Almost every writer I know is managing about five hundred tasks at once. They range from day jobs and planning the family dinner to running a blog or two. Mix in a collaborative project with another writer or clients, add in some revisions on one book, research on a new book, and submitting or navigating the self-publishing process with a third book, and how in the world can one person manage that many time-sensitive projects at once?
Simple: they use a data management system. Some writers use Scrivener’s corkboard like Kathy. Others use a wall of sticky notes like Heather, or just index cards. They’re all good planning systems, but I think they only do half the job, and some of these organizational systems are cumbersome and easily disrupted when you have kids in the house.
I use Trello!
If you don’t know what Trello is you’re missing out on the best online data management tool to come out in years. With Trello anyone can create simple, yet detailed project management boards. Each board is made up of cards and each card can be expanded, giving you tiers of data. It’s a bit like Pinterest but in text form. Also you can add images to your boards if you need them. Just to clarify, Trello is not for word processing. You will still need your preferred software for the writing phase.
Years ago friends told me I should start using a professional project management software, but I just couldn’t master it. The programs were complicated and I always felt like I was working so hard to plug the data in to the system that I never wanted to be bothered using the program. With Trello and a spare hour anyone can get organized. And best of all, the basic version is free.
There are a million uses for Trello, and the company blog runs contests to encourage people to share their new ideas.
Here are my top five reasons for using Trello.
1. It’s easy to use.
I don’t have time to learn complicated new programs; if I did I would still be using MS Project. (Don’t ask!) With Trello I was up and running in a few minutes, and it was fun. I liked being able to brainstorm ideas, and it was amazing how quickly a bunch of random thoughts came together into something that made sense. I loved the drag and drop function as well as being able to rearrange and change the status of tasks without retyping. I liked how the face of each project board is clean and orderly, but when you open each section everything from checklists, contact information and deadlines are right there. The “help” functions are amazing. You cannot mess up. Trello also makes mobile apps and lets me access my account with a phone, laptop or Kindle, a huge plus for any busy writer. I can make quick notes, track research leads or refresh my memory on the status of every project I’m working on even while on the go.
2. The program tools help prioritize my workload.
I’m a visual person and I like having drop-down master lists, sidebars, and being able to add stars to mark projects that need my special attention. I can archive older projects so I don’t lose the data, but the cards aren’t glaring at me every day demanding attention. I can arrange my projects on a calendar so I can keep track of my time and use it more effectively. There’s even a function to create reminders and to make inactive cards look aged, so I can see when I’ve been neglecting a project too long. For my purposes, everything goes up on the boards from blog post ideas, outlines of my book chapters, ideas for future projects, even my Christmas shopping list.
3. It increases my productivity and focus.
If you’re like me you need to mentally change hats several times a day. Having a single list of all my current tasks would never work for me. First, it’s overwhelming; I look at the sheer volume and feel discouraged. I always feel like I’m running behind with home schooling, volunteer work and professional obligations. With Trello I’m still running, but at least I can split my life into more manageable chunks. It helps me stay on track better and reduces the amount of time I spend wondering what I should do next. Plus I never have to hunt for missing lists, sort my dropped index cards or rummage around in my date planner only to find my kids have played hangman right over the information I needed. Everything is always right where I left it, and it’s neat and orderly.
4. I can share my project lists with the other people.
I’m from a big family; we always had that “many hands make light work” motto. With Trello I can keep each individual board locked up or I can choose to share it. I can color code each person’s jobs, or each person can select their own jobs from a prioritized list. I can track how each person is doing, and watch as the jobs move from pending to the finished column. There’s no repeating a task someone else is already working on. If someone stops a project midway, I know where they left off. I even keep a list of household repairs and share it with my husband. I don’t need to ask him about the new rain gutters when I see he’s already shifted that job to the “item ordered” area on our house repairs list. Any team (large or small) can work more effectively with the benefit of Trello. And it’s perfect for party planning.
5. The system is as big or as small as I need it to be.
If I need help tracking one large project, say my NaNoWriMo novel, or thirty little projects, Trello can help. For my novel boards I have cards for plotting, characters, setting, research questions, first names by eras, craft notes and even inspiring quotes to keep my butt in the chair and writing. I control how many boards I want to create and how I want to organize and display my boards. I’ve mastered my data this way. Every random thought I once scribbled on the back of a napkin now goes on a Trello card. I can’t lose anything and once I have the information safely recorded, I can free my mind for the important stuff, like writing the next chapter.
I’m never one to knock another person’s go-to data management system. If you love your index cards and sticky notes, more power to you. But if you are like I was, always fighting the battle of lost notes and missed deadlines, I strongly recommend you give the free version of Trello a try. If you love it and find some fantastic new uses for the system, please come back and share them with me. I’m always ready to learn a trick that will make my Trello boards work harder and smarter.