At some point in any creative’s life, they realize they can’t keep track of it all in their heads.
There are a lot of tools out there; from handwritten bullet journals to Scrivener to post-it notes, there is a plethora of choice. Because every person works differently, so different tools are going to be helpful to different people. Plus, even if a tool was useful at an earlier stage, doesn’t mean it’ll be the right tool for you right now.
If you’ve been following me, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve got a ton of balls in the air, so to speak.
- Revising a YA fantasy
- Sent my MG contemp-fantasy out for feedback
- Reworking some short stories
- Querying my short stories
- Revising other people’s queries – and posting some for my Query Corners
- Interviewing authors and posting Author Spotlights
- My weekly blogpost
- My weekly vlogpost
- Other #authortube activities – write-ins, short updates, etc.
- Volunteering for conventions – working on Balticon’s programming staff
- Assistant editor for Oddville – an online quarterly fiction magazine
- Applying to be a panelist at conventions
- Attending conventions (either as an attendee or presenter)
- Beta-reading for friends and family
I could probably think of a few more things I’m trying to do this month alone, but my list is getting a bit long. At some point, probably after some betas nudged me 3 months late, I realized I couldn’t keep tracking this in my head.
As I’ve discussed before, I love being able to check things off, I love keeping up productivity streak, I love feeling like I’m making progress.
To Do lists are always a good thing for me. But? I needed an online one. I needed to be able to check my list no matter where I was. I didn’t want a journal — I don’t carry a purse, just a phone-wallet.
There were a lot of post-it note or list style to-do lists, but my day job had introduced me to some project management tools. I’m a coder by day, and I’d worked with GitLabs, which has project milestones, and epic tasks broken down into 1-2 day chunks. So, I looked around to see if there was anything similar that I could use at home. Preferably free. And didn’t look like it came out of the 90s.
I saw ads for a few others – Monday.com kept being shown while I was trying to binge Brooklyn 99 on the cheap Hulu. But? It seemed aimed at teams and collaboration — not something that was a major concern for me. I thought it might be far too heavy-weight for what I was looking for. The first thing I saw and tried was a tool called Trello. And I liked it.
I fell off the bandwagon back in November or so, but with my New Year’s resolutions, I set it back up, and I’m really liking it. It helps me visualize, prioritize, and make sure I don’t forget things with less immediate deadlines.
Anyway, enough preamble. Pictures are worth 1,000 words. (Or more. Because I’m pretty sure I could get super wordy if I tried to describe an image in excruciating detail.)
In Trello, you can have one or more “boards”. As this is intended for project managing a team, you can have multiple boards for multiple projects. This year, I’ve split mine boards by 3-month-chunks, rather than splitting it up by writing-project. This way? All of my active stuff in one place, but I’m keeping the board itself from getting too cluttered.
When I first tried it out last year, I just had one for what I was writing and one for what I was reading (books, beta-reading, etc). But, it kept getting busier and more cluttered and I felt overwhelmed.
Trello offers lots of templates, so when I created a new board for this year, I looked through them and set one up. But, after careful consideration, decided it wasn’t quite what I wanted, so created ANOTHER new a board for this quarter.
My Actual Trello Board
In the upper right corner, you’ll see a menu drop-down. That’s where you can change the background color, search for cards, add stickers, and more. I like a nice mellow blue, but if I was managing multiple boards, I’d likely use a different color per board. (Spring might be green…)
As you can see on the right, there’s a button to ‘Add another list’. The lists are the large columns. I’ve labeled mine:
- To Do
- Awaiting Feedback/Queried
And each list contains a number of ‘cards’ that I’ve added to it. As a card moves through my process, I can click and drag it from one column to the next — forward, backwards, or skipping around.
These are my task items. I try to break them down into small chunks. Bite-sized tasks that could be completed in just a few days, nothing huge and epic.
Clearly, you can split your items anyway you want, but half of my reason for using this tool is the sense of progress I get as I check things off. I’d rather check off 7 sub-tasks a week, than wait 2 months to check the parent-task off. I’ll STILL be thrilled when I move that card into the ‘Done’ list, but this way, I get to celebrate the little achievements that help me on my way.
Cards hold a LOT of information and a bevy of attributes.
- Labels (for different types of tasks)
- Members (if other people are collaborating, you can assign them)
- Due dates (you can schedule reminders!)
- Check-lists (where it tracks percentage done!)
- Attachments! (if you need access to outside files)
- And more!
When you add a new card, whatever you enter into the box becomes your title. Once created, you can click on the title to edit the full card, or you select the pencil icon to quick-edit a single attribute.
I have a bunch of labels I use, to keep track of the different types of tasking I do. You can just leave them as color options, or you can edit them and add a word to the label.
- Author spotlight\Query Corners (requires outside input)
- Blog\Vlog (just me)
- Oddville (I’m an editor/slush reader)
The color-blind option adds the symbols to the left edge of the label. I know in a glance, when I look at my board, which things are get me closer to publication, which are supporting the community, and which are for my social media platform.
When I first saw that the items had check-lists inside them, I thought I was using Trello wrong. Then, I realized the truth. I could use those to break down the sub-tasks and watch my progress on a given task.
And the best part? I can use a pre-existing list as a template -> Just copy it on over to my new card.
Then again, it’s also one of the few annoyances I’ve found. It shows each and every instance of every checklist, rather than selecting from 1 instance of each checklist.
But still, watching the “Percent Complete” go up? TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Under housekeeping (my yellow label), I even made a task to make sure that I reviewed my board and updated all the tasks. The promise of watching that percent bar goes up almost guarantees I won’t miss a week.
Due Dates and Attachments
You’re familiar with the concept. I’m just taking a moment to show the screenshots for you. The Due Date lets you set reminders. The attachments lets you find stuff on many common hosting sites.
When you finish a project, you can always archive its board. But sometimes, you just don’t want the board to exist any longer. In those cases, you can delete it permanently.
Deleting a board
- Select settings
- Select more…
- Select Close board (this means no one can make updates to it)
- Confirm at the pop up
- Select ‘Delete’
Now, Trello has plenty of other features, from the automated Butler and more. But? For a solo creator, just trying to manage her workload? This is all I need.
Do you use any project management tools for your personal projects?
Which ones and why?
Let me know if you use Trello, too.