Trello is a fantastic tool to keep track of all the things you want to write about. It’s great for capturing notes, planning ahead, and staying productive. It’s flexible and allows collaboration.
Ideas aren’t hard to come by, but it takes time to develop one from a draft to an article. That means you can only actively work on no more than a handful of ideas at once.
Trello, the web-based project management application, is my tool of preference to “park” the ideas I consider possibly worth pursuing in a near future and that I might otherwise lose forever.
As programmer Josh Earl defined it, at its simplest, Trello “is just a cork board on the office wall.” It has “boards” and virtual Post-it notes called “cards.”
I’m a reporter at Univision Noticias / Salud, where I write about health. I have one board, called “In progress,” where I capture everything I feel might inspire a story in a list called “Ideas”. These are raw, undeveloped ideas. I might add several cards with ideas a day or none. Sometimes I write a short description, a tentative title, or a rough outline. Most of the time, though, I only write some thoughts and the web page that sparked the idea or the research.
Everything ends up there: photos of physical newspapers, images, hyperlinks (from Twitter, Texture, Medium, Quora, etc.), screenshots from books, notes, sounds, excerpts of podcast episodes, pdfs, and any other kind of document.
To avoid cluttering my boards, I don’t clip anything that I haven’t read carefully. I have to feel it deserves a consideration as a stepping stone to write something else. That means I don’t treat Trello as a version of Pocket or a “read it later” kind of app. I also don’t use it for the breaking stories.
How to add ideas to the board:
- Instead of emailing them to myself (a common practice), I send them to Trello with the dedicated address that they assigned me. I love this feature and use it when I’m on my phone and see something worth revisiting. You can find your Trello email address under Account Info within the app. On my phone, I also use their widget to quickly attach a photo or a note to a card.
- On my computer, I have installed the browser extension that helps you clip web pages and write your thoughts on what you read. I also frequently visit their dashboard.
The set up:
- I have several lists inside the “In progress” board besides the general “Ideas.” Each of them has a different topic. I have lists called: women, illnesses, nutrition, and so on. Once or twice a week, I go through my “Ideas” list (the one that receives everything from my email) and put the cards in their respective folder.
- I also have three more lists that are related to my process: “Next up”, “In progress” and “Ready to be written”. I adopted those from the Kanban, or agile development project management system, and they really help me get things done. “Next up” is the place where I put the two or three topics that I’d like to start researching more in depth. If I already made some interviews, I move the card to “Researching”. “Ready to be written” is for the articles that I am currently writing. Every time I move one card from one stage to the other, I add more information. The name of the sources I’d like to contact, for example.
Power ups and integrations:
- Trello allows you to enable one free Power-Upper board. I use the Google Drive Power-Up daily. After enabling it on a Trello board, you can manually attach or drag and drop docs, spreadsheets, and even Google Drive folders to a Trello card. You can also create an associated Google Drive doc straight from a Trello card, which is what I do. Click the Google Drive button on the right side of the card back, select “Create and Attach,” then choose which type of document you wish to create.
- Trello works great with IFTTT and Zapier. That means you can integrate it with any other app that you use in your daily workflow, like Slack. I don’t depend much on this, but my Trello board connects with my Asana calendar and To-do list for the few times that I want to be reminded of an idea on a specific date.
- You can invite other people to collaborate on your boards. You can also share an entire board with a team.
- Even though I believe in incubating ideas over long periods of time, I do delete cards if I feel that the ideas aren’t as good as I initially thought. It happens all the time.
- Everything in Trello can be moved, edited, and rearranged. The only exception I’ve found is that cards can’t be merged. My workaround is that if I have several cards related to one idea, I keep them together, one below the other. That way I can move them from “Idea” to “Next up” to “In progress” together without losing anything.
- Whenever I turn an idea into an actual article, I move them to a “Done” board. This way I have an archive that allows me to retrieve straightforward, factual information for the next time I write about a similar topic. Good journalism connects things, especially things that don’t seem to be connected.