I’m sure you’ve either heard or used the software Trello already. If you didn’t, it’s an online tool in which you can create your own lists and lists of lists to organize your life or do whatever else you want with it. Its flexibility is both its strength and weakness, because you have complete control over your lists, but it can be hard to come up with ways to use it. Luckily nowadays there are lots of people using it and you can let yourself be inspired by what others do.

I’ve been using Trello to stay on track of my book projects and I can’t imagine working without it again. Let me show you how it’s working for me.

Initial Setup

At the beginning you start with a completely blank slate full of potential and intimidation. We’ll get over this in an instant, by setting up our initial set of lists.

The biggest strengths of Trello is its great flexibility and the ability to move list items from one list to another, by simply dragging and dropping. This means you can move your cards around as much as you please! Yes, please!

Have you had any contact with Kanban? In short, Kanban is a form of project management which uses visualization of to-dos and where they are on their way to completion. I’ve been using some form of Kanban boards for a few years now and for a visual person like myself it’s absolutely amazing. In its most basic form there are three columns – To Do, In Progress and Done. In these columns you put your to-dos like ‘wash the dishes’ or ‘prepare presentation’. Though here’s the thing: Those to-dos need to be movable. If you want an analog version of this you can use post-it notes or pin pieces of paper to a cork wall, if you want a digital solution… use Trello!

I’ve adapted my lists to my own needs and typically have four columns for book projects:

  • Tasklist: A list of every single task I need to do. Can be added to when needed.
  • This Week: In this list are all the to-dos I want to tackle in said week.
  • In Progress: Those to-dos for the week that I’m already working on.
  • Done: All those to-dos that I’ve already completed. Yay!

I do like to have an overview over the whole project, which is why I have the ‘Tasklist’. I don’t know about you, but my brain tends to be anxious, if it doesn’t have a sense of the whole picture and where I’m standing right now.

You can adapt those lists to your very own needs of course. Maybe you’re working with a daily or monthly focus instead of a weekly one, so just change the list to ‘This Day’ or ‘This Month’ and you’re good to go.

Fill the Tasklist

Once you have your board set up, you’re ready to fill your tasklist with… well… tasks! Every author has his or her own approach to writing a book, so rummage through your own brain to turn your process in actionable steps. I’ve found that the smaller the tasks the better, because you’ll be less overwhelmed by the task and your focus will be clearer.

Of course you can add tasks whenever you think of something you need to do at any time. You can also rearrange the items in your list whenever you need it. Just drag and drop it where you want it to be.

Categorize Tasks with Labels

Another thing I like to do is to color-code my tasks. Again, I’m a very visual person and I find it easier to get a grip of the big picture. For this I’m using Labels. You find these when you edit a task and you can name the shown colors in whichever way you seem fit. For me, it’s the different stages I’m going through when crafting a story, like creating the story world, developing characters and plotting the story.

Once you have your colors named, you can assign the matching label to each task.

You can even assign more than one label, which can be handy sometimes. I’ve used it in the past to add priority to a task by adding a specific label that meant ‘important’ to me. Of course you can just put the task in the ‘This Week’ column if you like, but I want to keep my planning as realistic as possible (I’m overestimating what I can accomplish in a week already as it is…). With the ‘important’-flag, I know that I have to schedule the according task for the following week.

Plan and Use the Board

Now you’re all set to actually start using your board. Drag and drop the items you want to work on this week to the corresponding list and you’re good to go.

When you start working on a task you pull it over to the ‘In Progress’ column and move it over to ‘Done’ whenever you’re finished with a task. Simple, isn’t it? Yet you have a clear picture of where you’re at at any given time.

Here is another use of the color-coded tasks: When all the tasks of one category are in the ‘Done’ section, you can stop for a minute and evaluate if you’re really finished with said category. Maybe all of your tasks concerning character creation are seemingly done, but you realize that your story is still missing something or someone. You can then add relevant tasks to your tasklist.

Of course there are a ton of possibilities to use those Trello boards and I’ve merely shown you one I use for staying on top of my book projects. A thing I’ve learned is, that your boards evolve. When you’re actually using your boards, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t and you can adjust it accordingly. I do have some projects whose tasklists are so gigantic, that I’ve created separate boards for those tasklists. There I have my categories as separate columns (a.k.a. lists) to make it easier to read and manage. When I plan to tackle a task I flag it there and put the item in the ‘This Week’ column of my planning board. Works wonderfully.

Another thing I want to mention is that you could actually manage more than one project in one board which would be very Kanban-appropriate. BUT. I’ve learned that this overwhelms me in more than one way. You have to make sure that you don’t tangle up similar tasks of different projects and it’s much harder to identify where you’re at in each project. Meh. I rather use a board for one project and add another for a different project. Simpler to manage, easier to see and overall better to handle.

And yet another thing to mention are the details you can add for each task. If you click on an item a window opens where you can add a description of the task, comments and even attachments, like pictures or documents. This can come in handy if you want to make sure that you’re not forgetting something important. Or if you’re sharing this project with another author. If one creates a task and the other has to actually do it, it’s much easier if you provide additional information to make the objective clear.

If you’ve taken a look at the details you may have seen the ‘Checklist’ option. Yes, you can create checklists for a task if that is what you need, but I have to warn you. It happened to me in the past that I’ve created a general task like ‘Develop Side Characters’ and added a checklist where I’ve listed all the characters I want to create. One downside of this is that this list doesn’t show its items on the task, you’re merely seeing that there is a checklist for the task. It may happen that you’re overlooking the checklist completely or you’re underestimating the extent of the task. What bugs me even more is that you cannot move checklist items in your planning board. You do have to move the task with its entire checklist. If you have a checklist that contains a ton of characters that you have to create, it’s may be unrealistic for your schedule to do all of this in a single week. Bummer.

Therefore I stick to creating lists for each and every task and use checklists for important things that I don’t want to forget. Or I put the task ‘Develop Side Characters’ in the ‘Tasklist’ and put each side character in a checklist, BUT I put the single character as a separate task in the ‘This Week’ Column, when I want to work it. I can check the item off when it’s done and I still have the flexibility to move around my work item.

If you have more than one book project, you can reuse your boards by simply copying the already existing board, which saves you a ton of time! Most of my tasks are rather generic and the process of creating a story doesn’t vary that much, so it’s easy to reuse the same thing over and over again.

Are you using Trello for your own project management? What tips and tricks have you learnt? I’m always curious to know how other people use it and I’d be glad to learn from you 🙂 Please share your experiences in the comments down below!

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