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Using Trello to Manage Your Life

Author’s Note! This article has been imported from my previous website. I wanted to preserve all of the old content as many people have found some value in it. There may be some broken links and or formating issues. If something isn’t right, please let me know and I’ll do my best to make an update.

This is a big deal. It used to be that I would switch to-do list systems almost all of the time. I’d spend hours configuring my lists, setting up my contexts and fiddling with workflows. I’ve been pretty happy with gQueues, and have used it for a long time. I still think it is one of the best tools that I have used yet. However, now I must say that lately I find Trello to be even more useful; not only from a technical perspective, but also a philosophical one.

I am suggesting that it is time to live an Agile life. And in living one, Trello is a huge help.

What is an Agile Life?

I will take this quote from the agile manifesto:

Responding to change over following a plan

An agile life is one in which you respond to changes in priorities, interests, and passions in a fluid way, and defer the details until you actually are going to do something. It is an uncomfortable feeling, because you must embrace the uncertain future by not planning for it. On the other hand, you can leave your mind free and unburdened by not filling it with potential plans. The key is that you only plan enough to get the work done. Here are some examples:

Old Jason - I’m going to maintain a “to buy” list with all of the things that I might like to get some day.
New Jason - I’m going to buy something if I need it, I have the money and it helps me with a current activity, not a future one.

Old Jason - I’m going to maintain a “someday” list to collect all of my dreams and projects that I want to do.
New Jason - If I’m inspired, I’ll just plan and start working on a project and if not, I’ll let it be. If I can’t work on something right then, it’s ok, and if it is important, it will resurface.

Old Jason - I’m going to keep a “tickler” list that will remind me of future events and be reactive to reminders.
New Jason - I’ll just “groom” my “backlog” and review items regularly, doing the ones I want to do.

A principle of agile development is:

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

I’d like to rewrite that to say:

Your highest priority is to satisfy yourself through early and continuous engagement in rewarding activities.

For a while, I would spend a lot of time downloading everything onto a list, when I could’ve been doing something I enjoyed. Keeping track of great ideas is good, but not if you feel bad looking at them, thinking “man, I have no time to peruse that.” If they are great ideas, they will stick around.

Enough with Lists

Leo Babauta posted recently on his blog:

We set goals, these little dreams of what the future will be like, and focus on them. Every day, we work on these goals, take a step closer to getting to that great future. When the goal is completed, yay! Now what? Next goal. And then the next. This kind of forward-looking thinking doesn’t end when you get to the goal, and never ends until you no longer have any life left, no future to look to.

And this is actually the passage that gave me the final idea for this post, to connect an agile way of living with Trello.

Get rid of the lists. So much of our to-do lists are just endless goals; we keep list, upon list and it always feels like we never get anything accomplished. Lists get outdated, they get stale and they fill up with meaningless things that seemed important at the time.

How Does Trello Help?

Trello, if you are not aware, is a really clean and slick kanban style list builder. It works perfect for projects where each “card” has to go through a process. It could be as simple as: “To-Do”, “Doing”, “Done” or get much more complicated. It really serves agile software projects, but it can also serve your life just as well.

I have yet to do a full inventory of all things I might need to do, but this is pretty much it. I do have some other boards for more specific projects, but that is only on an as-needed basis, and typically work-related. Here is the run down:

  • Epics - These are high level things that need a little more of my time, and could be broken down into more specific tasks, stuff that I could not do in one sitting typically. The scope of these is still pretty short term, perhaps a month or so. It’s also a good way to keep collected notes on things that I’m thinking about, or need processing. It’s kind of like the inbox.
  • Backlog - Here are just all my individual tasks, I expect that it could get a little long, but the idea is to keep it prioritized and review it regularly. It’s the batch of stuff that I could do.
  • Today - This is where I put the things I want to do today; set a mini goal and leave everything else. It encourages me to focus on the here-and-now, and pick something I will actually achieve, or nothing at all. In an agile life, I might decide I need to do something inspiring and completely different.
  • Doing - Here is where I will put the things I am currently working on. It also serves to take down a thing I start doing out of nowhere if there is a chance that I might move it back into the backlog.

How to Maintain

The key with anything agile is the continuous grooming and prioritization of a backlog. Plans change and new things come out of nowhere. Something that was critical yesterday, may not even be worth thinking about today. Here are some tips:

  • At least once a week, glance down at your backlog and see if there is anything you can remove, or anything that is more important. Move the important things up the list.
  • Add new items in the context of other items: “pay for internet” trumps “buy new pants”.
  • Trello has a cool due date feature that changes color as the dates approach; this can be helpful for identifying items to move around.
  • Don’t be afraid to remove things! Don’t let the cards become contracts; you can break your own contacts if your needs change.

So there you go. I encourage you to give Trello a shot and experiment with an agile life. Please let me know how it goes!

Jason Foxproductivity