Getting Things Done with Trello, Google Calendar, Evernote and Zapier – Project and Task Management

While you are in school you probably get along quite well with a normal calendar and checking your homework the day before its due. This worked for some of us and seemed also quite the standard when studying for an exam.
But how do you track your work and tasks now? What is your solution? Most people I know have no real solution, it is a juggle between emails, projects in the back of your head and our calendar with more task. All of this causes a big mess and more often than not leads to unimaginable stress.
I am not sure about you, but I have tried countless of project and task managers and all were missing something. All were missing this extra bit of flexibility and all were trying to impose a system on me that just didn’t feel quite natural.

 

 

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Getting Things Done by David Allen

All this changed when I read Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen. This was really a live changer for me and fairly likely it will be for you too. If you haven’t read his book, I highly suggest you do so:
Getting Things Done by David Allen

I am not going too much into details here about the actual system, you really should read the book, but to get us all on the same page, the system I am talking about looks summarized like this:

Getting Things Done Chart

Getting Things Done – Tech Solution

After we decided we want to use GTD, we need to find a solution that works well with todays digital world. I want to be able to use the system anywhere I am. Or more specific anywhere at least one person has at least a mobile phone. This requirement was very important for me since my business mind has affected my personal life at times. Has it ever happened to you that you are at a dinner and you have this amazing idea, but you dont have anything to write it down? It sure has to me. Trying not to forget this thought has definitely made a dinner unpleasant. I will show you later how to completely avoid this.

Let us establish the main elements we need to cover to fully cover the GTD workflow and be able to use it in a tech environment.

-List system

-Inbox

-Reference location

-Calendar

-Access anywhere

Getting Things done with Trello

The first tool that really just jumped at me when I was looking into what to use in order to accomplish mimicking those flexible lists was Trello. It allows for very flexible lists and has apps for any device imaginable. The “anywhere-accessibility” was very important to me.
I personally found it very useful to create multiple boards (Trello expression for a group of lists). Here are the lists I use:

  • GTD
  • Locations
  • People
  • Projects
  • Rare used lists

GTD main board

GTD Main Board

My main board consists of multiple lists and looks like this:

GTD main board

I will go into a bit more detail why I have chosen the structure I have.

Getting Things Done Main Board

One of the core ideas of Getting Things Done is the concept of an inbox. Anything that comes to your mind and more importantly could distract you from what you are doing right now belongs in the inbox. I have my inbox in the middle of my main board called GTD. This is my daily starting point.
To the left of the Inbox you have a list To Evernote. This list I use to archive any item I would like to keep in the future but dont need present right now. The cards are automatically synced to Evernote, more on this later.
The next list is a calendar list. It is a chronologus order of things with deadlines or reminders for the future. This list is synced to my Google Calendar also more later on this.
To the right of my inbox I have my Today list, probably the second most important list. These are all things I wish to accomplish today. Often this list gets pilled up a bit and you need to be realist of what you are able to accomplish.
Next over is my Next Actions list. These are all things I need to do soon, but not today. You will quickly realize that often you need to prioritize as to what you can really do and what would be nice if you did but ultimately isn’t that urgent. The next list over is my Waiting For list. I keep all my items in there that I need to track and am interested in the outcome.

GTD main board right

The Someday/Maybe list includes items I wish I could do but realistically won’t get to do any time soon. In my Projects list I keep the names of all current projects to keep an overview. My tags list is something I came up with mostly to allow search afterwards. What I do is add a tag into the title of every card which will make it easier to find all results of this tag in the future. The final list on my main board is a Someday Maybe Evernote, which is essentially an archive to keep all the things I would eventually do in the future.

And this is it for the basic structure. The other boards are more specific for my personal life and work.

Getting Things Done Locations Board

The next board I keep is the locations board.

GTD Locations board

Any locations specific task goes there. For example I have an IPad list. Those items are typically things that aren’t very important and would make for a good relaxing part time activity, or are things I can read on a plane or similar location.
The next list is crucial to me, the Errands list. Anything I need to buy or get at some point goes on there. You can come up with any other number of lists of course, but these are the ones I use.

And there you have it the setup of my lists. The other lists are fairly straight forward and not worth mentioning, what is interesting though is how I make the entire system sync.

Syncing Trello, Evernote and Google Calendar with Zapier

The key to making the GTD system sync with each other is Zapier. Zapier is an API app that connects different services with each other using a Trigger Action pair. This means in short, Zapier connects two services with each other and makes exchanging data easy.

Creating a Zap to sync Trello with Evernote

Sync Zapier with Evernote 1

Setting up a Zap is rather straight forward. Sign up for Zapier and create a new Zap. Than pick the services you want to connect with each other. The next step is to authentiacte your accounts (aka give Zapier permission to access your data). Than you pick the board and list in Trello you would like to move over to Evernote.

GTD sync Zapier with Evernote 2

In a final step you select which fields you want to sync. Note that I use the name of the card in both the title and content. This prevents an error you will encounter for cards that consist of only a title.

GTD sync Zapier with Evernote 3

Make sure you test your settings before starting to work with it.

Syncing Google Calendar with Trello via Zapier

This works very similar, you pick the two services:

GTD sync Trello with Google Calendar

Pick a trigger:

GTD sync Trello with Google Calendar

The only real change comes with using the date fields from Trello to pass the correct information to Google Calendar:

GTD sync Trello with Google Calendar

Et voila, we have all the tools in place to have a highly efficient Getting Things Done system.

Syncing your board with Google Calendar using Trello’s iCal feed

Edit 27 Jul 2014 – Include good comment from Bart

Great article. But you don’t have to use Zapier to put Trello in Google Calendar. Trello has a calendar feed with all due-dates that you can import in Google Calendar.

We will look at how to sync an entire board using the Calendar Power-Ups form Trello and an ical feed of your board.

Note

Please chose only one of the two methods here, otherwise you will get duplicate entries.

This method will sync the entire board, not just a list. If you have a calendar list but also due dates within other lists, this option may not be for you.

The Zapier list version pushes the card once onto your Google Calendar, meaning any changes you do to your card after the initial push won’t effect your Google Calendar. In contrast, the iCal feed does reflect changes to your Trello card in your Google Calendar. However none of the methods are a true sync, meaning if you update an entry in Google Calendar, you won’t see the changes in Trello.

Enable Trello Calendar Powerup

In your Trello board go to  Show sidebar -> Power-Ups

schurpf_trello_power-ups

 

pick the calendar

schurpf_calendar

 

  1. Enable the Calendar Power-Up
  2. Enable the iCal feed
  3. Copy your feed

schurpf_trell_ical_feed

Go to your Google Calendar to import the new feed

schurpf_addcal_ical

Past your iCal feed url

schurpf_add_ical_feed

Summary

All you have to do is enable the Trello Calendar Power-Up and the iCal feed and copy it over into Google Calendar via Add by Url.

schurpf_ical_summary

GTD The Idea at Dinner problem

Let us revisit our dinner problem. Picture this, you are at a dinner with somebody (wife, girlfriend, whathaveyou) and you have this amazing idea. Chances are you will get distracted if you dont immediatly dump this idea into your system. Ideally you have your mobile phone on you with your Trello installed, but let’s say you dont, what do you do? Well you could ask the waiter for a napkin, but chances are you forget about the napkin, so this isn’t totally save. And after all you will have to remember that the napking has something important. We are still left with remembering something.

Email your GTD system

The solution is pretty cool: Setup an email address that forwards any message straight into your GTD inbox. Trello has an option to accept emails and create cards from it. Let me show you how to set this up:

  1. Get the Trello emailGTD email to boardGTD email board 2Set the correct list where you would like your email to show up and copy the ugly email that Trello gives you.
  2. Setup a forwarder email. This step is crucial, because it is impossible to remember this long ugly email during a lovely dinner, instead create a new email that you can remember and use that email to forward any email into your Trello inbox.
    I personally have setup a gmail account. To forward an email in Gmail, follow these instructionsGTD email board 3
  3. Verify your email Google will send you a verification code, which if all setup correctly should appear in your inbox.

GTD and your email inbox

email_inbox

A few comments regarding your email inbox. Very often your emails represent tasks too. I like to keep those separate from my Trello list since they are usually smaller tasks. What I have done is created a folder _Action and _WaitingFor. Any email that needs some work I copy over to _Action, any email I want to track gets copied over to _WaitingFor. It is important you make a copy. That way you can delete the email from your _Action/_WaitingFor list without losing the actual email from your inbox. I personally set my threshold at 20 min. If I think a task will take more than 20 min, I put it into my normal system. Anything shorter I deal with my email system.

Update 27 Jan 2015 via comment from Anna:

Instead of creating a new mail adress you can create an easy filter:

If your mail adress is anna.name@gmail.com you can send mails with anna.name+trello@gmail.com and it will end up in your regular gmail-inbox.
Then you create a filter that every mail coming to anna.name+trello@gmail.com should be forwarded to your trello mail. I also added that it should be marked as read and archived in my gmail inbox.
The mail trick is very usefull when you sign up for newsletters and such. You can either always write: anna.name+company’sname@gmail.com and then you know if you start receiving mail from another company that the first company has sold your mail…
Or you can always use anna.name+newsletter@gmail.com and create a filter to sort those mails out.

Final Words

Alright, that is my system, I hope you find these pointers somewhat useful. Do you use a similar system? Please let me know in the comments below. This system is working very well for me but any idea that could lead to improvment is highly appreciate. Also if you really like this, help me spread the word about the system via social media :)

Click to Tweet: For all fans of #GTD, check out this setup with Trello, Evernote, Google Calendar and Zapier #GTD http://ctt.ec/cu0L7+

Edits

27 Jul 2014 Include Trello Board via iCal feed

27 Jan 2015 Comment Anna email filters

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Comments

  1. Lance says

    I like the trello boards. I have a some what simpler setup. I send emails with key phrases like “will you” “would you” “can you” “could you” and forward them into Evernote where I heavily use tags and custom searches to filter down my GTD items. The tagging is manual though which can be cumbersome. I think I’ll give your approach a try.

    • says

      Hi Lance, thanks for your reply. Let me know how the approach described here works out for you. If you find any improvement to it, pls share it. Happy GTD :)

      • Avi Lugasi says

        I set the connection between due dates cards( in the To Calendar list) and my google calendar- But how do I create a trigger in case I changed the due dates of the cards in Trello?

  2. says

    I use one board to capture everything: !INBOX. Any relevant task via email goes there. Then within that board I have the columns: Personal, Business, Misc, Re-Occuring, Backlog. This is where start dragging stuff over as I collect, organize, and process it, and then move to another board(s).

    My main board is called: .GET IT DONE I try to limit the number of boards I have, but any big project that is happening right now gets its own board.

    Trello is awesome. The only drawback is it’s lack of a killer tagging system, like in evernote. I keep crossing my fingers for some developer to create it. So, for now… trying to find things is a bit like walking in the dark with a mini-flashlite.

    Robb

    • says

      Hi Robb, yeah Trello rocks. The way I try to label things is with tag words. Say I have an idea, than I write: idea … or say I came across something smart, I would tag: wisdom …
      But yeah I agree limiting the labels to 6 is probably one of the weakest parts in Trello.
      With those small prefix tag words it gets very easy to use filters and get a good overview. Hope this helps.

      • says

        Yes, I’ve tried that too, but then felt like it was more hassle than it’s worth. Labels don’t help much. Also, when Trello offers things like “Stickers” with giant cartoon kid-like symbols, I wonder if they really understand who their target audience is.

        One work-around I’ve done is signed-up as different users, and then added a unique avatar like: Calls, Next-Action, etc, and then added them as members to my boards. I simply create the card and drag the member into it. I can then filter cards by these fictitious “members”. It’s alot of work to set up, and only works per board. But it keeps it interesting and ninja-like.

  3. Theo says

    Great post.

    I have a list entitled ‘OneNote Trello Archive’, and I want any list items placed in this list to be sent to a corresponding note in OneNote called ‘OneNote Trello Archive’. How do I do this?

    Many thanks in advance,
    Theo

  4. Paul says

    Great article. Trying to switch to Trello for my personal needs and use it as GTD tool, and your approach seems handy. But I have a question: when items from Trello are synced with Google Calendar and Evernote, can you safely remove them from Trello list? Thanks for answer :)

    • says

      Hi Paul, thanks for giving this method a shot. Yes you can if you set it up as above. Essentially the system is one way onetime sync, meaning it will sync from Trello to Evernote or Google Calendar once, but any changes after that wont be synced regardless of where you make it. Let me know if you have other questions.

  5. Bart says

    Great article. But you don’t have to use Zapier to put Trello in Google Calendar. Trello has a calendar feed with all due-dates that you can import in Google Calendar.

    • Cong says

      The Google Calendar doesn’t work for me. But I use the feed with Calendar of Outlook.com and get great result. You also use the app called Sunrise Calendar, it support Trello perfectly!
      Thank you, Schurpf and Bart.

  6. Nicola Lunghi says

    please share the project board!!! ‘m working on multiple projects and I’m searching a better way to organize it!

    • says

      Hi Nicola, I am currently experimenting with new ways to organize projects. I am currently trying to have the same structure for each project as I have for my main gtd board. An inbox, a today, a next action, waiting for and someday maybe. The only downside is that this makes you spend a lot more time organizing each day. I will update you on the results :) Also let me know if you find some way to manage multiple projects at once, would be very interested to hearing your solution.

  7. Charles says

    I looked to see if you had given an update to your system, but you have not. I too am looking to see how you organize your project board. Currently I have a board for each project and go kanban style with todo, doing, done for each of those. Would like to see if your system may have components I would like to use.

    • says

      Hi Charles, quite honestly my project board is the part I least like about my GTD system. I have a project board but I stopped using it a while ago. Plus I am in the fortunate position of only having max 2 projects at once. If you find a good solution, I would love to hear what you do :)

    • Boris says

      It is not the most efficient to duplicate GTD lists for each project board. IMO, when many actions in the project follow a fixed workflow (e.g. design, make, test, release) should a new board be created; otherwise, it is better to stay in the relevant lists in the main board so you have one central repository. My kanban has the following lists:

      In-basket, Someday/maybe, Project (plan), Next action, Waiting and perhaps Done if not archiving cards
      And I use Google Calendar for ticklers as well, mainly Google Drive for reference, and Gmail Inbox service for partial GTD, and also leave lots of History (not reference) distributed everywhere.

      Still wondering if I should archive completed cards in their original list or move them to Done…

      • says

        Yeah, try and stay away form duplicating anything. The same thing twice usually means it is redundant once (or you don’t really trust your system just yet).
        Nice setup Boris, if I wasn’t so much in love with Evernote I would def consider Google Drive too :)
        I would archive your cards that are done. And if you are ever doubting whether to archive a card or not, this is a good signal that something with that card isn’t completely finished.

      • Boris says

        Right, I have concluded that archiving cards is better than moving them to Done (then archiving later). A Done list is needed for teamwork kanban though to see who has done what.

        You may use Evernote for reference instead, but stuff and actions etc. should be in Trello lists.

        I now use labels of different colors for these contexts:
        Run, Meet, Work, Home, Email, PC only, Phone, Read, Job.
        How about you?

      • Boris says

        Also, GTD recommends against daily to-do list, so should I view your Today list as a further filter of next actions, in addition to the filtering provided by Someday/maybe list?

      • says

        I can see how your location specific labels may be useful, I personally do most of my work in my office, so having to label everything wouldn’t make sense. The few things I want to do away from my desk I prefer a list.

        Regarding your second comment. I use my today list as you say: As a further filter. In reality I put more stuff in there than I can actually do. I have since actually even renamed this to Important.

        I am currently doing one more experiment: I use my calendar as daily todo list. The way this works is that I would fill my actual todos into time slots and work on those tasks on only those times. I would use my Calendar only to schedule one day ahead and use GTD to schedule long term. This will prevent me from setting an unrealistic amount of tasks for a day since it forces me to estimate the time it will take (and gets me better at estimating times along the way…) So far this is actually working really well and leaves me with a track record and sense of accomplishment at the end of my day.

  8. Anna says

    Hi,
    Thanks for a really nice post!
    Instead of creating a new mail adress you can create an easy filter:
    If your mail adress is anna.name@gmail.com you can send mails with anna.name+trello@gmail.com and it will end up in your regular gmail-inbox.
    Then you create a filter that every mail coming to anna.name+trello@gmail.com should be forwarded to your trello mail. I also added that it should be marked as read and archived in my gmail inbox.
    The mail trick is very usefull when you sign up for newsletters and such. You can either always write: anna.name+company’sname@gmail.com and then you know if you start receiving mail from another company that the first company has sold your mail…
    Or you can always use anna.name+newsletter@gmail.com and create a filter to sort those mails out.

      • says

        Even easier… just add a contact in whatever program you use.. Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc.. called Trello and/or whatever you’d like that would be easy to remember and include the Trello e-mail.. then when you send yourself an e-mail to Trello.. simply add the contact ‘Trello’ and vuala! Thought about that last night… duh!

        BTW.. from what I understand of GTD – the ‘next action’ is actually a ‘tool’ to get yourself ‘in action’ for a specific task.. In other words, we are either doing or thinking, but rarely both..

        What happens is that when we are actually ‘thinking’ of what we need to do, we don’t immediately use that ‘thinking’ time to think of what our ‘next action’ /first action for that particular task is or should be… then when it is time to ‘do’ the action, we procrastinate, because don’t know what the ‘first next action’ should be. Why? because we are in ‘doing’ mode and not in ‘thinking’ mode.. that is why it is so important/critical/imperative/a must – to document what my/your next action is for every ‘task’ you have to do… that way, when it is ‘doing’ time.. it easy to get started ( without having to get into ‘thinking’ mode).. And we all know.. a body in motion stays in motion.. but ‘getting’ started is always the most difficult.. this is one of the most subtle and yet most PROFOUND distinctions of David Allens’ GTD… Hope this makes sense.

  9. Jon Singer says

    Thanks for revealing your great system Michael. I really appreciate it and have adopted it and been using it for the past 2 weeks. So far so good.

    Question. I did notice that in your trello boards that you use the trello labels for something (the colored ones). Can you tell me how you are using those?

    Thanks!

    • says

      Outstanding Jon. Lables I use to tag my project with colors. Also in the video I talk about 6 labels, but trello just released an update where you can have unlimited tags, so happy tagging :)

  10. AG says

    Hi Michael,

    Excellent system! I tried to implement GTD with evernote but realised it was too much work keeping the system up and so much effort shouldn’t go towards a system that is supposed to make your life easier. I was looking for a solution with other apps and found your video on youtube when I was watching videos on different ideas to use Trello. This seems much less complicated than the evernote implementation. Thanks for this!

    I have a question though. You mention in your post and your video that all the services used here are free to an extent. Zapier seems to be free only for 3 connections and for 100 tasks a month. I haven’t worked with this system so I don’t know if this is enough. What is your experience regarding this?

    • says

      Hey, thanks :) Glad to see you find it useful! So far I never ran out of Zapier tasks. I do however sometimes save things directly to Evernote. Let’s say I research something than I open Evernote and write down my notes directly in Evernote skipping Trello. The Trello to Evernote Zap I use more for random things I surf by.

  11. Fred says

    Excellent tutorial !
    I have just implemented my own GTD with Trello
    The tip concerning iCal feed is also working with Microsoft Outlook 2010 (Add calendar –> from Internet)
    Many Thanks for this excellent post

  12. says

    Thank you for this post. I just started using trello and will use your suggestions to organize my boards. I have a question about linking google calendar and trello. I linked the 2 but internally throgh Trello and not Zapier. Trello will populate the google calendar but google won’t populate trello. Is there a fix to this or is this why you suggest Zapier?
    Thank you for your time!

    • says

      Hi Meredith, sorry but both method only do a one way sync (basically copy over Trello to Google Calendar). Technically it is possible to do a true sync between Trello and Google Calendar, but I don’t know anybody that has created this. I use Zapier to only sync one list and not my entire board. At the time of writing the ical sync did not exist. Hope this helps :)

  13. Shaun says

    Hey,

    Thanks for the guide, this has been really useful! I just wanted to ask about Deferring items. I understand that you drag a card from your inbox to your defer list, and then it is synced with your Google Calendar for the Due Date set in the Trello card. But how do you handle the reminder? Ideally it should be an email reminder back to the Trello inbox but I can’t see how that can be done? If the reminder goes to your gmail account then surely this is maintaining 2 inboxes?

  14. Scott says

    Done vs Archive is a question of what/who your using a list for.

    If managing your your personal tasks and don’t need to report anything, Archive is fine. If you must report progress, Done is useful.

    If simply following projects you’re not involved in, then Done is better as it defeats the point to remember every tasks and what’s missing.

    So, as a project manager, I make people move things to Done.

  15. AL says

    I set the connection between due dates cards( in the To Calendar list) and my google calendar- But how do I create a trigger in case I changed the due dates of the cards in Trello?

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