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Trello Automation Basics

If you've ever wondered about how to automate things in your Trello boards, this article is for you! And there's even a handy video if you'd prefer to watch instead of read!

 

 

What is Trello automation? 

Trello has built-in automation features (previously known as Butler) that help you quickly accomplish certain parts of your workflow that you find yourself repeating often. I like to say, why do something yourself when you can make the robots do it? 

If you find yourself repeating similar tasks in Trello, you might want to create some automation that will simplify your life and help you spend more time working on the things you need to do, rather than clicking around looking for a label or dragging a card around. Automation is available on Trello’s free plan, but you will have some limits with the volume so if you anticipate needing a lot of automation, you might want to upgrade to Trello Standard or Premium.

How does automation work? 

Automation requires two things:

  • A trigger (something that “activates” the workflow)
  • An action (something that happens after the trigger happens) 

A good way to think about this is “when I do x, then y happens”. X is your trigger and y is your action. 

Trello offers a variety of triggers, like new cards being created, comments being added, due dates nearing their due date, or even the clock turning to a specific time on a Tuesday! 

The actions have even more options, from things like moving a card to another list, adding a checklist, checking off a due date, or even updating data on other cards.

Practical use cases

Your brain might already be spinning with a thousand different things to do with automation, but you in case you’re wondering what people might actually use it for, here’s a few ideas. 

  • Assigning specific team members  to cards when they’re added to a list
  • Checking off the due date when a card is moved to a “Done” list
  • Adding a reminder comment to a card a week before it’s due
  • Creating a new templated card with daily habits checklist each morning 

How to set up automation

Setting up your Trello automation is easy and doesn’t require any technical programming knowledge! 

1. Start by thinking through your workflow

Think about something you do often in your workflow. Perhaps it’s adding your designer to a card when you move it to your “Design” list. Draw out this workflow if it helps you visualize it.

 

 

2. Identify your trigger and your actions.

Remember how I said “when I do x”, that’s your trigger? In the example, the trigger is when you move a card to a “Design” list. So that’s your trigger! Your action is to add a member to the card.

3. Click Automation, then determine the type of trigger you need. 

 

 

If you want to automate something based on a due date, specific day or time, or if you want a button to trigger the action, you’ll use those sections. For everything else, you use “Rules”, and that’s what we’ll use for this example. Now click “create a rule”.

4. Find your trigger, customize the criteria, and click the blue plus button. 

 

 

You can use the filter icon and the member button to give more specific criteria to the action you want. 

 

 

5. Set up your action. (You can add multiple if you’d like!)

Now go through the actions and pick the one most relevant to what you want to achieve. In our case, we want to assign a specific member to the card. You can add multiple actions here, so we will also add a checklist to the card with two items!

6. Click save, then try out your rule!

Now do your trigger to test your rule out and see if it works! If it doesn’t work, try retracing your steps to see where it breaks. You can also post in the Atlassian Community and folks (like myself!) will jump in and try to help you figure out what’s wrong. Pro tip - share screenshots of how you’ve set up your rules, like I’ve done here!

By default, your automation will only work on the board you enabled it on. But you can add it to other boards you are part of by going to that rule, and clicking “Add to another board”

Wondering what all of those icons mean? 

  • tag: add a tag to a rule so you can easily find it
  • paperclip: edit your rule. You can add more actions, or change the trigger/actions 
  • clipboard: copy this rule. great for making similar rules but changing just one thing
  • trashcan: delete a rule. This is permanent! 
  • lightbulb: view the log of events (helpful for debugging if it doesn’t work!)

 

Disabling automation 

Ever have something wonky happening on your board? You might have some weird automation setup that you don’t know about! Head over to your Automation section, and use the filter to show “Enabled” on your board. This will show you all the rules that are currently enabled and actively running on your board. 

If you see something that is doing something you don’t want, you can delete the rule, but I don’t recommend doing that right away since it’s permanent and sometimes you might want to bring it back! Rather, just uncheck the box for “Enabled on this board”. Then it will effectively “turn off” the rule but save it so you can edit it and re-enable it later if you choose to use it.

Hope this makes automation a little clearer! If you have any automation questions, post them below and I'll try to answer them!

 

3 comments

Brittany Joiner Community Leader Mar 02, 2022

Btw, I am working on building out a full on course all about Trello automation with a deep dive into what are rules and triggers and showing all the possibilities with automation. I'm planning to launch in a couple weeks, but you can join the waiting list and I'll let you know the moment it's ready! 

giphy

Like Andy Gladstone likes this
Andy Gladstone Community Leader Mar 22, 2022

@Brittany Joiner thanks for publishing this article. I had actually added it to my ‘Reading’ list on Trello and used the instructions to create the rule that sends cards from the Reading -> Read list with a single click!

Like Brittany Joiner likes this
Brittany Joiner Community Leader Mar 22, 2022

@Andy Gladstone that's awesome! Well done!

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