How Trello Helps Me Stay Productive, Mindful & Focused

I've been on a productivity quest for the past 2 years. I've been fascinated with the topic and have read countless books and articles on the topic. The books give variations on the same advice: keep a list of what you need to do, block off time in your calendar, etc. While this can be good advice, I felt like I needed to dig a bit deeper and figure out what worked best for me. One book that I read, The Perfect 15-Minute Day, provided the foundation (and the tools) for how I work now and Trello is the tool that I use to help implement.


Current Productivity Approach

Here's the premise of how I approach productivity these days:

  • Be mindful of what you are doing.

  • Stay focused on what you are doing.

In a study by Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith, and Ulrich Kocke, the authors studied the impact of interruptions and noted: "One type of a disruption cost is the additional time to reorient back to an interrupted task after the interruption is handled." This isn't about preventing disruptions as much as it is about getting back to your task once you are disrupted. This concept was eye-opening! For example, you receive an important email that pulls you away from what you are working on but you take care of the email. Then you have another email, but this time it's informational but interesting. Then you have to attend a meeting. When you get back to your own work, it takes you a few minutes to get back to what you were originally working on. Then your phone notifies you of a new text and you just take a quick peek to make sure it's not an emergency. Can any of you relate?


When I read the book, The Perfect 15-Minute Day, one simple and highly effective tool that I implemented is a category that I call "Currently". I make a note of what I am working on currently and can take a quick glance at that when I have had an interruption.


How to Use Trello

To implement "Currently" as well as the rest of my productivity approach (be mindful, stay focused), I've been using Trello. It's how I keep track of what I am working on at any given moment, what I need to accomplish for the day. It's how I track ad hoc requests that come in through my email or Teams channel. It's how I keep track of projects as well as tasks. As a side note, Trello is a free project management tool. There are others in the space (Asana, Monday, Microsft's Planner). You could even use a paper notebook.

Trello board with 5 columns for productivity

I have five columns that are labeled like this:

  • Currently: for tasks that I am working on right now. This changes multiple times throughout the day as I "drag" this card back and forth between Currently and Today (or Tasks and Projects).

  • Today: for the most important tasks I need to make progress on or complete today. These aren't the only things I will work on, but having them listed here keeps them top-of-mind. Ad hoc requests might go in this category if they need to get completed today, or they might go in the "tasks" category if they need completed in the next few days.

  • Tasks: for tasks that are coming up in the next week/month. It depends on the time of year how many I might have.

  • Projects: for things that are bigger than a task - usually many steps, months, tasks are involved.

  • Completed: a listing of the tasks and projects that are finished.

It took me a while to use "Currently" because I thought it seemed like busywork. Once I started using it, I realized that it's a great tool for getting back on track when I get interrupted. I just take a quick look at my Trello board (which is usually always open in a tab). By referring back to the Trello board, I also keep the "Today" tasks in mind.


Using the Outlook and Gmail Add-In

There are many project management/planner tools. I like Trello because it works with an Outlook and Gmail Add-In. You can take an email (and all of its information) and add it to your Trello board with a click of a button! This makes task-oriented emails much easier to track than with your inbox.


For information on adding the Trello add-in to Outlook, view these instructions. To add the Trello add-in for Gmail, view these instructions.


1: Once the add-in is installed, you open your pertinent email message and then click the "Add card to Trello" button.

2: The add-in opens and auto-populates the subject line and the body of your message. You can select the board as well as the due date. You can also change the subject line or body as needed.

3: This is how the task looks on your Trello board.

4: This is how the task looks when you click on it and open it in Trello.

Trello & Outlook Add-In & how to use it

How Trello Helps Me Stay Mindful & Focused

The "currently" column helps re-focus me if I get distracted. The act of moving a task to the "currently" column, give me a chance to intentionally and mindfully determine what I am working on in the current moment. The "today" column helps me prioritize what is important and what should be my focus for the day. Some times of the year are much more task (& time) oriented while others are project-oriented. Trello is helpful for both because I can always answer the question "what do I need to focus on next?"


Notes on Other Project Management Tools

There are other project management tools that you can use and all of these work similarly with pages, columns, and boxes.

  • Trello calls them "Board", "Lists," and each item is a "Card". To add the Trello add-in to Outlook, view these instructions. To add the Trello add-in for Gmail, view these instructions.

  • Asana calls them "Project", "Sections," and each item is a "Task". To add the Asana add-in to Outlook, visit these instructions. To add the Asana add-in to gmail, view these instructions.

  • Microsoft Planner calls them "Plan", "Buckets," and each item is a "Task". To add an email to a Microsoft Plan, you will need to set up a workflow. This method is not as user-friendly as the other two but does work.

What's y0ur current task and project management approach?



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