I’ve experimented with various ways of keeping track of indexing projects since I went freelance, and my favourite so far is Trello. Trello is a project management system that works, essentially, like the Kanban method, using cards and columns. On Trello, you can set up a board for a project, or group of projects. Tasks or sub-projects are tracked using cards, which you move across lists that you have defined, tracking your progress with your work as you go. I like Trello because it provides a very visual overview of my work in progress and where all the projects currently are. Trello is free to use, although there is a subscription model, Business Class, that gives you more apps and features.
Getting started with Trello
Go to trello.com and set up an account. Trello encourages sharing among its members, and consequently your name, initials, username and avatar are always public, so you may want to be pseudonymous here. Your email won’t be made public. You can then set up your first board, choosing the background, colour scheme and columns.
You also need to decide whether your board should be public or not. Given that some of us need to sign NDAs for indexing work, you’ll probably want to make it private. You can share your boards with others even if they are private, and set appropriate permissions for what they can and can’t change. I have mine shared with my partner as part of my disaster recovery plan.
You can control your board by clicking on the Menu button at the far right of the screen, which gives you options for modifying the board’s appearance, permission settings and so on.
My Trello indexing board
This is my current board, with upcoming and in progress book titles redacted. I have six lists on my indexing board:
- Upcoming projects: once I’ve agreed to do a new project, this is where I add its card. The cards are roughly in the order in which I expect to do the work, and you can easily drag the cards around to re-order them. At the top of this list are two template cards for embedded and standard indexing projects. I’ll talk more about these below.
- Indexing: once I’ve received the proofs and am working on the index, I move the card to this column.
- With client for approval: the card is moved here once I’ve returned the index and am waiting for, or dealing with, any feedback or queries.
- Invoicing: once I’ve sent the invoice, I move the card here
- Social media: I try to tweet about most of the books I index and so once I’ve been paid, and I’m waiting for the book to be published, I move the card here. This is also where the card sits while I’m updating my website and Society of Indexers profile with details of the project. Once all the relevant tasks for the project have been done, I archive the card.
- Other: this is a column for cards that relate to other activities with a significant time commitment, like conferences and holidays. I have this column to get these activities into my Gantt chart, of which more in a later post.
You can have as many lists as you like, if it’s helpful to break down your indexing workflow into more stages.
Using Trello cards
I make a single card for each index, which captures key information about the project and includes a checklist and key deadlines. When I’ve committed to a new project, I copy one of the two template cards (embedded and standard) to make a new card for that project. Here’s my the top part of my template card for a standard book index:
The title and description fields and the buttons on the right are default items. The title is always the title of the book. I use the description field for summary information about the project, the client, and the relevant deadlines. The due date button I use in various ways at different stages of the project:
- before the work arrives, for the date the proofs should reach me
- once it has arrived, the deadline for the index to reach the client
- once I have invoiced, the due date for payment
- and finally, for the date of publication so I can tweet about the book.
You can use various Trello power-ups (see below) to synchronise deadlines with your online calendar and get reminders. I’ll talk in a later post about using the TeamGantt power-up to create a Gantt chart from my Trello board.
The other Add to Card buttons work as follows:
- Members – for allocation of tasks to team members, and not relevant for the solo indexer
- Labels– adds a coloured label to your card. This might be useful if you want to flag up all projects for a particular client, for example.
- Checklists – see below
- Attachments – lets you attach files to the card. I don’t use this, as it seems like extra effort for no particular benefit – my proofs, indexes, invoices and so on are stored securely elsewhere, and I don’t need to share them. It’s also not helpful for data protection to have files with client information saved in multiple places. However, for any shared projects, this would be very helpful. You can also use this function to attach a link to your card, which seems more potentially useful.
Here is my current checklist for a standard indexing project:
To add a checklist, you need to click on the checklist button and add your items. It’s easy to modify checklists for specific projects that might need some further items – you need to add new items at the bottom, and click and drag them to re-order. Each card displays your progress against your checklist as a score, so you can easily see if you have uncompleted tasks on a particular project.
If a checklist item is getting complicated and unwieldy, you can convert it into a card, and give its own checklist and deadline.
Power-ups and action buttons
The power-up button allows you to add an additional app or function to your board – there are lots of different . The free version of Trello only allows you to have one power-up at a time. I currently use this for TeamGantt, of which more in a later post.
The action buttons work as follows:
- Move – move the card to a different list. You can also click and drag each card around the board.
- Copy – creates a copy of the card in the list you choose, with a new title
- Watch -this will alert you when anyone else changes the card. Again, not useful for solo freelancers.
- Archive – clicking on this will archive your card, so it’s not visible on the board. It’s not deleted, and you can search for and see archived cards if you need to.
- Share – will send a link to the individual card to another person. Again, not really useful if you’re working on your own.
Comments and activity log
The Comment box allows you to make notes about your project. I have used this for my project notes and queries, but currently I prefer the notetaking app Evernote for this. Comments can be edited and deleted as necessary. You can also share comments or add attachments and other cards to them, which is probably most useful in a team setting.
The activity log records everything you do to the card, with a timestamp. This is most useful for shared projects, and for a lone freelancer it’s probably less irritating to simply hide this by clicking the Hide Details button.
Trello probably works best as a website, but the phone/tablet app (Android and Apple) is useful for keeping track of what you’ve got going on – and especially useful when you get offers of work while you’re on holiday, which always seems to happen to me. You can also get reminder notifications through the app.
I like Trello so much I use it for other, non-indexing projects, and it’s the best way I’ve found of keeping an accessible list of books I plan to read. There are hundreds of public boards that you can look at for ideas of how to use Trello via https://blog.trello.com/.