Using Trello to Organize Your Freelance Business

I’ve never been the most organized of people. I tend to do things in the moment and get sidetracked easily. Sometimes I’m in the zone and I’ll get a lot done but lag behind at other times. When I fell into freelance design, I knew it was time to get serious about organizing my business, processes, and ways of working.

I used a service called Trello for years while working at various software companies. It was helpful for managing customer interactions, projects in progress, ideas, and goals for the future. I’ve since taken this structure and applied it to my design business.

My system of organization doesn’t follow a particular methodology, but is rather a combination of GTD (“Getting Things Done”), Scrum, and Kanban. I hope you can pick from what I have to share and apply it to how you organize your freelance business.

What is the structure of my Trello account?

Everything in Trello is essentially a card. Cards have checklists, due dates, assigned members, attachments, and comments. If you’re not a one-woman operation like myself, you can even have voting. Cards are also part of lists, which you can move around, copy elsewhere and subscribe to. A bunch of lists make up a board, which you can also have many of within your account and also email to.

Here’s a preview of an example board via Trello’s Tour page:

Example board via Trello Tour page

I have three boards that I use every week:

  1. My Processes: contains cards for the way I do certain things – like fire up a WordPress site or do a project review. Those cards stack into lists titled Marketing, Sales, Projects, and similar.
  2. My Backlog & Weekly Planning: contains every idea I have or thing to do that isn’t urgent goes into my backlog. I try to make this a habit, helped by the Android app. I can add, sort, and edit from just about anywhere.
  3. Current Week: contains lists like to-do, today, doing, and done. There’s a couple of others for approving and on hold, but I try to cut the number of cards there.

How exactly do I manage it all?

I start off on Sundays sitting down with my laptop for a couple of hours. Somehow I ignore whatever TV show my husband has on and the puppies begging for my attention. I look at the tasks that either I didn’t get to finish from the previous week or are on hold, and see what I need to do to move those along. Usually I’m waiting on a client’s response, and I’ll go ahead and shoot them a quick email to see what’s up.

I then move over to my backlog. I have different lists for raw ideas, needs clarification, needs priority, and on deck for next week. Usually something that needs clarification can be broken out into a checklist, or by copying one of my already-clarified processes. Color-coded labels take care of things in need of prioritization.

If there’s anything that definitely needs to get done that week, I’ll go ahead and clarify and prioritize it, then dump it into a list for next week. Once I have a healthy number of things in that list, I can move it to this week and start setting due dates.

A healthy number of things for me depends on the hours it will take to do those things. If I have a lot of client work for that week, there will be less items. However things like writing articles for my site is something that’s on there no matter what. Generally I plan three or four things per day. I’ve found this is the sweet spot to balance emergencies and urgent issues that come around alongside longer-term projects. It also keeps me focused on the top things to do for the day. This number can be higher or lower for you, it just depends on how you work and the specific tasks you need to do.

After I organize my week I always write a weekly review. I have a silly little WordPress site that only I have access to, and it’s where I write my reviews. There was a thought at some point to start doing it every day, but I just don’t have time. My goal with the weekly reviews is to look over my done list from the past week, think about what I’ve accomplished and then look ahead to the next week. Sometimes when I do this I’ll think of more things I need to get done this week, requiring some finagling to make them fit.

Once the next week is setup with to-do items, and the cards in the done list are archived, there’s nothing left except work on moving the cards to the right every day. It’s simple to get up, make my coffee and then sit down to work, knowing I have a fair amount of my week planned out. Of course I’ll get emails from clients, but I apply the same principles to their requests. If it won’t take long or is important and urgent, I throw it into that week to do, otherwise it goes into the backlog for next week.

Do you have a system of organization?

I hope my explanations of my workflow structure and management help you to become more organized in your freelance career. It’s taken me years of figuring out what works best for myself and iterating on my process, and it may take you awhile as well. However, I find that being organized and planning out your week is key to being able to jump on opportunities as soon as they come in the door.

Share your organizational process and tips in the comments below! There are so many different ways to go about it, so I’m interested in hearing from you.