How to be more productive using combination of Kanban & Trello

It’s amazing how a simple to-do list can make you more productive. What’s even more amazing is how a 5-item to-do list can grow into a 3-page behemoth in a few weeks.

While having a detailed to-do list with categories and priority levels can organise your life, it can sometimes distract you from what’s really important — doing your work. A long to-do list can make you feel overwhelmed.

And when you finally buckle down to work, it feels like the other items on the list are taunting you, vying for your limited attention span.

Kanban + Trello = Tamed To-do Lis

What is Kanban

Kanban is a 3-part system for managing a to-do list. But unlike other productivity strategies focused on organising and prioritising, Kanbans focus is on the movement of tasks from start to completion. It was developed by Taiichi Ohno an industrial engineer at Toyota but it can work just as well in sales or app development.

The Kanban system isn’t complicated. In fact, you just have to follow two basic guidelines and the rest is open for modification. Tweak the system as you see fit, or incorporate other time management and productivity strategies like GTD.

What is Trello

Trello is a cloud based project management software. It is web based so you can access it from your Mac or Windows machine as long as you are connected to the Internet. There is also a mobile app, available for both iOS and Android.

The Guidelines:

Your Kanban Board should Provide a Visual Overview of Your Work

Kanban is a way to simplify your life, not to complicate things. Even after putting all your tasks in the Kanban board, you should be able to see the big picture and quickly identify what’s most urgent. It shouldn’t look like a crazy mind map!

Get Real!

Don’t overestimate what you can complete in any given day. Set a limit for your Work in Progress (WIP) column, which is Kanban speak for what you’re currently doing. Three to five items is a good starting point. Putting a ceiling in your WIP prevents multitasking and forces you to prioritise at the same time. It prevents burnout, too.

You can use a whiteboard, post-it notes, Excel, or any other app. But Trello is by far the easiest to use with this method.

Creating Your First Kanban Board with Trello

Create 3 columns: To Do, Work in Progress (WIP), and Done. You can add other columns later, but these are the basics you should always have.

Fill up the columns and categorise each item properly:


To Do

Put all your to-do, errands and ideas here. Think of this column as the starting point of every item in your to-do list. Everything that you need to do or want to do but haven’t done yet should be listed here.

You can create several “to dos”, like one for work and another for personal stuff. If you’re managing a team, you can also create “to dos” according to each team member’s role, such as customer service, marketing, and sales.

Work in Progress (WIP)

Put the tasks you’re currently doing in this board, as if it’s your daily to-do list. Once you pull a card from the “to do”, it’s all mixed in the WIP board whether it’s business or personal.

While you can have several “to dos”, it’s best to keep just one WIP column to avoid overwhelm.


This is where you’ll put the completed items from the WIP column. Before you put anything here, define what’s considered ‘done’ first.

For example, is the task of responding to a client’s email considered ‘done’ if you know the conversation isn’t over yet? How will you classify recurring tasks? There are no right and wrong answers here, but it’s important you set the rules to avoid confusion later on.

You are ready to work. Before you start your day, choose three to five tasks on your “to do” list and put them in your WIP column.

Proceed with your day, and start completing each item in your WIP. Don’t think of your “to do” list. Just focus on your WIP items.

Once a task is done, put it in the “Done” column. At the end of the day, your WIP column should be empty and ready to be refilled tomorrow.

The Kanban + Trello method is scalable. You can use it for your personal tasks, and it can be customised for big teams with a few adjustments. As you stick to this method, you’ll start to see patterns, such as how much you can realistically handle per day and your recurring tasks.