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3 Butler commands to kick-start automation in your Trello workflow

Discovering (then) ButlerBot in late 2016 rocked my Trello world. At that point, I’d been using Trello for 5 years and thought I couldn’t possibly get more out of the productivity tool than I already was. I had come to Trello from more traditional task apps, and while I loved (and still love!) Trello as it is, I did tend to miss a few features those boring checklist apps provided. ButlerBot suddenly opened up an entirely new way of using Trello - one that respected and supported Trello for the amazingly flexible productivity tool it is while also giving opportunity to customize, tweak, and fine-tune the experience towards your exact needs.

Two and a half years later and I haven’t looked back. It’s the second power-up I install on every new board I create (after Calendar), and is easily the one I recommend most when helping others solve workflow or setup problems in their own Trello boards.

In honor of Butler’s relaunch as a core feature of Trello, I’d like to share three of my most used commands for those who’d like to give the powerful tool a try. I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me!

NOTE: You will need to use your own board and list names for these commands, so make sure to swap those out if you choose to implement these yourself 😉

1. Track all of your assigned cards from one master board

Using different boards for the projects you're involved in makes organizing project information and collaborating easier for all involved. But sometimes, you just need to see your project tasks in the same space as the other tasks you’re responsible for so you know you’re prioritizing correctly. This command will take every card to which you’re assigned and create a duplicate on your personal task board.

when I am added to a card, copy the card to the top of list "Incoming" on board "DMH To Do" and link the cards together

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It also links them together so you don’t forget to update the team card when you’ve completed the task. Your coworkers will thank you, I promise.

Now you can organize your project task cards alongside your other, non-project-based tasks. You never have to worry about forgetting to check a board this way, either!

2. Change the due date and move cards to a Done list when you mark them completed

Each week I have a scheduled meeting with my supervisor, where we go over the past week’s accomplishments and happenings and plan for the following week. I’m sure many of you can relate. So, I like to see what I got done and when, without having to open and close card after card. I use two simple Butler commands to accomplish this:

when the due date is marked as complete in a card by me, move the card to the top of list "✅ Completed - {monthname} {year}"

and

when a card is added to list "✅ Completed - {monthname} {year}" by me, set due now, and mark the due date as complete

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This way every card I either check the date as completed or move to my Done list get the same treatment: the due date is changed to the current day and they’re marked as Completed. These items now show on the Calendar on their new “due” date (morphed into a Done date) and decorated with a strikethrough - easily separating them from the tasks I still need to do.

Now when I look at my calendar, I see the date I completed each card and can quickly summarize my week’s accomplishments in my recurring meeting.

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Bonus: Did you complete random, unplanned tasks today? Type them into your Done list! It will add the due date and mark it complete, adding it alongside your other accomplishments for later bragging... uh, I mean respectfully acknowledging.

What are those bits of text in the curly brackets in the command? They’re variables! They fill in the current month name and year, as of when the rule runs. These will be important for #3 as well, which is...

3. Archive and create lists at the beginning of each month (requires Gold, B.C. or Enterprise)

One popular way many Trello users track what they’ve completed is by using a Done list. Often cards are then archived at the end of the week or whenever the list needs to be cleaned up. This works, but it makes it hard to see everything you accomplished in one month at one glance. One way I use Butler is to create a new Done list for every month, which includes the current month and year and the position on the board I’d like the list to hold. I do this using this formula:

every month on the 1st at 1:00 am, create a new list named "✅ Completed - {monthname} {year}" in position 2

And at the end of the month, to archive the list as a whole using this one:

every month on the last day at 11:45 pm, archive list "✅ Completed - {monthname} {year}"

Pasted Graphic 10.png

This way I can add items to my Done list throughout the month, with Butler cleaning up the list and creating a new one for each month. And, I don’t have to keep re-writing the rule each month to include month names. The variables do the magic.

Using scheduled commands requires a Gold, Business Class, or Enterprise account. Don’t have any of these? You can do this step using a Board Button! When you’re ready to prep for the next month, use a Board Button with this formula:

archive list "✅ Completed - {monthname} {year}", and create a new list named "✅ Completed - {monthname+1m} {year}" in position 2

The +1m inside the variable above adds 1 month to whatever the result of the variable is. In this case, it's a quick way to get next month's name.

Summary

I hope this list of Butler commands helps you take your first steps in using this incredible tool. Many thanks to Oscar (@ludable) for creating such a helpful pet robot, and to Trello for recognizing how great it is and bringing it into the core Trello experience.

Don’t forget - Butler has a handy help site and Trello board that can explain just about everything this tool can do.

Do you already use Butler? If so, what are your favorite commands? If not, what would you like Butler to help tackle in your workflow? Comment below!

15 comments

Erica Moss Community Manager Apr 09, 2019

Everyone loves Butler, and I love this post! ⭐️

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Iain Dooley Community Leader Apr 09, 2019

@Devon Henderson this is a fantastic write up. That "mirroring cards to a personal board" was actually one of the earliest things I implemented in the original Butler Bot for delivering my Hooked on Zero product:

https://trello.com/c/bHumKnpc

the final version is enshrined here and is called "Better Cards View & Notifications":

https://trello.com/b/oreaz9eg/better-cards-view-notifications

This used global commands so it would work from any board where Butler was a member -- I don't think they exist in the power up. It also "fixed" notifications by unwatching/unsubcribing any card you're added to, and will create a new card for any comment you're mentioned in, in your personal board.

I later refined this into a Google Apps Script that also integrates with Gmail, called Benko Board:

http://trello.com/integrations/#benkoboard

This not only does the card mirroring but also allows you to get all your emails into the same board so it's truly one place for *EVERYTHING* :)

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Katrin Anger Community Leader Apr 11, 2019

@Devon Henderson Awesome post, Devon!

I share the same passion with you for creating meaningful workflows with Butler. :)

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Jodi LeBlanc Community Leader Apr 16, 2019

Love this article so much @Devon Henderson ! Thanks for sharing, I am a newbie at butler and this has helped me a lot :)

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Thank you @Devon Henderson for so generously sharing your Trello and productivity knowledge on this board and others (GTD).  After years of flipping back and forth from one traditional task app to another, I want to reboot my GTD system and try a totally different setup.   

I've always said "I'm not a Trello person" but your wonderful enthusiasm and willingness to help through some of the excellent posts you have written has made me give Trello a serious look and there is a lot about it that I really like.   Still in Todoist but seriously looking at Trello and currently trying to develop a workflow that works for me.  

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Erica Moss Community Manager Jul 15, 2019

@Peter Van Harmelen Devon is always teaching us new things about Trello! I thought maybe this collection of templates might inspire you as well: https://trello.com/inspiration

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Thank you, Erica.   Very interesting and helpful.  I may have a few beginner type questions along the way.   I’m an accountant and a musician. (yes, odd combo) I think the artsy part of me finds the visual nature of Trello appealing. 

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Devon Henderson Community Leader Jul 29, 2019

@Peter Van Harmelen Oh my goodness, that's the nicest thing anyone's said to me! 💙😭 Thank you!

I'm also a musician (my Bachelor's degree is in classical music performance, which I of course use every day... 😉) and I do think the creative side of me likes how visual Trello is. I'm drawn to neat little lists, but always find myself more productive when using Trello. I think maybe because I can visually remember my board better than I can a style-less list? Who knows 🤷‍♀️ but it works!

I spent a long time with Todoist before finally leaving for good years ago (I think I have something like 15k karma still). I'm happy to talk through a transition if you decide to go with Trello and have some specific Todoist-to-Trello questions!

Like Peter Van Harmelen likes this

@Devon Henderson  :-)  Hi Devon, my Bachelor's degree is in History and Music (not performance) from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI;  at the time with a view to going to seminary.   I only did a year at seminary and decided it wasn't for me. Spent too much time afterwards, however,  wishing I had stuck it out; but such is life.   Retrained and got my CPA and work for a national health charity in Canada now.   My instruments are organ and piano. 

Thank you for your interest and offer of assistance to get me set up in Trello :-)   I have not cut everything over yet from Todoist but am still playing around trying to find a workflow that works in Trello.  I do really like Trello.   I setup one GTD board.   The GTD guide recommendation of multiple boards made no sense to me.  I like everything in one place and also feel it makes better use of the Trello features.

I had already done a major rework of my GTD system in Todoist and have significantly simplified it, which was the goal.   In Todoist I was using projects for the various lists and had given up on linking actions to projects because it was just too much work.

In Trello I created one GTD board that has all my GTD lists (Inbox, Agendas, Desk, Errands, Home, Phone, Waiting For, Someday, Scheduled).  I had a Completed list but now decided just to archive completed items.

At first, I used labels for contexts on one Next Actions list but that got too complicated.  Ended up following your advice from a previous post and just made the contexts to be individual lists and that works very well

I do have both personal and professional on the same board and use a label to distinguish the two.   I liked being able to P1 things in Todoist.  I created a priority filter in Todoist which was by-and-large:  items due today, items overdue and items I tagged with P1. (Unfortunately, that also became the title of the filter in Todoist, which always annoyed me a little; renaming the filter did not change this) 

In Trello I haven't been able to get all these items to show together in on "priority" list like in Todoist, but that is OK, I think.   I did create a priority label which gets me the P1 piece from Todoist.   The calendar power-up does a nice job of showing all the due dates, so that is good.  I got Butler to push any card with a priority label to the top of the list.  That's kind of cool.  And I know you can filter on labels.   I also like the "home" feature in Trello but wish it was more intuitively accessible.  Now you have to go find it rather than seeing it on your board.  Not a big deal, though. 

I struggled again with linking actions to projects as in:  do I really want to do this.  I saw you do it with black labels and thought that was kind of cool.   So, I'm trying that for now.  Probably makes a weekly review easier.

Still wrestling a bit with recurring tasks and tickler type items.    In Todoist I would not assign contexts to these but put them on my Scheduled list and assign only a due date so they would just show up in my priority filter on the appropriate day. 

Recurring tasks in Trello - at first I used the Card Repeater power up but since you only get three power-ups in Gold I decided to use a Butler feature instead to put cards on lists on the appropriate date.  That seems to work well.  Really like Butler

Scheduled/Tickler - a GTD purist would put this on a calendar but I do like them in my task manager.  Hence the Scheduled list.

So that's where I'm at.  My apologies for the long-winded post.   Certainly, welcome your or anyone's feedback!   And thank you again for your kind interest in getting me set up in Trello!  

 

Peter

Devon Henderson Community Leader Jul 30, 2019

@Peter Van Harmelen No way! Small world! My cousin is attending Calvin as we speak, and my supervisor is an alum. Crazy!

Your setup sounds a lot like mine! I've fiddled for years but it always comes down to something like this. The only real change I've made from some of my posts here is that I do now put repeat, scheduled and tickler items on my calendar. I gave up trying to make it work in Trello, and I'm much happier now. I do have a Scheduled list, but I only put cards there when the task has attachments and files to keep together. Then I link to that card in the calendar event. 

Oh, and projects now are broken out into individual boards. My entire workplace is currently onboarding to Trello and everything we do is collaborative now. So, they're off my master board and into their own. I can't deny it's cleaned up my board considerably, though I have to visit the Cards page on my account to keep track of everything. Thank goodness that exists!

Since I work in marketing, I live and die by my calendar so this works for me. But you should definitely do what works best for you! Butler really is great and can do SO much - I find it invaluable. I actually hit my cap on tasks run last week. I almost died. My workflow ground to a halt haha. Thankfully it seemed to clean up after 48 hours and I was back in action! Phew!

I think your setup sounds really good. It's important to focus on keeping it simple, and you seem to be doing that from the beginning, which is great. It's my weakness - I always want to fiddle around and tweak the setup to be super fancy, and it's always a massive burden that I then have to fix. Sigh. 

Good luck in the transition!

Like Peter Van Harmelen likes this

@Devon Henderson Very cool.  Small world indeed!

Thanks for all this Devon.   I really appreciate all your feedback and suggestions and also enjoyed chatting.

peter

Does that mean that we can enable butler power up with business class to enlarge the limit of using butler only with one command of each type ??

Hey @Devon Henderson !

First, thank you for a great article on getting the most out of Trello using Butler. This Trello first-timer really appreciated how you broke it down simply + graphics.

One question: I have not been able to duplicate using the strikethrough markdown in the card title like you showed in the image April 7, 2019 - April 13 2019.

I know I used the double tildes correctly. I checked help and it says markdown doesn't work in card titles -- yet you were able to do so.

Please share how you did that!

 

Walter

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