My friends are avoiding me.
Not because I’m a bad person (at least I don’t think so), but because I can’t stop talking about friggin’ Trello.
This thing has become my obsession over the last few weeks, and the more I use it, the more I realized how powerful it can be for freelancers and small businesses alike.
In today’s post, I’ll be reviewing Trello as well as giving a complete tutorial of how you can use this versatile tool in your business.
What is Trello?
Depending on who you ask, Trello might be described as a collaboration tool, a productivity tool, a visual organization tool, or even a to-do list on steroids.
At it’s core, Trello is a versatile, Kanban-style project management software that can be moulded around a dizzying number of use cases.
Since it first arrived on the scene back in 2011, Trello has become one of the most popular and widely favored management tools to date, and there’s little sign of that slowing down.
How Trello Works (Brief Overview)
Unlike other big names in the industry, Trello is incredibly easy to pick up and start using right out of the box.
So easy, in fact, it’s probably faster to try and work it out yourself than to read this section of the review. (Okay, slight exaggeration)
To get started, you’ll first need to create a Trello board, which is essentially an environment that houses your lists and tasks.
You can have as many boards as you like, but it’s a good idea to keep the board titles fairly broad as not to spread yourself thin.
Create Board lists
Then, you create board lists. These are vertical columns that typically represent the different stages of a process from start to finish.
This could be anything from a content creation process, a client acquisition funnel, a building project, or anything else that can be broken down into manageable steps.
Cards are essentially tasks, and you can click on any card to open it up, allowing you to add extra information such as description, file attachment, team members, labels, due dates and more
You can then move these cards to any other column by dragging, which represents a change in status for that task.
Add Team Members
After adding members to boards, you can also assign them to individual cards so they receive all notifications on that card, as well calling them in temporarily via a comment mention.
Of course, adding team members is optional and you can certainly use Trello if you don’t currently have a team.
Automation is another optional step, but one that will undoubtably take your Trello game to the next level.
Using Power-ups in particular, you can introduce rules that trigger on user action. With a good team and proper use of automation, you can (almost) let your Trello board run itself.
A Complete Trello Tutorial & Review
What I’ve outlined above is a very basic overview of how Trello works, but don’t be fooled by the simplicity.
As I said earlier, this a versatile tool and there are countless ways to use Trello in your workflows. Once you get going, it’s like opening a pandoras box of possibilities.
So with that in mind, let’s take a deeper look inside Trello, and go through each and every aspect of this software in more detail.
Getting to Grips with Trello Boards & Lists
Boards are the foundation of your tasks.
As I said earlier, you can have a single board that houses everything, or you can have multiple boards that help you better segment your projects and tasks.
Trello will prompt you to create your first board on sign-up, which will look something like this:
You’ll notice some lists already set up for you, and these make up the structure of your board.
You can add as many of these as you like, as well as change list titles to fit your specific use case. (Refer to the end of this review where I give Trello board examples and ideas.)
Adding a list is simply a case of clicking on the “Add another list” button at the end of your board.
On click, you’ll immediately and seamlessly be prompted to name your new list — and, by the way, this really highlights how efficient Trello is at the smallest level. Every click counts.
Reordering lists is just as easy, and can be done by dragging them to their new location:
(Lists can be moved regardless of whether cards already exist within that list, they just move with it. More on cards in just a sec.)
On the right, you’ll see a slide-out menu which can be closed to free up more space on the board:
Before you get rid of it though, there are a few settings here you should know about first.
For one, you can change the background color of your boards, which is useful for coordinating a larger number of boards. (You can also use photos but I find them quite distracting.)
Would be nice if Trello allowed custom colors here, but let’s be real, that’s far from a deal breaker.
You can also filter cards via this menu, effectively hiding any card that doesn’t meet your criteria, including:
- By search term (keyword)
- By label
- By member
- By due date
And the last one I’ll mention is the board activity feed.
This display directly in the lower half of the menu, and it updates in real time based on changes made by you and your team.
The “View all activity” link will open a scrollable feed of all activity that has taken place on that board, so you’re never left scratching your head.
Besides what I’ve covered above, the board menu allows you to do things like filtering cards, adding power-ups and applying funky stickers.I’ll cover these shortly under the relevant sections.
The Anatomy of a Trello Card
Cards are your bread and butter.
As mentioned, these little devils reside within lists, and you can have as many of them as you want across your board. Well, in theory.
No surprises here, adding a card can be done by clicking the “Add a card” button under any list:
By default, your card will be added with a title and no additional details.
Once added, you can move any card to another list the same way you reorder lists themselves, by dragging and dropping…
If you’re following the typical Kanban process, moving cards to the next list will be done regularly as tasks progress.
While cards seem basic at first, these things can store a TON of information if leveraged in the right way.
To start, clicking on a task card opens it up:
From here, you can add several elements to it such as:
You can take advantage of as many or as few of these as you’d like, but understanding how to best use them is crucial for maximum efficiency.
Below is an example of how some of this stuff can be applied:
And this is just scratching the surface. The more you start using these elements, the sooner you’ll realize just how versatile they are.For example, the ‘Description’ field supports advanced formatting, allowing you to fill it with more comprehensive content.
Like most of Trello’s user interface, this panel is neatly tucked away until (or indeed, if) you need it.
Another example is ‘Attachments’, in that they can also double up as board covers. This is actually default behaviour for the first attachment, but can be disabled with a single click.
The last one I’ll mention is Checklists.
These are essentially subtasks that are added to your main task (or card) and are only visible once the card is open.
But like any card element, checklists are optional, but once added, they have a number of functions.
These include everything from:
- Adding multiple checklists
- Adding multiple items
- Checking off individual items
- Seeing completion percentage
- Hiding completed items
I could go on, but I won’t.
By now I hope you’ve had a taste of Trello’s brilliance, in that it’s versatile, yet seemingly basic at the same time.
This is best highlighted by the cards feature and it’s what allows this platform to appeal to both beginners and veterans alike.
Collaboration & Team Management
You don’t need a team to use Trello.
In fact, I used Trello for months without bringing anyone else onboard, and it was still one of the most useful tools in my day-to-day work.
But adding team members to your boards is how you begin to multiply the utility Trello offers.
You can create a team by clicking the plus icon in the top bar. (This works from any board.)
After naming your team, you’ll be taken to the dashboard for that team.
From the dashboard, you can create and assign team members, build Trello boards, and configure settings such as board visibility. (Yep, you can make boards public if you choose.)
Any boards you create here will belong only to that team.
The associated boards and task cards are only visible and editable by your team, assuming you haven’t made a board public.
If you click on the boards button in the top bar, you’ll get a categorized overview of all your Trello boards:
Not only can you quickly and easily switch between boards from this dropdown menu, but you can also see which boards are shared with a team, and which boards are personal to you.
But rabbit hole goes deeper still…
Once you’ve created cards for your team board, you can begin to assign team members specifically to those cards.
In this case, I added my main account to demonstrate how it works.
While this assigns the team member to a card, it’s not always clear what that person should do in order to complete the task.
That’s where the comments box comes in, allowing you to tag team members with additional instructions (or ask for input) without officially assigning them to the card itself.
In either case, team members will receive a notification of that event based on their settings. The key difference being that assigned members will continue to receive notifications when any changes are made to that card.
For example, they can be notified via Trello’s in-built notification system, your browser, or good ol’ fashion email.
Another thing to be aware of is even though you may assign a team member to a single card, they will automatically be able to view the board.
This is an intentional move from Trello (perhaps to give context to the task?), but one that unfortunately prevents the sharing of more sensitive data within team boards.
With Trello, however, there’s almost always a workaround via the many addons that exist alongside it. Let’s explore those next.
Trello Shortcuts, Extensions & Automations
This is where sh*t gets real.
Everything I’ve shared with you so far is akin to what most project management systems out there can do…
…until you get to this section of the review.
In this section, I’ll over some of the additions you can add to your Trello boards to put your workflow on steroids, including:
- Keyboard shortcuts
- Enhancements (Chrome extensions)
- Power-ups & automations
We have a lot to cover for each so it makes sense to give them their own sections, don’t you think?
Trello Keyboard Shortcuts
Shortcut junkies will be pleased to know Trello has a plethora of keyboard shortcuts for various actions.
I’m not going to cover them all since there’s already an official list here and Trello will obviously do a much better job of keeping that updated.
What I will do, however, is point out some of my favorite (and must-learn) keyboard shortcuts as I believe them to be the most productive.
So here’s my mini-roundup:
1. Archiving Cards
Hovering over any card with your mouse and pressing “C” on your keyboard will instantly archive that card. Much faster than using the fly-out menu.
2. Adding A Due Date
Hovering over any card with your mouse and pressing “D” on your keyboard will allow you to pick a due date without fully opening the card.
3. Assigning Team Members
Hovering over any card with your mouse and pressing “M” on your keyboard will allow you to assign team members without fully opening the card.
4. Assigning Yourself
Hovering over any card with your mouse and pressing “Space” on your keyboard will instantly assign yourself to that card. Repeating this step will also remove yourself from a card.
Hovering over any card with your mouse and pressing “E” on your keyboard will open the quick editor, allowing you to change the title and other attributes without fully opening the card.
Trello Chrome Extensions
For those who use Chrome, you probably won’t be surprised to learn about the library of free extensions available for Trello.
(By the way, if you’re not using Chrome, you’re seriously missing out.)
Aside from the official extension, Trello keeps an extensive list of other Trello-based Chrome extension here, so I won’t even attempt to cover them all in this review.
But I will give a mention to some of my favorite third-party extensions:
1. Add Cards To Trello
This little beaut allows you to add cards to any of your Trello boards without even having to log into Trello. Perfect for those moments of genius when you just need to get it down, and get it down quick.
2. Taco For Trello
Taco hijacks your new tab screen and replaces it with a list of your open Trello tasks (as well as information from other apps), so you always have a reminder of what needs to be done next.
3. List Layouts For Trello
Got too many lists? Trello doesn’t come with many view options but this handy extension changes all that with shiny new options for list and grid layouts on your Trello boards. Amazing.
Trello Power-Ups & Automations
Power-ups are without a doubt my favorite aspect of Trello, as they turn ordinary lists and tasks and injects them with super powers.
So how do they work?
First thing you’ll need to know is that Power-ups are board-specific, meaning you have to enable them on each board, independently.
To do so, just hover over the menu icon and select Power-ups”:
As you’ll see above, this opens up the Power-ups library where you’ll find several categories, such as Analytics, Board Utilities, and Automation.
While not all of these are automation-based, this is where you’ll go to find the many of the automation tools you need.
Once again, Trello has a complete list of all the Power-ups, so I’ll just pick out a few noteworthy mentions here:
Possibly my favorite on this list, Butler allows you to create and add custom buttons to your cards, as well as define automation rules when a certain action is taken, or a set time is passed.
2. Card Repeater
Another popular automation-based Power-up that creates an exact copy of task (card) based on a schedule you define. This one is great for tasks that are recurring, such as daily, weekly or even monthly to-do’s.
3. Custom Fields
The last one I’ll mention is Custom Fields, a Power-up that allows you to add additional fields to your cards, such as dropdown menus, checkboxes and even an additional date field. You can also display these values on the card face.
Trello Board Examples
You thought I was gonna leave you hanging, didn’t ya?
One of the best ways to realize the potential of Trello is to see how people actually use it to manage and streamline their business.
What I’m about to show you is by no means an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to show you what’s possible and kickstart your creative juices.
1. Sales Pipeline
Kanban style is perfect for the traditional sales pipeline, and you can take things to the next level with labels, due dates and custom fields.
2. Content Calendar
Content marketing is a great way to attract new clients and customers, so why not leverage Trello to manage your editorial calendar?
3. Company Overview
While most Trello boards are used for in a production-line fashion, they can also be used to neatly house information about your team, products or company.
Note — Like I said, I’m only scratching the surface of possibility here, but Trello has a dedicated page for board ideas and inspiration. Knock yourself out.
How Much Does Trello Cost?
Trello is a freemium project management tool with some of the most generous limits I’ve ever seen on a free plan.
Here’s what the pricing looks like:
The forever free plan, unlike many other freemium tools, is a complete and very usable product right out of the gate.
In fact, you’d only upgrade if you needed:
- More advanced app integrations
- Multiple power-ups per board
- A higher file size limit on attachments
- Slightly more control over team members
- Custom backgrounds and stickers (lol)
- Stronger security such as 2-factor authentiction
- Priority email or phone support
And while Trello asks a modest fee for these additional features, it’s worth noting there are also some in-app purchases. *gasp*
For example, while upgrading your Trello account allows you to use an unlimited number of Power-Ups on your boards, some of these also have paid tiers.
In the case of Butler, a Power-Up I mentioned earlier in this review, you only get a handful of command runs per week unless you pony up some cash:
This makes sense when you consider many of these Power-Ups are built by third-party developers, and no doubt a lot of time goes into creating and maintaining them.
It’s also worth noting you can upgrade a Power-Up without necessarily upgrading your Trello account… if that makes more sense in your situation.
Either way, I do feel this could be made clearer on the pricing page because it’s easy to assume an all-inclusive deal.
Personally, I haven’t felt very restricted on the free plan yet, but I wouldn’t hesitate to upgrade the moment that changes.
Wrapping It Up…
Phew… that was a long one. 😀
I gotta say though, I thoroughly enjoyed writing this review and showcasing what Trello can do, because I genuinely believe it to be game changing piece of kit.
If you haven’t tried Trello yet, click here to create a free account and take your business process up a gear. Thank me later.
This is a great post Lewis! I love Trello and use it for Marketing Plans as well as Communications Plans (my lists are months of the year, my cards are posts to plan in that month). I set my clients up on Trello and some of them use it for other things too. It’s really easy to use so people easily get the hang of it which helps.
Phew…. that was a long one! I’m on the free plan too but get to try out gold when people use my referral link! I still need to try out Butler. Thank you for this thorough review Lewis!
Whoa! Lewis – and I thought I was a Trello geek. You left me in the dust. Brilliant article for beginners and geeks alike. Well done. #ilovetrello