Intro to Kanban Boards and Digital Trello Kanban Boards

Well hello, Lovelies! Here we are in Q4 of 2020. It’s gone by too fast, hasn’t it? It’s time to set some new goals so that I can accomplish ALL THE THINGS!

As with other quarters I use a Kanban-style Trello Board for all my goal setting. If all of that is gibberish to you, let me explain.

Kanban is a Japanese word and it means “signboard” in English. This type of board aims to provide a visual representation of the workload and a capacity measurement for how much work in each category can get done at one time. You put tasks on your Kanban board as space permits, rather than as line items come up. Most commonly in productivity circles you see the board divided horizontally into three parts. Don’t mind my simplistic drawing, but to give you an idea:

Because there is a limited amount of space on the board, you can only put a number of tasks on that board equal to the space you have. A lot of people will assign categories to their tasks. You’ll see mine near the end of the post, but for the sake of example, let’s say you have six categories. You can add a different color sticky note to each task in your categories, and stick them on your board like so:

As you can see, my example Kanban board has space for only three tasks in the final category. I made this example to be like this (though every instinct in me wants to scream) to illustrate that you can only fill up your board as much as you have the space to do so.

During the time you specify, whether you use this daily, weekly, monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly, you will work on one task at a time throughout the day. When you work on each task, you’ll move the sticky note into the section for doing to indicate that this action item is in progress.

As you’d expect, when you complete a task, you want to move the sticky note again into the Done section. At the end of the specified time (and again, I do mine quarterly), your board should looks something like this:

I’ve used a piece of paper with lines drawn on it and stuck into a sheet protector. I’ve used a physical foam board sectioned out with cute Washi Tape and colored sticky notes. I’ve used the Post-It Note app with it’s own board. Yes, an official Post-It note app exists, and it’s as glorious as you want it to be. I’ve heard of using sticky notes in your bullet journal, but I don’t bujo much myself and can’t share my experience with it. I like giving you lovely humans some options that I have actually used and field tested, but I can’t deny that people who bujo tend to get a lot done!

Now I’m using Trello as I have in the past, and it’s really working for me. Some times in my life, something will work better than others. There’s no right or wrong way, so if you’re interested in trying it, I think you should do whatever is most likely to work for you!

Okay, so this is going to seem like an ad, but I promise you that I am getting nothing out of telling you that I actually factually use Trello on the regular. I’m using the free version opf Trello without any paid extras or anything, so it’s worth trying. It’s just what has been working for me in this crazy this year, and next year, who knows? Again, you can do this manually on just a sheet of paper.

Let me show you my Trello board, and then I’ll explain how my setup is different (my philosophy of “you do you, sib” in action) and how I could still be using it in the three panel Kanban style if I wanted to (or if you did).

Well, well. Look at this beauty. Isn’t that a gorgeous background image?

Trello uses “boards” “lists” and “cards” as their terminology. I’m going to explain each and then use the same so that you can set up your own in Trello if you wanted to.

A board is the entire collection that you see in the image. In Kanban terms it is the relative “space” that you have to fill. I use Trello with my web browser’s 100% zoom, and consider that to be the useable space that I can fill each quarter.

Let’s talk about cards next. Each big task, like completing an editing round, I assign a different card. The fundamental unit of a board is a card. Cards are used to represent tasks and ideas. A card can be something that needs to get done, like a blog post to be written, or something that needs to be remembered, like company vacation policies. Cards can be customized to hold a wide variety of useful information by clicking on them. Drag and drop cards across lists to show progress. There’s no limit to the number of cards you can add to a board, but remember that I am using the normal board dimensions at 100% zoom and consider whatever space that fills as a hard boundary for the amount of cards that I can add to my board.

The categories I use are separated by lists. In Trello terms, a list is a collection of vertically-arranged cards. They may represent a collection of ideas, things to remember, or different stages of a workflow.

You can use lists in many ways. If you want to know how else I use Trello for plotting and editing, drop a comment below! In the meantime, let me give you a vertical list example:

Trello is so cool. You can drag and drop cards to other lists without any hassle at all so having a vertical list like this and assigning your category colors directly to your cards might be the option you use.

Now, back to my goals for Q4. I am writing this post in late September and don’t yet have all my data in for Q3 so my board is a little incomplete at the moment, but you can see what I’ve already put on my board.


My writing category consists of tasks that I need to complete in #PrepTober to be ready for #NaNoWriMo in November. It will also eventually include NaNo milestones as well as scenes in my new draft, #WiB .


Query an agent. These cards include tasks for submitting agent queries for #ODUM . It also includes my #PitMad pitches for December.

I have the Lawyer and Accountant tasks on the list from Q3. As I mentioned before, I will not necessarily need to complete these until I have an interested Literary Agent, so they are not high priority and I may move them to another board as future tasks.


Currently my least favorite aspect of being an unagented writer is the sheer amount of marketing that needs to get done by myself. I don’t have a team of people all looking to help my book succeed. My team is just me, sitting behind a computer, trying to figure out what the heck SEO is, how to batch and match content across multiple platforms, and generally trying to make engaging content that people can respond to.

Sibs, mental health is super important, and no one likes to do anything they aren’t good at. I try to make up for my inability by doing the things and gaining the knowledge. Action is what relieves my anxiety, so taking action to learn what I’m unsure of makes me less unsure, and then I go out and do the thing. This is a big undertaking and one that I struggle with every week. So right now, a weekly blog post is all I can consistently manage.

I mentioned in my Q3 recap post how I wanted to try to do a weekly “power hour” where I put some of these one and done tasks on a list and work on getting through as many of them as I can in an hour. That’s it, just one hour every week. Not a huge time sink or commitment, but something that lets me get the busywork done so that it stops piling up. I think I’m going to move a bunch of these marketing tasks–like adding a newsletter opt-in link to my email signatures (seriously it will take 5 minutes to do and I haven’t done it for two quarters now)–onto a power hour task list so that I look at them and hopefully just do the thing.

Travel, Training, Meetings

My local writing group is called Westword Writers, and they meet in the library for a few hours a month. They used to meet on Mondays which didn’t at all work out with my work schedule, but now they are meeting on Tuesdays, so I’m excited to say that I’ve been able to go and absorb wisdom from traditionally published and self published authors alike. I promised them a reading for next time (eep) so I’m a little nervous but still really thrilled to be able to go to these again.

Last quarter I had a write-ins card on my list but no write ins to be had. COVID-19 has made the world a weird place, and while I have friends locally who write, no one has really wanted to sit in a coffee shop with me for several hours and just get some work done. I know NaNo usually has write-ins, and maybe I will attend a virtual one, but I’m leaving this card off my Q4 list because, ultimately, between family vacations and upcoming holidays, I think I’ll have plenty of things to do this quarter.


In Q3 I was bummed about a lot of things, not the least of which being that I was having a hard time tracking what was and wasn’t mental health. I spent a lot of Q3 just checking dates off a list without having anything concrete to look back on.

This time I am going to try something new. No, I’m no mental health coach, but for me, personally, I can’t sit in a tub with all the bubbles surrounding me and do nothing for half an hour. My anxiety skyrockets because I’m wasting time just sitting there. A while back I made a list of a few things that I take pleasure in. Things that, for me, make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and are just for myself.

Because let’s face it. I struggle with slowing down. I am a #3 Enneagram, the Achiever, and I thrive when I am checking tasks off my list. Because of that, I have a hard time NOT accomplishing things, even if I shouldn’t just go-go-go because I know I’m approaching burnout. I need to practice NOT achieving things every moment of my life.

Again, this is just what I’ve found is true for me. Anxiety is real. Doing nothing is hard. The more I DO the more I feed that anxiety monster in my brain that tells me that accomplishing things is the only way I have worth in this life and that me not accomplishing things and just living in the moment is completely worthless to do. It’s not, by the way. There’s something misfiring in my brain that sings that narrative to the skies every time I don’t bust my ass over the weekend and run myself ragged at work.

The last few quarters, I’ve been trying to do things that I love, but which my anxiety tells me isn’t worth it. I am trying to expose myself to doing things I like to do because I want future me to be anxiety-adverse rather than anxiety prone as I am now. The plan is, I’m going to make each of these things I love it’s own checklist, and when I do something, I will mark it on the appropriate list with the dates and what I actually did. I’ll show you the blank card.

There we are. I will be able to see when I’m neglecting family and friends and need to call and hang out. I’ll see when I haven’t consumed something enjoyable in a while and my creative well is running low. I’ll know when I haven’t gotten enough sun rays and vitamin D and might have to go outside or supplement it. I get a huge satisfaction out of having a clean home, but I’ll be able to tell now if I’ve been neglecting it in favor of working too hard.

And one of my greatest joys is just to get out of my house and write somewhere else for a while. I am an extreme homebody, and all of my interests are indoors. I need to get out of my house once in a while, and do something really special just for me. Not getting out of my house will only get worse if I ever make the big bucks with my writing and can do this thing full-time without another day job to supplement my income.

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