Getting organized with Trello

Posted in Time management on January 25th, 2012 by Jenny – 7 Comments

Feeling overwhelmed? To Do lists out of control? Want to be get organized? Try Trello!

When I stumbled across Trello, I knew right away it was the tool for me. It’s much more visual than most To Do list applications, and it makes sharing and collaborating on tasks easy.

When you visit the Trello website and sign up for a free account, the first thing you’ll see is the Welcome Board, with some simple tips to help you get started. Take a quick look and you’ll see what I mean by simple. It’s intuitive and doesn’t require learning a complicated productivity system.

Trello Welcome Board

Boards are much like the corkboard you have on your wall, but they’re online. You can pin cards to the board in columns, called lists, and then the fun really begins. You can add colored labels to your cards so that you can sort or filter them, give cards a due date, attach other files and checklists to them, and, if you’ve shared the board, you can assign them to other board members. It’s also easy to search for a card by keyword, filter cards by labels, or choose to display cards for one or more board members.

You can create as many Trello boards as you like, but I decided to create a single board for all my work projects, so that I could see at a glance all the projects I’ve committed to. I use the colored labels for clients, which lets me view just the tasks I need to do for a single client if that’s what I need to see.

Trello comes with three lists built in – To Do, Doing, and Done – but you can customize these by adding or removing lists, or renaming them. This gives you the freedom to use whichever productivity system you like. For now, I’m happy with the existing lists, although I add a date to the title of my Done list, and archive the list each week so that things don’t get too cluttered. Archiving hides the list, but it’s still there if I want to reopen it later.

As each new project arrives, I add a card to the bottom of the To Do list. Each morning, I look at my tasks and reorder them based on their priority. Reordering is as simple as dragging and dropping cards up and down the list. Once I’ve decided on the priority, I choose which card I’m going to work on next. I drag that card to my Doing list, and that’s the task I concentrate on. When I’ve completed a card, I drag it into the Done list and give myself a pat on the back. By the end of the week my Done list contains all the things I’ve accomplished.

What else do I like about Trello? It works on my iPad, which is handy in the weekend when we’re working on projects around the house, and there’s an app for the iPhone/iPod Touch, so you can take your Trello boards with you.

Using Trello, I can:

  • Prioritize my tasks.
  • See the big picture of everything that needs to be done.
  • Choose to work on a single task at a time, which frees me from worrying about all the other things on my To Do list.
  • See a growing list of tasks I’ve completed, which is surprisingly satisfying.

What about you? Have you tried Trello? Or do you prefer another tool for keeping organized?


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Making PDFs in Confluence

Posted in Confluence and JIRA on December 12th, 2011 by Jenny – 3 Comments

New Zealand PohutukawaIn the mailbag this week, a reader asked if there’s a way to convert a Confluence wiki into a PDF. When we get our Confluence wiki off the ground, this will be an absolute necessity for our team too since we have some customers who are not online 24/7.

I’ve found two ways to make a PDF:

1. Make a PDF of a single Confluence page

  1. In Confluence, find the page that you want to turn into a PDF.
  2. Click Tools, then select Export to PDF.
  3. Save the PDF somewhere you’ll be able to find it.

2. Make a PDF of a Confluence space or selected pages

  1. In Confluence, find the space you want to save as a PDF.
  2. Click Browse, then select Advanced.
  3. Click PDF Export.
  4. Click Select All to save the whole site as a PDF, or select the pages you want to save as a PDF. Note: There is also a link on this page for the PDF Stylesheet if you want to change the appearance of the PDF.
  5. Click Export.
  6. When the export is complete, click the link for Download here.
  7. Save the PDF somewhere you’ll be able to find it.

That’s it. Pretty straightforward!

Exporting Confluence Pages and Spaces to PDF
Customising the Appearance of PDF Exports


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Making the most of reviews and critiques

Posted in For new technical writers on July 14th, 2011 by Jenny – 1 Comment

RotoruaIf there’s one thing new technical writers can struggle with, it’s accepting critical feedback from reviewers.

When you’ve labored over a piece of writing, done your best to provide accurate information, kept your end-user in mind, and thought about the document design, it can be difficult to hear that you’ve made mistakes or the customer wants something different.

One of my first assignments as a technical writer was to create a setup poster for a printer. Having a particular love of symmetry, I created a beautiful poster, with two columns of equal widths. When I’d finished it, I took it to my manager. She took one look at it and said, “Yes that’s good, but perhaps you could use three columns instead of two.” Hmmmm, I thought. But I prefer two columns! So I made the other changes she suggested and presented it again. “How about using three columns?” she suggested. And a third time. Finally I did a version with three columns, and she was right. It looked much more balanced and was easier to read. Lesson learned!

Maybe you’re not as stubborn as I used to be, but if you are, here are some simple suggestions for making the most of review comments and critiques.

1. Approach feedback with a good attitude

Remember that reviewers are trying to help you write the best documentation possible. You and your reviewers likely both want the writing to be accurate and clear, so don’t take comments as criticism, and especially don’t take them personally. This can be difficult when reviewers have a penchant for using ALL CAPS. But ultimately, however harsh their comments sound, they really do just want to help.

2. Read all the feedback before you start making changes

When you receive feedback, you might want to dive into your text and make changes right away. Try not to do that. Reviewers can sometimes change their minds as they go, so if you read all the feedback from start to finish, you might find that they mention something early on and then decide it does not need changing by the end of the document.

3. Separate feedback into two types – technical accuracy and personal preference

Sort the feedback so that you can tackle the technical accuracy comments first. If there are disagreements about technical details between reviewers, you’ll want to sort these out before you start making changes to your document.

4. Start with technical accuracy feedback

With technical documents, accuracy is generally more important than writing style, so I recommend addressing technical issues first. If you have written that the software should be installed and then the printer connected to the computer, but actually it should be the other way round, it’s more important to fix the order of the steps than it is to change a wording preference. If the steps are in the wrong order, end-users will have trouble setting up their printer, leading to more support calls, and costing the manufacturer more money.

5. Make the best use of personal preference feedback

Feedback that is more about writing style can also be a real opportunity for you to grow as a writer. Look through the feedback and decide which comments resonate with you. If you immediately agree, then you’ll want to make those changes. But what about the things you don’t agree with? These are things to consider. You can talk to the reviewer and get additional details. This might be enough for you to change your mind and agree to make the change. Or you can discuss why you don’t think the change is a good idea, clarifying your own thinking, and letting the reviewer know that you respect their opinion, but have a good reason not to do as they suggest. Also, you can talk to other technical writers on your team, or discuss it with your manager.

6. Thank your reviewers

Really! Send an email to all the reviewers thanking them for their feedback, or thank them in person next time you bump into them in the hall. Everyone likes to be appreciated for their work, and reviewers are no different.

Your turn. Any tips on dealing with critiques and feedback?


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