Productivity

Trello Strategy: Action-Focused Lists

We have been overhauling a lot of our Trello boards lately. A few of them have been languishing more than others so we've been looking at them strategically, cleaning things up, and figuring out how to make them all function better. Project management system working optimally = we get more stuff done! One thing that has become clear about our work style as we make changes to our boards is that we need our lists to be action-focused, not categorical. Previously, we had some organizational schemes that attempted to categorize our work by area or type - management, research & writing, team tasks - and we therefore had Board setups with category Lists. This caused us to use those Lists more as places to bank tasks or projects and less as ways to facilitate progress. Changing those List headings to reflect actions or project phases forces us to pare down the Cards we keep in a List, encouraging more progress on those tasks. So what did we change the List headings to, and how did it help?

From this:

A screenshot of the "In Progress Board" before it's overhaul.

All those red indicators that Due Dates were long past...eek! We couldn't even get all the excess cards neatly in a screenshot.

To this:

We already had a categorical Label system in place; why weren't we relying on that?

We actually moved to a simpler list structure, returning to the tried-and-true Kanban concept of To-Do, Doing, and Done. It's always fun to come up with a wholly new and exciting way to structure your Trello boards, and sometimes a totally custom solution really is needed. However, in most cases where the board's purpose is to perform task management and track projects a slight customization of To-Do, Doing, Done will work nicely.

Our modifications were to add a list of things to Discuss (either with each other or in an upcoming meeting), and a second Doing list for our biggest project. Research Essentials - the information literacy instruction program we run at our library - makes up such a significant portion of our work that it deserves its own Doing list. Why not a separate board? The Research Essentials Team has its own entire suite of boards. This list is just for the items that don't apply to the rest of the team, to further streamline the the team boards. And our Done list actually resides on our Project Bank board, which serves as an archive of completed items.

So what did we do with all the cards that are no longer languishing in the remaining lists? Well, for starters we were ruthlessly realistic about archiving cards for tasks we never did and project ideas that aren't ever going to happen. Then, we shifted a lot of other items to our Project Bank board (where they really belonged anyway) and created Short Term Hold and Long Term Hold lists there. Finally, supervising and training tasks are conspicuously absent; those all earned their own Supervising board.

All of these changes encourage more movement on our boards. The intention of our In Progress board is to feature only what we're actively working on, making it easier to visualize progress. On the Project Bank board we can shift things from list to list, helping us prioritize upcoming tasks. We see a clear connection between more activity on our Trello boards and more completed tasks.

What strategies have you used to improve your Trello productivity? Do you have a consistent board structure, or do you vary? Let us know in the comments!

Productive is Pretty: Using Trello to visualize project management for effective organizations and fun-loving people

When organizational systems work well, it’s not only useful--it’s beautiful! Academic libraries require dozens of intricate workflows for every facet of the organization. We can help you make your workflows visually coherent, intuitive, and efficient. This session will focus on using Trello to create and implement new or existing workflows for collaborative teams (yay, transparency!) and individuals (take that, to-do list!).

No matter what library department you work in or what organizational problem you need to solve, this session will result in a solution.

  • Your colleagues persistently plan events using a 100-message email thread?

  • You need to track dozens of library instruction sessions and delegate responsibilities?

  • Your student workers are accountable for dozens of recurring tasks every week?

  • You are frustrated that details about past projects reside in your @#$%& email?

We use and love Trello, a free, online project- and task-management system that is visually appealing, easy to learn, fun to use, and powerfully customizable. As a visual organization tool, Trello can facilitate pretty productivity in a variety of ways:

  • To accomplish daily/weekly/recurring tasks

  • To track a project or many projects

  • To help a team communicate

  • To set goals

  • To train new hires

  • To lesson plan

  • To prioritize and delegate tasks

We have spent the last four years maxing out Trello’s capabilities as a project-management and communication tool (we still can’t believe it’s free!), and we’ve learned how to begin with a goal and end with a custom solution. Get ready to create systems that will streamline work, keep projects visible and organized, and improve efficiency.

We are confident that you will agree the beauty of visual organization increases productivity by making work fun again!

Beginning with the Basics

At the core of Trello’s versatility is its basic Kanban-inspired setup of three lists titled To Do, Doing, and Done. This structure is intended to encourage your work to progress through through to completion instead of lingering in the still-dreaming-about-it category.

To Do, Doing, Done is the underlying framework of any intricate, customized Trello workflow. So here's an exercise for beginners:

  • Start with those three lists.

  • Then determine one, two, or three additional phases your work normally goes through, or should go through!

  • Add a list for each of those phases and reorder your board to integrate them after To Do and before Done.

Intermediate Optimization Skills

Identifying and implementing Trello power-ups for customized productivity will not only level up your efficiency, it’s also a ton of fun! Below are lists of our favorite Trello integrations, power-ups, and Chrome Extensions. Oh! And don’t forget to learn Trello Hot Keys--they save time and make you feel like a fast-typing hacker in the movies.

Power-Ups

Browse and filter all Trello power-ups here.

Apps & Integrations

Chrome Extensions

  • Trellius: an alternative to the Calendar power-up, this extension creates a drag and drop calendar that’s embedded right above the lists on a board.

  • Ultimello: a features pack that lets you do things like fancy card sorting and display the number of cards on a list.

  • Trillor: a card mirror to “manage personal tasks from several boards.”

  • Trello External Window: takes Trello out of your browser.

Advancing to Automation

Automating and delegating tasks are two of the most effective ways to free up time. Trello’s was built to make work transparent and collaborative, so it’s a natural fit for delegating tasks and empowering teams. But Trello is also ideal for automation, and the list of possibilities grows everyday!  Use automation to creatively problem-solve and to take workflows to the next level.

The most common way to automate tasks in the digital world is to use If This Then That (IFTTT) or Zapier, services that allow you to create your own recipes for how Trello interacts with other apps.  See Trello-specific examples below!

Alternatively, combining power-ups is another way to automate tasks (note: this does require Trello Gold or Business). Example: Try Card Repeater + Card Aging. Use that in tandem with Due Dates and Calendar View. BOOM.

Automation Tools & Trello Bots

Make Your Productivity Pretty!

Beautifying your Trello experience is not only fun--it also makes you more productive! With Trello Gold, you can add background images to your boards, which helps you identify them quickly.

The Trello blog has some great tips for making your boards pretty. To find images for board backgrounds, we are partial to Pexels and Dress Your Tech, which features gorgeous desktop backgrounds designed by artists.

We also recently discovered the Stylish Chrome Extension along with ALL THESE OPTIONS for Trello themes and skins. I am currently in love with Modernized Trello.

Using Trello in Libraries

This post is a summary of our presentation at the 2017 Collective Conference, We created a Trello Team for participants, along with an Ultimate Idea Board for Using Trello in libraries.

We’d love to hear how you are using Trello for your work, personal life, or in your library! How has Trello made you more productive? What problems have you been able to solve? How has visual project management impacted your team?

Let us know in the comments!

Twenty Five Ways to Use Trello in Libraries

This monster list contains our best ideas for ways that librarians, library teams, and libraries can use Trello to organize their work and information. We use a lot of these in real life! The rest are ways our friends use Trello in their libraries, uses we've invented to recommend to colleagues, or ideas that were ignited by examples on the Trello Inspiration site. Our team has been Trello-ing since 2012 and the longer we use it, the more possibilities we find. We're finally sharing five years' worth of experience and idea-having here because we're facilitating a whole workshop about Trello for librarians at our favorite cheap, super fun conference for academic librarians, The Collective. We created this Ultimate Idea Board: Ways to Use Trello in Libraries as an interactive resource for the workshop. It houses all 25 of these ideas in Trello card form, plus links to suggested Power-Ups, Extensions, and instructions. We're hoping the Ultimate Idea Board grows as our workshop participants (and you, dear reader!) make your own additions to the trove.

A Trello board showing the 25 ideas given in the following list.

Twenty Five! Amazing and Creative Ways to Use Trello in Libraries

  1. Strategic Planning with Gannt Charts
    • Map out long-range strategic or operational plans for your library, department, team, or project. Use the Elegannt Power-Up + Chrome Extension to set dependencies and show project phases in Gannt chart view.
  2. Short-Term Project Board with Kanban
    • Use a new Board to facilitate a workflow for a creative project. Make Lists for project phases like Design, Build, Review, and Implement. Each card is an item (e.g. a video) and moves across the Board to completion.
  3. Long-Term Projects Using Multiple Team Boards
    • Track progress, make assignments, and maintain transparency for your team or library’s long-term projects. A collection of Boards can manage the work of an entire department, or manage the operations of an entire library - especially a small one on a budget.
  4. Committee Work
    • Reduce time spent in meetings and stop losing important information in email threads by setting up an online space for your library committees in Trello. Transparency bonus: if you make your Board public (or share it by link) or your library is using Trello Teams for other purposes, your committee's work will be more shareable than ever.
  5. Research & Writing
    • Meet your professional goals or faculty requirements for conducting research and publishing by using a Board to break down your project into phases, organize your literature review, administrate your experiment, plan drafts, outline, set deadlines and send yourself reminders.
  6. Promotion Portfolio Compilation
    • Be one step ahead when promotion time rolls around by creating Boards in advance where you can align annual goals and projects to contribute to the areas you’re required to develop for promotion. Cards can store associated files and objects that will comprise your portfolio in a clearly organized way - no more dumping documents and emails in a folder to be sorted three years hence.
  7. Knowledge Base/Documentation Board
    • Store documentation for policies, procedures, and workflows in one Board or many Boards. Categorize pieces of documentation by filing them under List headings that correspond to areas of work or type of documentation (e.g. Departmental Policies, Circulation Procedures). Don’t delete cards when old workflows are superseded by new ones, Archive them so they enter your historical knowledge base.
  8. Help Desk Ticketing System
    • Open a Board to the public to allow your user base to submit bugs or tickets, then use an additional Board behind the scenes to process the tickets. Or use a library-visible Board for the same purpose internally.
  9. Recurring Tasks
    • Manage tasks that must be completed daily, weekly, monthly, or annually by establishing templates. Devise template Cards, Checklists, or even Boards for copying. Better yet, use the Card Repeater Power-Up to automatically repeat Cards (with Checklists) at set intervals to ensure each step in repeat tasks are completed on time. Perfect for student worker management.
  10. Department Overview
    • Keep top-level information about your department available in an Overview Board. Membership, leadership, responsibilities, contact information, major projects and initiatives, links to guiding documents. Or arrange information about every department in your library in an Overview Board, including organizational charts, missions, and strategic plans in addition to departmental info.
  11. Library Operations
    • Tap into Trello’s versatility to run an entire small library using Boards for administration, supervising and scheduling, project planning, knowledge base and archiving. Trello is powerful for a free tool, or upgrade to Trello for Business (still a heck of a deal) for more security and administrative controls.
  12. Meetings
    • Continually re-use a single Meeting Board for your library, department, or team as a place to store meeting topics, build meeting agendas, run the meeting, discuss topics, assign action items, and archive minutes or discussions.
  13. New Employee Onboarding/Training
    • Develop a re-usable Onboarding or Training Board template to be copied and customized for each new hire. Introduce new team members to library policies, culture, and teammates. Create training materials once, keep the template up to date, and always be ready to onboard a new person.
  14. Team Brainstorming
    • Make a place on Trello for your team to share ideas, discuss topics, or brain-dump their midnight strokes of brilliance. Brainstorm in real time with the RealTime Board Power-Up (for virtual whiteboarding) or the Google Drive Power-Up (for embedding Docs for concurrent editing).
  15. Scheduling
    • Schedule staffing for your library’s service points in a transparent way that allows your staff to communicate preference and availability, and make trades without generating extra email! Customize a Trello Board to make schedules for the reference desk, circulation desk, opening and closing, student workers, student supervisors, building supervisors, IT help desk...any role that requires a non-standard schedule.
  16. Annual Appraisals/Evaluation
    • Private Boards allow you to add to your appraisal materials all year long, making your life much easier in December when you need to assemble your accomplishments. Create a Label (Labels can transcend Boards and Teams to collect Cards from your entire Trello account) that will gather your Accomplishments when you filter for the Label. If you supervise employees, you can set up Boards only the two of you can see.
  17. Event/Program Planning
    • Create a Board for planning a major event with your team, or a Board that manages the planning and hosting of a program series over time. Generate ideas, store contact information for vendors, assign tasks to team members.
  18. Marketing Campaigns
    • Market a new database, a programming series, a new service at your library...or get  serious about promoting your library year-round on campus. Plan your marketing campaign on a Trello Board, but more importantly, track and report on the success of various messages and media channels so you know what adjustments to make and what works for next time. Why market it if we’re not measuring it?
  19. Social Media Schedule
    • Plan for content, schedule posting, manage processes, point to style guidance, and avoid duplication by scheduling your social media activity on a Board. (See this excellent Tumblr example.) Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Snapchat, YouTube...use Lists and Labels to keep track of what will go where across each platform your library is using.
  20. Blog Editorial Schedule
    • Manage the direction and content of your library or department blog(s) in Trello. Why not just do it within the blog publishing platform? Visual organization. An Editorial Board in Trello helps lay out content areas, posting schedules, and responsibilities in a location and layout that’s accessible to the whole team.
  21. Instruction Scheduling
    • Organize your library’s instruction by showing it all in one place on an Instruction [Scheduling] Board. Use it to keep track of who’s teaching what, when, and where, or use it to administrate scheduling with faculty and assigning teaching librarians. Make sure a substitute librarian can step in when needed by attaching all relevant details, documents, and lesson plans to class Cards.
  22. Instruction Materials Repository
    • Centralize storage and sharing of instructional materials amongst your teaching librarians. Create Cards with descriptions of how to use the lesson, activity, or learning object, and then attach all related items - files, links, videos. Encourage discussion on the Board about how to use or modify materials, or collaborate on instruction.
  23. Course Management/Class Collaboration
    • Foster collaboration amongst your students (or colleagues) by using a Board to distribute materials, instructions, and assignments, including group work or discussion that can occur right in Trello. Use this with a credit course you teach, with student groups you work with regularly, to share information following one-shots, or to deliver professional development or continuing education.
  24. Professional Reading
    • Harness the power of RSS feeds to send items for reading to Trello. Use Zapier or IFTTT to auto-create cards for new items. Then prioritize your reading by re-ordering Cards, annotate by taking notes on Cards, tag, sort, and filter using labels and descriptions, and keep it all in one keyword-searchable place with Card archiving.
  25. Professional Development/Webinar Repository
    • Crowd-source professional development opportunities for your team on a shared Trello Board. Archive webinars you’ve paid for access to, perennial favorites, and have colleagues add new material they find valuable. Access will be easy, and you can either make assignments for individuals to view/complete items or simply monitor who has done what in the Card activity for different webinars, readings, or courses.

I know there are TONS of Trello users in libraries out there...what ways are you using it that we haven't thought of? Tell us in the comments, or post them to the Ultimate Idea Board: Ways to Use Trello in Libraries. We'd love to hear about your Trello experiences!

Out of your Inbox, Into Trello: More Effective Whole-Team Communication

Nobody wants to be the bottleneck. Email is often the logjam that holds up the flow of progress while everyone waits for a team member to painfully extract a pivotal piece of information from an unfiled, untagged, unfindable email that nobody else has. For teams to work effectively and productively, all team members need access to necessary information without relying on a gatekeeper. Even when email is used with the best intentions and communications are shared widely, the inbox often becomes a barrier to information access simply due to its individualized nature and conversation-centric structure. Only recipients of the email in question can find it and access the information within. Email intends for conversations to remain threaded together, and for information to be shared in the form of letter-like messages. This means that a huge portion of the words included in your email archive are unrelated to the email content, causing searching to be slow and ineffective. Since emails are archived, filed, or saved as conversations we often find ourselves trying to remember who the information came from when searching based on what it was about proves insufficient.

So we got this type of communication out of our inboxes and into Trello, eliminating the silo-ization inherent to email systems.

Why Trello for Team Communication?

There are lots of awesome tools you can use to liberate your team's conversations from the email inbox: Slack, Asana, BaseCamp, Jira/Confluence/Agile, Google Hangouts, Google Docs. Some of them are just for chatting and archiving the chat, and some integrate project management or collaboration with conversations.

We use Trello for organizing our team communication because:

  1. It's free (#thankgoodness)
  2. It's searchable
  3. It organizes our conversations around tasks and projects

Tools for instant messaging and conversation-based collaboration (Slack, Google Hangouts, Yammer) are crucial for keeping a team (especially one with a remote-first mentality) on the same page. We use Google Hangouts for instant contact amongst our team. But we don't want to keep all of our conversation and collaboration there because it's disconnected from the work we're doing. That's why we need a project management-type tool that still allows us all to communicate quickly and transparently. Trello is our place for that.

Trello lets us create cards for tasks and projects, populate them with detailed information, and either assign them to a team member for action to be taken or leave them there for someone to find later when they need them. As a supervisor, I can create a card with project specifics for one of my team members - instructions, a checklist of sub-tasks, a deadline, and attached documentation. I can assign it, or tag the team to let them know the card is up for grabs. Questions and answers about the project occur on the card, too. The conversation can include just me and the assignee, or we can pull in others. All of the project's progress and communication about it are tracked on the card, openly transparent for the team to see. If I get sick before we give the presentation we've been planning, somebody else can jump in and easily scroll back through the card to see where we're at and how we got there. And I don't have to forward them tons of emails from my sickbed. (Gross and gross - the emails and the sickness.)

With a project-focused organizational scheme, we boost the power of searching by keyword and decentralize the importance of remembering who said or did what. Trello also remembers who was assigned to a card and even who completed every task and made every change, so we also have a detailed archive of responsibilities and workflow completion. But because Trello is built around its search capability (auto-filled results populate fast) we never have the same difficulty digging up info that we do when searching within email.

Building a Knowledge Base

We also use Trello like a knowledge base. Completed tasks and past projects are archived in Trello (archiving cards, columns, or boards just removes them from view, keeping them in the background forever retrievable) so that all information recorded can be searched and referred back to. We have three additional methods of recording information that enters it into our Trello knowledge base: Remember, FYI, and Templates.

Remember cards contain information we need to regularly or sporadically access. They're in a Remember column that's like a little Rolodex for tidbits of shared knowledge. Contact information, account information, standards or style guides...that kind of thing.

FYI cards communicate information to our team members in the tradition of the memo. They're like a sticky note on a bulletin board. Individuals read the card, take any required action, and then check themselves off the list. The last person to the card participates and then moves the card to the archive, entering it into the knowledge base.

Template boards, cards, and checklists are standard structures that we implement for new team members (our re-usable, customizable Onboarding board), for periodic tasks (cards for projects that occur annually), and for repeat workflows (detailed checklists that are attached to each instance of a task). We deploy Template items again and again, tweaking the Template as necessary. They contribute to our knowledge base in that they teach new team members established processes.

Shows a sample search for "template" on the "instruction scheduling" board in Trello

Tailored to Your Team

Teams, like families, all look different. Whether your team works in the same building, the same office, is distributed across the globe, or has members who work from home occasionally, all teams need to share information, manage knowledge, and build transactive memory. Our team is embracing a remote-first mentality to ensure transparency and democratization of information. Even when nobody is working remotely we all still have unfettered access to team information, and combining our communication tool with workflow management allows anyone to pick up where someone else has left off.

Over the past five years we've experimented and iterated and hacked until Trello works exactly the way we want it to. (And we're working on a workshop all about it! Coming to a website near you March 2017.) Sticking to the same tool has allowed us to generate an information archive, but Trello's flexibility means that we've been able to keep changing and upgrading our own experience. The better we make Trello work for us, the easier communicating with our team becomes.

We've woven together a little suite of tools that serves the needs of our team to get work out of email and into places that make it easier.

  • Google Hangouts for communicating super fast in real time
  • Zotero Groups for organizing all research-related tasks and projects
  • Trello for managing all projects and tasks
  • Google Drive for collaborative editing in real time

The common denominators in all of those? Transparency and searchability. Because we realized early in our existence as a team the power of getting information out of the dark and into the sunlight. It's nice out here, everybody.

The Power of the Pair

Team collaboration What's a creative pair? We are! Jess and I work in the same department, on the same project, from a shared office. We were beginning to think our personal overlap was getting out of hand when we started reading about creative pairs and decided to fully embrace our collaboration instead. Our workmates think it's funny when we finish each other's sentences, but tendencies like shared language contribute to our increased productivity as a pair. Just like in this quote from Joshua Wolf Shenk's book (linked below), "When we go back and forth, our ideas, our ambitions, our efficiency, our ability - everything gets bigger. The more we overlap, the larger we become, much larger than we were as two individuals” (p. 51), when it comes to Jess and me 1 + 1 does not equal 2. It equals something like 2.5 or 3. 

Creative pairs challenge the conventional structures of the lone genius and the all-powerful team. Pairs--who begin to talk, think, and be like one another the more they interact--are able to utilize transactive memory, balance each other professionally and emotionally, and are often praised for their compounded productivity. The relationship between two people in a creative pair has proven powerful, and organizations have the opportunity to capitalize on their collaborative accomplishments.

Does this sound like you and a colleague? Here are some of our best recommendations for working collaboratively with a partner or a team.

Recommended Reading

Powers of Two: How Relationships Drive Creativity, Joshua Wolf Shenk

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, Clive Thompson

Recommended Tools

Trello

A perfect app for keeping a team of two (or more!) on track for tasks and projects. Uses a visual sticky-notes-in-columns setup. Checklists allow for the EXTREMELY satisfying experience of checking tasks off when complete.

Google Docs & Google Slides

We've all known about Google Docs for a while. Basic cloud-based word processing with ACTUAL real-time collaborative editing. Now check out Slides for the same experience creating slide decks with a partner or team. Comments, Group Chat, and Suggestion Mode are indispensable. Our most recent favorite feature: quickly locate your editing compatriot in the Doc or Slide deck by clicking their icon in the top corner. Zing! There they are.

Skype or Google Hangouts

Your pair (or team) doesn’t need to be in the same geographic location to keep in sync. Choose your favorite tool for audio and video conferencing and instant messaging. Then use the same one consistently to build up a searchable record of your conversations and all those links you'll be sending back and forth. Transactive memory, enabled by technology.

Zotero Groups

This cool feature of the citation manager Zotero allows your team to build a shared library of research sources, tag them, and use discussion threads. We are SO into this right now.

Workflowy

A super simple, super zoomable outlining app. Good for keeping your writing distraction-free. We use it to outline e-learning content, and you can share and edit collaboratively.

Evernote

Basically, this desktop app/phone app/browser plug-in will organize your whole life. Save articles and items from anywhere on the Internet, annotate and tag them, make notes and to-do lists, word process, the list goes on and on. The more stuff you save in Evernote, the more useful it gets.

Feedly

Keep track of allllll the pieces of the Internet you love to read. Feedly aggregates various blogs and news sites for you (remember Google Reader? This is the new that.) and then makes is really easy to share content back and forth with friends. It even works for academic journals that post new issues on a webpage. Use it to find things to add to your team's Zotero Group!

Recommended Practices

  • Working in the same space (shared office, co-work space, or virtual hangout)
  • Collaborative editing
  • Co-note taking
  • Shared accomplishment tracking
  • Friendship : )

Are you one half of a creative pair? What are your favorite collaboration tools?

Basic principles for organizing your digital life

Organize Digital Life Efficiently I just started reading the The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel Levitin, and I'm totally fascinated. If that sentence makes you want to punch me in the face, I won’t blame you — but if you allow the librarian in me to indulge in this vein of nerdiness for a few paragraphs, I think you just might like the outcome.

So, a few key points from The Organized Mind: our brains are awesome. We were created to retain an incomprehensible amount of memories, but retrieving said memories is the difficult part. Living in the Information Age now requires us to process more data at a faster rate. (Please note, this is a grossly simplified paraphrase).

My day-to-day life requires systems; without them, I get mega stressed. I get most stressed when everything seems fuzzy — when projects seem big and impossible because I haven’t taken the time to break them down into bite-sized, manageable tasks. I almost always need to brain dump before I begin! And since so much of my life is spent in front of a ding-dang computer, having systems for my digital life is essential.

Therefore, here my are 5 basic principles for organizing your digital life:

1. Get over the guilt

It’s not just pregnancy brain or baby fog or Monday morning mind — it’s science, y’all. We’re bombarded by information (images, music, words, text messages, new recipes, apps… you get the point). Lose your keys? So what! Misplace your kid’s birth certificate? Whatevs! Forget your lunch on the counter the fourth day in a row? It’s all good!

You’re not less intelligent or flawed, even if your coworker calls you a space cadet — you’re human. You’re human and your brain is performing, like, a million operations a minute. So get over feeling guilty or silly or frazzled… and then tweak your system.

2. Build systems that make sense to you…

...but that other people can figure out. When someone walks into your kitchen looking for a drinking glass, you want them to be able to find it. And just as that person is likely to look in a cabinet near the sink for that glass ( or in the event that someone else needs to find or use, say, a file of yours on the network drive) they’re also likely to look in standard locations first.

This is especially imperative if you have specific roles at home (e.g. bill paying!) or work (e.g. statistic keeping!). Good systems enable all potential users to work efficiently.

Good systems do, however, sometimes need a key, so don’t be afraid to create one.  Libraries, for example, use highly sophisticated classification schemas to organize books and materials, but you have to understand the key if you ever want to find anything. (Fun fact: when Melvil Dewey created his decimal system in 1876, he set out to create a way to organize ALL HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. Plan ahead, much?)

3. Commit and invest

This is a do as I say, not as a I do point. Pick one, or maybe two, containers for your digital life. For instance, use Google Drive or DropBox or Amazon Cloud Storage, but not all three. This will drastically improve retrieval because if everything is in one place you don’t have to remember where it is. Yeah! Commit to one thing and then don’t hesitate to invest in it (i.e., you may have to pay for or earn more storage at some point).

Using one place or container also creates an opportunity to eliminate redundancy and to reveal connections within your items. Evernote is especially wonderful for this. Need help choosing which system to use? Stay tuned, I gotcha covered.

4. Use naming conventions and be consistent

Because, duh. If you’re filing receipt images, decide if you’re a YYYY-MM-DD or a DD-MM-YYYY kind of person (hint: be the former. it’s better for long-term archiving).

You’re creating an index so that you can quickly access things later on. I like to control my own vocabulary: if I’m saving recipes, for instance, I will decide to call chickpeas chickpeas instead of garbanzo beans, and I will try my damnedest to do so consistently. This way I can find all of my recipes that contain chickpeas in one place instead of two. #authoritycontrolFTW

5. Work smarter, not harder

Even though information overload complicates life, the one thing that I absolutely love about the digital age is the abundance of tools and apps that allow you to automate life. Analyze the way that you work--what takes up the most time? Which parts do you hate doing the most? Start tracking the tasks that frustrate you most, because we'll be showcasing some of our favorite tools and apps for the most common issues. And in the meantime, don’t stress out if these principles seem overwhelming. Our goal is working less, and we’re gonna get there...eventually!

What are your favorite ways to keep your head clear and your digital life tidy?

10 Reasons to jump on the Trello Train

Trello is a web-based collaboration tool that's kinda like using post it notes on a wall, kanban-style. Using boards, lists, and cards, Trello empowers you to organize projects and people (check back soon for a post on how our team uses Trello to get things done). Here's an example of one of our department's boards: Trello Example

And now, my top 10 reasons to jump on the Trello Train:

 1.   Keep (almost) everything in one place

So, let's start out with a few disclaimers. First, if you're looking for  powerful project management software that also combines extensive document management, then Trello isn't your pick. Secondly, we will give you a super exhaustive but also refreshingly concise list of said software options in the near future, so please stick with me and read the rest of the reasons why you should consider Trello.

That being said, Trello has a wonderfully convenient feature that allows you to attach photos, videos, and documents from your computer, Dropbox, or Google Drive. Dani and I are Google Drive fanatics, and we suggest attaching Google Docs because they will be automatically updated after editing and do not require re-attaching multiple versions.

2.   Cut down on email... like, a lot

It's a widely accepted fact that email is inefficient and disliked. So why not explore options to minimize (and eventually eliminate!) it? Because Trello allows you to comment on individual cards, you and your team can have entire conversations about a task or a topic directly in Trello, instead of through an email thread of 32 messages. When new activity on Trello happens, the notification button on the top of a board will turn red to alert you.

You can also subscribe to a board or a card, and choose to receive email notifications. Trello has a inspiring philosophy on email, so you will only receive an email summary of the unread notifications that you've missed. You can even choose to adjust the frequency of the emails--"instantly" and "never" are both options. OH! And, you can now create cards via email. Yay!

Since using Trello, I've noticed a significant decline in the number of times that I curse the "reply all" button.

3.   Stickers! Puppy dogs! Pretty Things!

Trello's mascot is a husky pup named Taco. Upgrade to Trello Gold, and you can stamp Taco's face EVERYWHERE! Or, you can use the standard set of stickers. Oh, and you can create custom emojis. What's not to love?

Pretty Trello Things!

4.    All hands on deck, even the old ones. 

Trello allows for real time collaboration, so everyone can work at the same time. It's also so easy to use that even, er, baby boomers and beyond can catch on.

5.   Accountability, or it's obvious when you're not doing shit

Members can be added to boards and/or cards, which is suuuuper helpful when you need to keep track of who's doing what. You can assign specific tasks to teammates, or they can claim tasks on their own. And because all activity is logged and visible, it's plain to see who's working, who has room to take on more tasks, and who needs a help getting things done.

6.   Deadlines. One more time--deadlines.

It's no secret that Dani and I work better under deadlines. With Trello, you can set deadlines on cards and set up reminders so that you don't miss said deadlines. You can also enable the Calender view power-up to view all of your deadline enabled cards by week or by month. Setting deadlines is also a gentler, non-naggy way to get your team to get things done and avoid a work flow bottleneck.

7.   Visual Organization

By default, Trello boards are set up with three lists--To Do, Doing, and Done--but changing the name of the list is certainly possible (again, more details about how we use this feature in the post to come). You can drag and drop cards from list to list, and it's all very nice.  Copying and moving cards, using color coded labels, and adding checklists are additional features.

Side note: I LOVE the flat design of the Windows 8 Trello App. And that might be the first time I've used the word "love" and "Windows" in the same sentence...

8.   Security and stuff

Although you have the option to make Trello boards public, by default they are private so any secrets you want to keep will be safe. Traffic to and from Trello servers is SSL encrypted, and backups are frequent.  You can also export data from Trello, which is nifty.

9.   All the screen sizes!

In addition to having a responsive design in web browsers of any size, Fog Creek Software (makers of Trello) have been working tirelessly to develop apps for just about everything. Currently, there are apps for  iPhoneiPad, Android phones, and Windows 8. Trello for Android tablets is currently in beta.

10.   No monies, no problem

Trello is FREE! Yep, it's true.

You also have the option to pay $5/month and become a "super fan" with Trello Gold (board backgrounds, anyone?) or upgrade to Trello Business Class  if you want more administrative control.

So, what are you currently using as a  project management system? Fellow Trello users--have I left something off this list? Do you have a favorite collaboration tool? Use the comments to let us know!