I firmly believe that the stereotype about creative people being disorganized is just a cliché, and does not apply to everybody. One person it does apply to, though? Me.
Some people romanticize clutter as the fertile playground of a brilliant mind. I don’t. Clutter is part of my life, but it gets in my way. My work Mac’s desktop is a chaotic mosaic of 1,266 icons (not an exaggeration — I started to count manually, but I gave up at 70 and turned on the Finder status bar, which displays total file count). This number will continue to grow until I sufficiently hate myself, at which point I will create a folder called “desktop crap” and drag all the files into that folder. The problem is, I already have a folder called “desktop crap” from the last time that happened, so this one will have to be “desktop crap 2.”
So, when I had the opportunity to use Trello for a week and start incorporating some degree of organization into my life, I was eager to give it a shot. Trello’s an organizing tool that comes in web, mobile, and desktop app flavors, all of which seamlessly integrate with each other to help you organize any or all aspects of your life: work, family, social and more. I immediately loved the streamlined visual design and breezily-written online guide.
Trello uses a very simple “board-and-cards” metaphor, resembling a physical bulletin board with notecards pinned to it. The guide cheerfully explains, “A basic (but effective) list setup for a board might be simply To Do, Doing, and Done, where cards start in the To Do list and make their way to the Done list. But don’t forget: Trello is truly customizable to your unique needs, so you can name your lists anything you like. Whether it’s basic Kanban, a sales pipeline, a marketing calendar, or project management, what matters most is establishing a workflow for the way your team works.”
How does that paragraph make you feel? I ask because it struck terror into my heart. Wait, I have total control over this thing? I can make any dang category I want? And all you’re going to suggest is “To Do, Doing, and Done?”
Okay, fine. Challenge accepted. I went with “To Do, Doing, and Done.”
Immediately, this forced me to think about everything in my life and whether I need to do it, am currently doing it, or have done it. To do: Attend a friend’s movie premiere. Doing: Work on an essay about a recent trip. Done: Uhhh, nothing? Quick, let me put something easy in the “To do” column, so I can move it over to “Done.” “Eat lunch.” Click. Drag. There we go.
That’s as basic as you can get with Trello, but it’s versatile enough to handle a lot more detail. By clicking any “card,” you open the “back of the card” — a page holds descriptions, checklists, deadlines, comments, and attachments. Pretty much anything you can think of that will contribute to the completion of the task on the front of the card goes here. “Eat lunch” might be too straightforward, but that travel essay demanded some further details.
I broke the essay down into its components: finish outline, finish draft, edit. As I checked off each item, a progress bar above the list filled with a friendly green. I like progress bars!
Newly encouraged, I made Trello part of my morning routine, adding it to the list of bookmarks I check at the start of the day. I added all kinds of things to my Trello board. Clean apartment. Call Mom. I broke tasks down into sub-tasks — that’s apparently a useful way to help get things done. (I’m not trying to be a know-it-all. It’s just something I learned on this organizational journey.) And, I have to say, I went a little Trello-crazy. I may have put too many things on my Trello board! While I diligently updated it each day, the sheer volume of stuff I’d put on it made it a little daunting toward the end of the week.
That taught me another valuable lesson: If you’re new to this whole organization thing, start small. You might want to go nuts, but that can result in an overwhelming level of detail for a beginner. Ease into it. I think if I’d kept things a little simpler, I’d maintain that eagerness to come back to the board.
Trello has a whole lot of other features, like online collaboration, the ability to create cards from email, even something called a “card aging power-up” that fades cards out if they haven’t been touched in a while. (Poor cards.) While I may use that in the future, for now, I’m pacing myself.
Ultimately, the motivation to get things done — and to organize your approach using a tool like Trello — has to come from within. No digital organization tool is going to do the work for you. But what Trello can do is make the process as easy, streamlined, and aesthetically pleasing as possible. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have 1,266 icons on my desktop that I need to figure out what to do with. (I made a Trello card for it.)
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.