your activities (cards) sorted by due date, so you know where to start!

These are my recommendations when using trello to be more organized:

Create as many boards you need

When I first started using Trello, I tracked all my projects into one board and, let me tell you, it was a mess! Each column had dozens of cards and it felt like I was drowning.

I couldn’t get the full picture of how things were progressing and I definitely didn’t feel in control.

Now I have many boards. I don’t use them all constantly: for example, I use the Christmas board only from October onwards, or the Holiday board when planning a holiday, and leave it until I get to plan another one!

These are the boards I am using at the moment:

how to be organized - my most used boards

The “House Cleaning Checklist” board reminds me of what I need to clean in the house and when. Because I don’t spring clean, so I need a method to make sure I do keep on top of all house chores.

Related: How to avoid spring cleaning

I use the “Blog” board to organize everything I need to do to keep this blog up and running, and the “Personal” board for everything that doesn’t have a place in other boards, like arranging the Zoom meeting with friends or set reminders to use survey apps to earn a few pounds on the side.

Related: My Income reports

Set deadlines

Don’t be scared, this is not like your tax deadlines or when you had to submit a paper at school.

I mean, it could be, if you want to be strict with yourself. And in a way, I do it with some of my deadlines.

However, I recommend you set some due dates to remind you when things should be done by or when you’ll have time to deal with them.

This is not to put pressure on yourself, but to use the “Home” section of Trello, where you can see all your cards/things to do ordered by due date.

A lifesaver when you are juggling multiple projects and don’t know what to do first.

Use labels

Labels are essentially tags, that will provide you with extra information on the specific card. For example, you could set up a label “priority” which will allow you to search or filter for any cards labeled as a priority. Super useful when you’re trying to prioritize and organize what to do. In the same way, you could set up a label for non-urgent activities “Low Priority”.

Or, if you’re planning a party, labels could be “food”, “drinks” “invitations” and so on.

In my gardening board shown above, my labels will be: “vegetables”, “herbs”, “urgent” and when the harvest will be.

As you can see, labels don’t need to follow a common theme. However they will be super helpful as you can visually group cards with the same label or filter them.

how to be organized with trello

Keep the boards up to date

There is a fine line between planning to do and keep planning to avoid doing! It is important to take the time to fill in the boards appropriately and keep it up to date although Trello boards are meant to help you get stuff done, not being one more thing on your to-do list.

Your board will never be perfect, so don’t worry if you feel like you have to keep going back to add new cards. That’s the whole point of having a tool like Trello. So that you can get stuff out of your head and organized.

Experiment and pivot

You have no idea how many times I have re-done my boards!

I started with one board per project, but I felt like it was too sparse. I then put everything in one board and it felt too cluttered and confusing.

It wasn’t until I started using labels and deadlines that I felt more comfortable with how to use it and finally got the best support this amazing tool can give.

So don’t be afraid of experimenting with different columns names, order, and labels to find what works for you.

Are you ready to be more organized with Trello?

Just sign up or download the app and have a go!

Before playing with formatting and columns, I would recommend just writing down anything that’s on your mind. I like to call this column “brain dump”; this helps me realize what type of activities I need to do and help me identify how to be organized easily.

Or you could start with my free daily planner Trello board. I have created it to manage my daily productivity and it’s proven to work!

Let me know in the comments below how you’re getting on. And if you have any questions, I’d love to help!