22nd Jan 2018

8 minutes to read

Using Zapier and Trello to automate your brain.

Oh hello there…

I’m the sole founder of TableYETi.com, and that means that I have a lot of tasks to complete each week, both repetitive and new. This post explains how I use Zapier and Trello to automate repetitive tasks freeing me up to work on potentially more important tasks and gives a framework for doing it yourself. 

Why

I’m 100% not a superhuman, I didn’t go to a fancy university, and I’m very dyslexic. (the only way I can write things that make sense is to use Grammarly and have the computer re-read the text to me.)

The team consists of myself, some help from a couple of very talented friends and a group of fantastic developers at Gsix in Macedonia. The company is very lean, and as such, I have to complete the tasks of the following employees:

Quality assurance
Sales manager
Social media marketing manager
Designer

Marketing manager
Financial director
Financial controller
Product manager
Operations manager
Investment officer
Accountant

In house counsel
Lead generation
PR assistant
Personal assistant
Dev Ops
Front end website developer
WordPress website developer
and to be fair, there are probably a few more.

If that list scares you, it should; there are so many tasks that could fall through the cracks. I also need time to think and strategize; I need time to take in information and make decisions on what the best path is moving forward.

But you know what, the crazy thing is I’m managing to do it; and most importantly I’m managing to do it without stressing my brain to nervous breakdown levels.

Below I explain how, so keep reading.

How

Ok, now you can see the problem I have, below is how I manage it with two pieces of software. Trello and Zapier.

Let us start with Trello. Trello is a project management tool that is based on Kanban.

When you first open Trello you will be presented with a blank Trello board that looks like this: We’ve called this board “New Board”.

The first thing that you want to do is create lists. These lists should represent stages of tasks that need to be completed. We can use a simple to do manager as an example.

To create the simple to do manager you need the following lists setup: Tasks to do, In-progress and Done. Start by pressing the green Add List button and you should finish with something that looks like this:

The next step is to create cards in the lists. The board flows from left to right.

To begin, click the create card button. You will then be shown a box to create your first card. Merely type the task that you need to complete in the card. I started with Send weekly newsletter.

Ok, you’ve now made your first Trello card. If you click on the card, you can add additional details. I would always recommend adding a due date to your task, as this adds a level of accountability to yourself.

You can see what it looks like when you click on the card below. Add due date is on the right-hand side.

Perfect, now your card has a due date we can move on-to how to track the task through Trello.

It is straightforward; once you start the task, you drag the ticket into the next stage which in this case is In-progress.

Top tip* never have more than a couple of tasks in the In-progress column. This process needs to reflect the truth, and you can’t be working on more than a couple of tasks at once.

If you’re working on a long term task, only have it in the In-progress column when you’re working on it. When you’re not working on it, move it back into Tasks to do.

and when the task is complete, you move it into the done list.

And there you go, that is how you manage tasks using Trello lists and cards. As mentioned earlier, you might hear people referring to this type of task management as Kanban.

Below is my weekly task list so that you can see one in action. (I blocked out some sensitive information FYI).

Trello is the first piece of the puzzle. The next part is to automate the creation of weekly tasks using Zapier.

The reason that this is such a game changer is that it means I don’t forget to do critical weekly tasks while reducing cognitive load and adding accountability. Win, win, win.

Zapier is a tool that allows you to access web services APIs, without having to write a line of code. It’s excellent for this use case, and below you’ll see why.

First head over to Zapier.com, and set up a free account. Once you’ve made an account, you will be presented with the below screen. Just click Make a Zap. Note* Zapier is only free for 14 days, then you need to pay roughly £20 per month. (It is the best twenty pounds I spend each month).

Once you’ve pressed the Make a Zap button, you’ll be presented with the next screen.

In Zapier all the tasks that you create have a trigger. An example of a trigger would be, the date and time is Sunday at 18:00. To set the trigger, you go through the following steps. First choose the App, in this case we’ll choose Schedule.

As we want the trigger to happen every Sunday at 18:00, we need to select Every Week. You will then be presented with the next screen. The next screen is where you set the day and time. Simply use the dropdown under “Day of the Week” to select Sunday; and use the dropdown under “Time of Day” to select 6 pm.

Once you’ve selected the day and time, you’ll see the screen below. This screen is for pulling in samples and testing. Press continue, and Zapier will run a test to make sure everything is setup ok.

The final screen for your trigger will look like the screen below. It will prompt you to add an action step. You do this by clicking “+ Add a Step” from the column on the left. 

Once the time hits Sunday at 18:00 then the trigger will fire, and you can create an action that happens. An example of an action would be to create a new card in Trello. Below shows the first step in creating an action step, you want to search for Trello in the bar at the top.

Once you’ve selected Trello as the action step, the next thing you choose is the action to perform. In this case, we will be creating a card, so select the “Create card” action from the list pictured below.

Now you need to connect your Trello account. Click the “Connect an Account” button, which can be seen in the screenshot below.

You will then be presented with a popup to log in to Trello. Once logged in, click the green “Allow” button. This click will enable zapier to interact with Trello.

The next screen will show you which Trello account is connected. Double check this is your account and then press “Save + Continue”.

Now it is time to inform Zapier how you’d like to create your new card in Trello. (This is a card that will be produced every Sunday at 6 pm when your trigger fires).

In this instance, we need to fill out the following dropdowns or forms: Board, List, Name, Due Date.

Board will show all the boards you have created in Trello. In this instance select your board titled “New Board”.

List is the column you want to create the card in, on the specific board selected above. In this case, the list will be called ” Tasks to do.”

Name is what the card will be called. This name is also what you want the actual task to be called. We’ve called the card “Update investors” as we want to update investors weekly. (we don’t have any investors at TableYETi, we’re entirely bootstrapped, but hey, if you do, remember to keep them updated).

Finally, you want to set the due date for the task; this adds a level of accountability to your week, setting deadlines you may otherwise miss. Zapiers due date setting is very intuitive, if you want the due date to be this coming Monday at 6 pm, write Monday 18:00. You can read more about setting due dates here. We’ve setup the due date here for Monday at 6 pm.

Again, click “Save + Continue” to see the next step and then you can review the “Create card” action that you have created. You will then see a screen that lists a summary of what you have set up on the previous step.

Double check that everything is ok, and then you can send a test to Trello by clicking “Send Test to Trello”.

This test will create the card in Trello with all of the information detailed in the previous step. You can see the created card in the screenshot below.

We’d suggest that you delete the card created via the test, as this card will be created again when your trigger fires at 6 pm next Sunday.

The final step is to name your zap, and turn the zap on.

That’s it, now every Sunday at 6 pm Zapier will automatically create a task in Trello for you to update investors by 6 pm every Monday. Congratulations.

Results

Thanks for reading the article so far, I do hope that you’ve found it useful and informative. If any parts are confusing, please drop me an email to [email protected], I’d be more than happy to go over parts.

Now it’s time to speak about the result on my weekly productivity. Having Zapier auto-create, a weekly to-do list, of repetitive tasks has been a game changer for me.

The main advantage is the ability to reduce cognitive load on my brain, allowing me to focus on other areas of the business (like contacting restaurant owners) while not forgetting the little details, like posting about the how crazy it is that paper bills and receipts can’t be recycled.

The next advantage I find is that it gives myself, as solo founder accountability that otherwise is difficult to come by. I’m a slave to the robots that are my Trello board, and I love it.

I’d also like to add, that my sleep has improved significantly since working this way, which in return has made me more productive across the board.

Since the new year (when I automated this process), I’ve completed over 100 repetitive weekly tasks that I may have otherwise forgotten to do; furthermore, I use the same Trello board for ad-hoc tasks like review appendix C of an agreement on Tuesday.

I couldn’t recommend this way of working anymore. Thank you Trello, thank you Zapier, you’ve really saved my brain.

Now it’s time to sign up that first user. 🎉

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