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Nisheet Sinvhal

How to be 1000x productive by leveraging Trello

Productivity6 min read

In March when the news of the lockdown being imposed in India first came out, I thought it would just be a 2-week stint. "Nothing too serious", I thought. "Once the 2 weeks are over, things will go back to normal and I could go outside no doubt." Boy was I wrong!

After the 2 weeks were over, and the lockdown turned into a strict curfew, I had 2 choices -

  • Red pill - This is the only free time you'll ever get so have as much fun as you can!
  • Blue pill - This is the only free time you'll ever get so make the most of it!
Red pill or blue?

I chose the BLUE pill.

A new pass time!

Soon after I was adamant about "making the most of the time I had", I started a new hobby - reading. I started reading books on my kindle (which was collecting dust until now) during my evening tea time.

I started with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Not being in the habit to read can be painful at first. Things seem to move slowly, the words disappear from the mind just after reading a line, and the dots are difficult to connect. I had to persevere. I have a lot of friends who love reading and have told me some great stories from their books. I knew that this was just a hurdle that I needed to cross so that reading becomes interesting. And I did cross it.

Udemy and Side Projects!

In parallel with starting to read books, I thought about the stuff that I am interested in and couldn't pursue or pursued at a very slow pace because I could only find so much time in my daily life before Covid19.

Some of the courses that I began were on Golang - because of many open-source projects for the cloud using it, Ansible & Terraform - because of my interest in DevOps and IaC.

I also sought to watch educational videos on YouTube about advanced topics on Node.js, and React.js, (basically ways to improve upon existing skillsets). These were related to internal work on Node.js, Streams in Node.js, Efficient React.js, Istio, and more.

Based on these courses/videos, I started a few side projects to dig deeper myself, without the guidance of an instructor - what better way to learn right?

Some of my side projects are - Microservices using Golang, Nodejs, Thrift, Setting up Kubernetes using Ansible on local Vagrant machines by using kubeadm and without it (aka "from scratch"). Setting up a complete application on AWS using Terraform, the one which I had set up manually for my AWS Certification.

Knowing where my efforts are...

As you can see, I was doing a lot of things parallelly with my day job and the fact that I had to cook my food every day (I only started after the curfew) and clean the house too (I was living alone, now I am back at my parent's house), it was very very very tiring. I didn't know if I was being productive or not!

I recalled watching this video on YouTube about using JIRA in daily life to track progress. It was quite an interesting video and I will link it here if I can find it again.

Since JIRA is a paid tool and does more than what I want, I looked at Trello as a free & simpler alternative.

Trello, the Kanban of my Life!

Using Trello is easy as a breeze, just signup, create a board, and add cards! I immediately sought to add tickets to what I had accomplished in the quarantine. That is, I started with the "Done" section as it felt rewarding 😅.

I started creating cards for the books I wanted to read while in quarantine, tagged them as "Reading" and also signed up on Goodreads for more recommendations. Then I listed things I wanted to learn and tagged them "Learning", a list of projects which could boost my profile as "Projects", Neutral tasks as "Tasks", and cards that I couldn't do due to some complication(s) as "On Hold".

I think the planning went great. So here is how my process works -

  1. Work on only one card from each category (excluding "On Hold" obviously) in a sprint (Max 3 that is)
  2. A Sprint lasts for 2 weeks. No more, no less.
  3. There are no "deadlines" as such but try to be done with the card in the current sprint

This worked surprisingly well!!!

I finished books at the rate of 1 book in 10 days. I have already read 5 at the time of writing this blog post. Learned more things in the past 2 months than I could ever imagine. Completed 3 side projects. And still going strong!

This is how my Trello Board looks at the end of 1st Sprint...

1st Sprint

End of 2nd Sprint...

2nd Sprint

You get the idea, Productivity 1000x!

How to do "Learning" well

It is tough to learn a new thing. In programming, just completing a course on Udemy does not suffice. You have to do more. Using the "checklist" feature of the Trello card, add a few small self-imposed exercises. Example: For Golang, my card looked like this.

  1. Learn Basics (from Udemy)
  2. Project 1 on goroutines (inspired by Rob Pike's talk on Concurrent is not Parallelism)
  3. Learn Advanced (from YouTube)
  4. Project 2 - opensource contributions (I contributed to Mattermost)

Then you're ready to use it on bigger projects.

How to do "Projects" well

Here is what my Trello cards for projects generally look like

  1. Descriptive idea about the project. Be as descriptive as possible, and lay out your plan.
  2. Set the Goal - Know when a project is done
  3. Do not lose motivation. Keep going!

Work on only one "Project" card at once and you shall see yourself unto the end.

Bonus: My Routine

Due to quarantine, I was not going out at all save to buy veggies. I didn't want to feel lethargic the next time I went out to play any sports so I set up a daily routine for myself which I followed like a Bible.

  • 10 am - Finish exercising (I use this app) followed by a bath and Breakfast
  • 11 am - Finish reading "interesting" articles on HackerNews. Start working
  • 1 pm - Lunch break for 1 hour then continue work
  • 5 pm - Tea break + Book Reading
  • 6 pm - Do a single LeetCode problem (A LeetCode a day keeps the interview fears away 😝)
  • 7 pm - continue working (Have to do 8 hours no?)
  • 8 pm - Dinner break
  • 10 pm - "Projects", "Tasks", or "Learning" from Trello board
  • 11 pm - Talk to family and friends
  • 12 am - Sleep

This does seem very boring but the habit of it made me productive. I did fill in some gaps between Netflix and YouTube. On weekends, the "work" part of it was replaced with more of a Trello Board.

This is how you stay productive during quarantine, and I am continuing the routine.

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