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Getting Your Life Organized with Trello

A few months ago Jeff told me about a cool app that he was using to manage workflow: Trello

I tried it out at work for managing my day-to-day tasks, but it didn’t catch on.  It just didn’t fit into the way I worked.

But then I started to use it at home.  At first it was just for things that I needed to remember to do for myself:

  • Clean the office
  • Buy plane tickets for wedding
  • Upload camera pictures and organize

Then the real power came when I got my wife to use the app too – now we could organize our lives together!

How Trello Works

So what does Trello do and how does it work?

The basic idea is that you create “cards” (which are really just tasks, to-dos, reminders, etc.) and move them between different status states: To Do, In Progress, Done.

Then just drag-and-drop your cards into those different columns to change the status.

The beauty of Trello is what you can add to the cards:

  • Labels for organizing your cards into groups
  • Checklists
  • Due date
  • Person or people the task is assigned to
  • Attachments
  • Comments
  • Pictures

There’s a web app as well as mobile apps for iOS and Android.  I use the mobile app about 98% of the time – it has all of the functionality and is just so convenient.

How I Use Trello

The first thing I used Trello for was managing grocery, Costco, and Target lists.  We go to those places once a week or every couple of weeks.  The best part was how easy it was to update those checklists:

  1. Open the app
  2. Open the card
  3. Add the item to the checklist

It takes less than 15 seconds!  So when I’m cooking dinner and I notice I only have two eggs left, I can quickly add that item to the grocery checklist.  Or if I’m replacing the paper towel dispenser and see there’s only one more roll, I’ll add that to the Costco checklist.

Then when I’m in the stores, I open up the card and check things off as I go.  Sure, there are a ton of “grocery list” apps out there, but Trello serves other purposes as well and is my “one stop shop” for everything.

I used to just have the standard 3 columns that come default with the app: To Do, Doing, Done.  And for each of the weekly stuff I created a new card each time (e.g. Grocery 9-21).  But recently I added a “Weekly” column and just create a new checklist for each week, then delete it when completed.  It’s much easier to manage and now those cards are always visible in their own column where I can quickly find them.

We’ve also started to menu plan weekly sot hat we don’t have to think “what’s for lunch today” and can get everything we need at the grocery store over the weekend.

Tasks for the Family

One day after I got hooked on Trello, I decided I needed to get my wife on it so that we could plan together – mostly stuff we needed to buy.  I added her email to the board, then started assigning her a few cards like “Schedule pediatrician appointment”.  Once she signed up, she was automatically added to the board and had tasks assigned to her.

This quickly backfired on me – not 15 minutes later I had a whole host of things to do around the house.  Clean this, order that on Amazon, schedule another appointment with this person.  Uh oh!

On the bright side – we’re a lot more organized and things don’t slip through the cracks anymore!

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My Mac Tools

Previously I wrote about My Windows Tools, but now that I’ve had my Mac for about 8 months I think it’s time to dive into the best tools I’ve found for being productive on OSX.

Full Applications

Skitch (Free)

I use Skitch at least a few times every day for grabbing and marking up screenshots. As crappy as the Evernote application is (I’ll get to that later), the Evernote team did a good job with Skitch, creating a simple to use application that doesn’t try to do too much.

Adium (Free)

Adium is the best IM tool I’ve found for gchat. Some of the best features include:

  • Tabbed windows
  • Multi-account support
  • Combined contacts (e.g. Bob Smith has a gmail account and a google apps account – but shows up under one name in Adium)

VMWare Fusion ($60)

One of the first pieces of software I bought when I was setting up my Mac was VMWare so I could run a Windows Virtual Machine (I couldn’t give up Windows!). VMWare Fusion gets the job done. It’s cheaper than Parallels and can either run all of the applications within the VM or separate windows within OSX.

As Brett told me before I got my Macbook, “The best hardware I’ve ever had that runs Windows is my Mac.” He was right.

Customization and Configuration Tools

Karabiner (Free)

Karabiner, which was previously called KeyRemap4MacBook, is a key mapping tool that can be compared to what AutoHotKey can do on Windows.

Here’s my private.xml file that you can import directly into the tool on the Misc & Uninstall tab. It’s got a lot of remappings that I find useful, such as:

  • Capslock to command-space to open Spotlight
  • F10 to Windows’s Home button
  • F11 to Windows’s End button
  • Disable command-Q in VMWare so that I don’t accidentally close my VM (happened a few too many times)

BetterTouchTool (Free)

You know that great Windows 7 feature where windows snap to the sides of the screen and maximize when the window is dragged to the top of the screen? It’s like magic and it’s fantastic. I needed that for Mac. That’s when I found BetterTouchTool, which does more than just that – but the window snapping is THE reason to download it.

Menu Bar Tools

Mint (Free)

Before I got my Mac I saw Mint QuickView on a friend’s computer and saw how awesome it was. I used to use Mint pretty heavily, but over the last couple of years haven’t used it as much. I still like getting the emails for low balances and payment reminders, but I don’t use it as much for budgeting. Even if you don’t use it often, the QuickView is definitely worth checking out. It shows a list of transactions as they come in (“oh, looks like my spouse went to Firehouse Subs for lunch today!”) and shows a great overview of each account balance.

 Calendar For Mac (Free)

I can’t believe the Mac menu bar doesn’t have easy access to a calendar. Calendar For Mac is a lightweight app with a simple function – show the calendar from a menu bar icon.

What’s the date of two Friday’s ago? Click the icon, boom – there’s the answer. Done. No need to go into an email application, or open up a calendar in a browser. Simple and easy.

Summary

If you look back at the applications and tools I’ve listed, all are free except for VMWare (which is well worth the $60 price tag). I use each of these tools at least once a day.

Unfortunately, there’s still some things that are missing my from toolbox:

  • Paint.net is still my go-to image editing application (from within my Windows VM). I use Skitch for simple screen captures and markups, but any time I need to do anything that takes more than 2 seconds forces me to open up Paint.net.
  • Evernote is an absolute joke of an application for a company that constant receives so much praise. The formatting issues alone are ridiculous. I don’t know how that team can stand behind their product.

If you’ve got any applications or tools that you use, let me know in the comments.

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My Windows Tools

I know that I just got a Macbook, but I still have a lot of use for most of these Windows Tools. (I also started working on this before I bought the Macbook and wasn’t going to let it go to waste)

Utility Tools

  • AutoHotKey: A must-have whenever I install a new version of Windows.
  • Launchy: Launcher for Windows.
  • Notepad++: Best text editor I’ve used with tabs and syntax highlighting for various languages among other features.
  • Paint.net: Best alternative to Photoshop (and, in my opinion, better than Gimp).
  • KeePass: Some people like LastPass or 1Password, but I prefer KeePass since it’s local and gives me a little more piece of mind that it’s secure. I can also get my passwords anywhere by syncing it through dropbox.
  • PureText: Ever wanted to just paste text without formatting? All the time! Me too, which is why this tool written by Steve Miller is so great.
  • f.lux: Working at night is so much better on my eyes after installing f.lux. I barely notice the difference while working, but afterwards my eyes don’t hurt.
  • 7-Zip: Can’t beat this compression utility.
  • StrokeIt: Mouse gestures for minimize all, browser back, closing an application, etc.
  • Bulk Rename Utility: Powerful tool that makes renaming files a breeze (though it is a little overwhelming at first). Mostly use this for organizing my music and pictures.
  • Virtual CloneDrive: Free tool to mount .iso files.
  • Foxit PDF Reader: Because Adobe software updates every few days is the most annoying thing ever! This lightweight PDF reader is a great alternative to Adobe Reader.
  • VLC: Opens any media file and takes the pain out of finding the right codecs.
  • TeraCopy: Faster file copying.

Web

  • Chrome: Use this as my main browser.
  • Firefox: Use this as my secondary browser for work email and occasionally web development with firebug.
  • AdBlock Plus – Be sure to uncheck “allow some non-obtrusive advertising”; otherwise your google searches will show a bunch of ads at the top (and that’s not intrusive?!?).
  • Buffer: Share articles to twitter, linkedin, etc. at specific times throughout the day (also have the app on my phone).

Productivity

  • Dropbox: Probably my favorite tool and something I can’t live without now. Use it for syncing between my laptop, desktop, phone, and tablets.
  • Less Meeting: SaaS that is great for managing meetings through the use of agenda items, attendance, bulleted notes, and action items. The Outlook plugin makes my life so much easier for managing meetings.
  • Evernote: Useful for taking quick notes during shorter, more informal meetings, and for jotting down random thoughts.
  • RescueTime: Allows me to track my time to see how productive I’ve been.

Development

  • Android Studio: Built on top of IntelliJ and has everything I need for Android dev. I also like gradle for building.
  • JetBrains Webstorm: Great IDE.
  • Visual Studio 2012: I grew up on Microsoft technology, and while some things did change with 2012 (e.g. I really don’t like the menus) I still know my way around.
  • BeyondCompare: File comparison tool.
  • Genymotion: Much better than Android’s emulators – super fast to start up.
  • TortoiseGit: GUI for git that integrates with windows explorer.
  • TortoiseSVN: GUI for SVN that integrates with windows explorer.