How I track my to-do list

Kristin Stephens-Martinez
5 min readNov 24, 2020


This is a re-post of one of the most popular posts on my original blog.

I use Trello to track all the things I need to do. Trello, at its core, is just a to-do list management tool. It is versatile to many organization strategies and is great for a single person or a team to organize the tasks that need doing. However, this versatility can be very daunting as a novice because you are just starting to figure out a system to keep track of what you need to do. And a novice rarely does well in an environment where there are many ways to do the same thing, a.k.a. a versatile system. A beginner does not have enough experience to determine what technique is better than another. Moreover, a novice finds it challenging to keep track of the many ways to do the same thing.

So, if you are a novice, here are my suggestions for how to use Trello to track your personal to-do list (how I use it to organize my research team(s) and teaching team(s) I’ll leave for a different blog post).

First, I’ll go over the fundamental way I use Trello to organize my to-do list. Then I’ll go over some other things I do to enhance how I use Trello. The following enhancements are for you to pick from if that particular idea resonates with you or to draw ideas as you work your way from novice to expert in keeping track of your 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

Anything that doesn’t belong in the above three lists put in another list(s). You can have as many lists as you want or just one. You can call these lists whatever you want. The reason why you have these other lists is so the tasks you want to focus on do not clutter the above three.

Hopefully, the lists are pretty intuitive. The “This Week” list contains all the cards I need to do this week. I have a weekly “meeting” (an idea originally from NCFDD) with myself to decide what goes in that list and when I’ll do it. The “Do Today” list are the cards I will do today. I usually move the cards to this list right before I leave work the day before or the morning of. The “Done” list is for the cards I have finished.

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.

Hard to remember checklists — If there is a task that requires going through a checklist that is hard to remember, create a card and add to the checklist as needed. For example:

  • “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.”

To get around the lack of having a recurring card feature. I do one of the following:

  • 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.

And that’s the general idea. What do you do to keep track of your to-do list? Any ideas you’d like to share?



Kristin Stephens-Martinez

Assistant Professor of the Practice in Computer Science at Duke University