How I track my to-do list

Quick Overview of Trello

Trello, as I said, is a feature-heavy to-do list management tool. It’s basic features are:

  • Lists to hold tasks
  • Tasks are represented by cards
  • Cards have many features, I use the following ones often: Title, Description, Labels, Due Dates, Checklists
  • When a card or list is done, it’s archived

Three Primary Lists

Start with three main lists:

  • This Week — What I need to do this week
  • Do Today — What I need to do today
  • Done (start_date — end_date) — What I’ve done this week

Card Life Cycle

The basic life cycle for my cards are as follows:

  1. Create when I identify a task I want to make sure I get done.
  2. Move to the list “This Week” when I’ve decided to do it that week.
  3. During my weekly planning meeting, I: (a) Decide when the card needs to be finished, (b) What day I’ll work on it, (c) Mark it as due on the day I’ll work on it
  4. On the day it is due, move it to “Do Today”
  5. When the card is done, mark it as done and move it to the “Done” list
  6. When that week’s “Done” list is no longer needed, archive the entire list.



Trello lets you create colored labels for cards. I use this to organize what area this card falls under. This is especially useful because all my tasks, regardless of the project, fall into the same three lists. I can quickly scan the colors to get a sense of what project(s) my day/week will be mostly filled with.

Useful Cards

Planning cards — For small/medium-sized projects that come periodically. One of mine is creating quizzes. These cards have a checklist of all the project’s tasks. Each checklist item can be converted into a card when it’s time to plan when to do what for that project.

  • “Collect tax documents” — This is a list of all of the tax documents I need. I update this checklist every year. Then I duplicate it for next year before I archive it.
  • “Laundry: Darks.” — It has all of the random things around the house I need to check to make sure I’ve got all the dirty laundry that needs washing that week.
  • “Trip Packing” — This checklist is all of the things I need to make sure to pack for a trip that I’ve forgotten at least once.

Recurring Cards

These are cards that happen at recurring intervals or are perpetual tasks but need to be tracked as in progress or done (e.g., laundry). I’ve heard Trello has a recurring card feature, but I think it’s a paid feature and my needs aren’t large enough to rationalize the cost. Examples of my recurring cards are “Check next lab” or “Plan the next assignment.”

  • I duplicate the card right after I mark it as done.
  • When I need the card, I duplicate it from my list called “Cards for Duplication.” I put it in this list if I find myself duplicating a card often, but it’s not whenever I mark the card as done.
  • I have a list I duplicate every week at the start of my weekly meeting.
  • Planning lists — This is a list of cards for periodically recurring projects that have a clear set of tasks associated with them, such as creating exams. To give you an idea, I’ve made a publicly accessible version of my project template board. I currently only have a list on creating exams, but I’ve found it to be very useful when the project grew more extensive than a single planning card.

Other Lists

  • Icebox — I’ve seen this list used by software engineer teams to indicate features or ideas that would be nice to implement, but it’s not clear when or if it will be done any time soon.
  • This Month — If you plan at the month level, this will likely help you keep track of what needs to be done that month.
  • Areas of your TODOs — I have lists titled: Research, Career, Funding, Reading, Teaching, Cleaning, etc.

A La Carte

  • If a card takes me more days than the day it is due, I mark it due for the first day I will start working on it and on the card in parenthesis I’ll write the actual due date.
  • I make a card “due” on the Monday of the week I need to start working on it. That way, I can easily see it and account for it during my weekly planning meeting.
  • I do a monthly reflection. To help with this reflection, I keep my weekly done lists until I do this reflection. Only after I do it, do I archive all of those done lists.



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Kristin Stephens-Martinez

Kristin Stephens-Martinez

Assistant Professor of the Practice in Computer Science at Duke University