Unleash the Power of Trello

In this part of the world, unless your boat is kept in a marina, your insurance becomes invalid from the 1st of November until the 31st of March unless the boat is lifted out of the water and stored on dry land. Seeing as we don’t actually have the kind of climate which makes sailing an appealing pastime during that five month window, it’s a reasonable compromise. It means that you work on the boat during the cold and dark winter months, while dreaming of the promise of a warm summer, playful breezes, and seven months of almost-constant sailing. That the reality is far-removed from this idyll is a topic for another day.

At the start of each sailing year, I would write down all of the jobs I wanted to get done prior to launch. Invariably, as the weeks and months roll on and the magical launch date of April 1st (no doubt that date was chosen by the insurance companies with no amount of mirth) draws ever closer, the list gets altered. You see, it’s not a simple TODO list. There is a list entitled “Jobs To Be Done In Order To Launch” and a list euphemistically entitled “Jobs To Be Done After Launch.” This is boat-speak for “Jobs Which Won’t Get Done At All, Ever!_”

Some years back, I was struggling as usual with the winter TODO list for launching the Achilles (“Into the Mystic”). Every Saturday, I’d load up the car with tools (usually forgetting the important gizmo needed to do a particular job), drive to the sailing club, unload the car and begin working. Battered and bruised by the time the evening drew in, I’d load up the car boot, and make my way home, like some demented Hunchback of Notre Dame, bent-over in agony, flecked with paint and the dreaded Sikaflex.

However, when I’d look at the TODO list, I’d realise I was no closer to launching. The list looked interminable. Season after season, the boat would get launched later than hoped. The last few weekends would be a blur of activity, and yet the number of tasks which went from the BEFORE LAUNCH list to the AFTER LAUNCH list grew and grew.

To some extent, this was because I needed to add new jobs as I worked on the list. You work on the task of reconnecting the house battery cables, and discover that the connectors are corroded. New item: Replace battery connectors on house batteries. That kind of thing.

But it was more than that.

Eventually, I started documenting my day on board the boat. I made a new list; this one listed each of the jobs I’d done that day. Surprise, surprise, the correlation between the work I’d done and the actual work which I needed to do, was quite small. Yes, installing new speakers for the CD player is a vaguely important task, but it’s not standing in the way of launching the boat, so any time spent performing that task is time taken away from “real work.”

It was the discipline of avoiding new (and largely irrelevant) tasks, and focusing on those key tasks on the TODO list. Enter Trello. This website/app is free, and it allows you to manage tasks and boards, and stay on top of the TODO list. The single-greatest advantage is how easy it is to use. That, and the fact it is supported on a wide variety of platforms.

A snapshot from my Trello page for the boat.<figcaption class="wp-caption-text">A snapshot from my Trello page for the boat.</figcaption></figure>

From the above, you can see a snapshot of what’s ahead of me. As you can also see, I’ve divided up the TODO list into those jobs which can be done in an hour or so when I come home from work, and those which will require a much bigger time commitment. I also have a backlog, which is where those tasks live, which aren’t interesting right now. I have a shopping list, a done list, a post-launch list, and an “interesting, but not this year…” list. As Trello is also available as an app for Android and iOS, I often find I can manage the list when I’m waiting for someone, or I have a spare few minutes. I can rearrange items (or “cards” in Trello parlance), add notes to the cards, add new cards, and so on. Then, when I’m actually working on the boat, I can focus just on the highest priority tasks (those at the top of the board).

From the above example, I can see that I could measure the area for the Atmel board (more on that, anon). That won’t take very long, and I can immediately move it to the “done” list, and enjoy that self-satisfied feeling that I just moved one more step towards launching the boat. In actual fact, I won’t be doing that this evening, as I’ve already moved that particular task to the “do later” list, because it’s not important for launching the boat. I did that re-assessment while waiting for the kettle to boil.

Now, if only Trello would actually do the work…

Dermot Tynan's Picture

About Dermot Tynan

Part-time sailor, full-time procrastinator. Software Engineer, Writer, Film-maker. Interested in all things cloud, sailing, autonomous systems and robotic sailboats.

Galway, Ireland http://intothemystic.eu