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Mark checkbox as in-progress (3rd state)


I use checklists to represent tasks in my user stories. So I would like to be able to mark items on a checklist as "active" or, equivalently, "in-progress". Is there a way of doing this in Trello via secret keys / powerups / whatever?


UPDATE: Based on the replies so far, which are about finding workarounds, I would like to add that I am considering requesting an enhancement to Trello, so that checkboxes can have extra states so as to represent two common statuses: active and blocked. The advice is to make a request on this forum to determine if there's a satisfactory alternative.

The obvious alternative is to adopt a convention such as ">" at the start of a checkbox label means "active" and "!" means "blocked". This works and is a neater, quicker and less disruptive workaround than most. But it's not standard, visually clunky (you have to visually scan off the vertical), and there's no M/N (e.g. 4/5 tasks done) on the front of a card.

Thanks very much for the suggestions so far. You clearly have a ton more patience in clicking and dragging than I do though :D

3 answers

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Answer accepted


Agree 💯% with @David Bakkers 

Alternative is to create a card (in a Detail Tracking Board) representing the card-checklist you want with all the items as linked cards and track from there. You will have the leave your checklist in tact so that when a subtask card is completed, the item is completed as well. A few challenges : automate the creating of cards leaving checklist in tack, linked them and handle the completion. This will take quite a bit of your quota.

so might as well go with something like this instead

the custom package will be your checklist. 

Thanks for the video link - I agree that is an alternative. But that's not what I am looking for. That's a heavyweight solution that gives way too much visual space to tracking a task list. Occasionally I need to add more detail to a task and then I simply expand it into a card. This keeps everything on one board with a minimum of clutter and only the information needed, shown.

Let me give some motivation behind the request. I do a lot of multi-tasking and by the time I return to my user story, I will have completely forgotten where I was up to. It's very helpful to be able to glance at a checklist and see the one or two items that I was previously working on. 

At the moment I do this on my pencil and paper lists where [ ] means to do [>] means in progress and [x] means done. It's conceptually a tiny step and visually very compact. And if you use Azure DevOps you'll appreciate that flipping between the Kanban, where tasks are a checklist, and the sprint board, where tasks are New/Active/Closed, effectively acknowledges this arrangement.

What I accept from this answer is that you cannot do this with Trello checklists.


UPDATE: And I am accepting this answer as, indirectly, it makes it clear that there is no satisfactory workaround. 


No worries. We are here to help where we can and you are right - native Trello does not support what you wanted. 

Hello @sfkleach 

Checklist items are just checkboxes; they are simple, binary objects They are either complete or incomplete, one or the other; they can't have any other intermediate 'third' state.

You can have custom fields of the type Dropdown that can have multiple values, of which only one is selected at a time, but there is no direct correlation of that state to a checklist item, unless you were to build all the automation to make that happen.

It is not clear what you are claiming - whether a checkbox is a UI element that only has two states, which is normally true but doesn't have to be true, or whether it is impossible for a task to be in an intermediate state, which is false.

The value of checklists is that you can quickly add extra checklists and extra line-items. Since the usual use of a checklist is to represent tasks (ToDo or Done) it is very straightforward to imagine a Doing state. One might use ^click to move it from either ToDo/Done to Doing, so it would not affect the main usage.

Thank you for the suggestion of a custom field. That is definitely in the right direction but it's not compact, is not fast to set up, and visually much slower to decode.

What I accept from your answer is that there is no way to accomplish this with Trello checklists.

Excellent. Good to hear that you've working out a solution for yourself.

On the basis that you clearly state that Trello cannot do this, I am marking this as an answer - albeit a negative one.

1 vote
Iain Dooley Community Leader Jul 04, 2021

@sfkleach my assumption with a checklist would be that the items are in order, and the next item is the one that's in progress. However if the order of your checklists is unimportant then you could simply create another checklist at the top of your card called "In progress" and drag items there when you're working on them, then mark them as complete and move other items from the "Task Pool" checklist below it up to "In progress" when you start work on them.

Hi! That is a cunning workaround. I think the answer to my question however is "no".

Some quick comments:

* The assumption that items are in order is a vague heuristic, often right, sometimes wrong - and hence doomed to partial success at best. TBH this would guarantee time-wasting mistakes. 

* Looking at the top item, at a glance, I cannot tell if it is in progress or not started. Nor can I tell if the second item has been started. Or the third. Those of us who multi-task heavily will simply begin tasks to fill the available time-slot. As long as we can keep track, all will be well. 

* Moving items between checklists has the following overhead

  •   - Setting up an extra checklist, two clicks and a rename (multiple keyclicks)
  •   - Instead of a single hold-in-place-and-click, it becomes a click-drag to target, release followed by a second click-drag to target to close it.
  •   - Order is not retained, so there's extra cognitive load in recovering the state. It turns a single click into a 20-secs zone-out. Ugh.
  •   - Targeted drags are difficult and fiddly on a small phone screen. Frankly the virtue of Trello is a smooth UI experience. Fussy drag and drops destroy its key value for me.

* It does have the advantage that you could use the same trick to represent blocked states.

Clever workaround.

I am not marking as an answer, perhaps unfairly (sorry!), because it leaves open the question as to whether or not there's a way of marking checklist items as in progress - and I don't think that moving to another list counts as a solution, neat though it is.

Iain Dooley Community Leader Jul 05, 2021

@sfkleach You might be a better result of you switch to using cards as the "task object" rather than checklist items. Then you can move cards into lists or use labels to indicate state (which is, I think, in the spirit of how Trello was originally designed even though the ability to assign members to checklists contravenes this ... )

If you're finding that you need to contain lots of "sub-tasks" on a card, then a better option might be to create boards and then link to those boards from cards (you can also use the new "link card" feature so that the card actually looks like a Trello board).

That's how I personally use it, I tend to have lots of boards, rather than lots of cards with too much information packed onto each one.

Thanks for the thoughtful suggestion. I do know about this shortcut to change a checklist item into a card and very occasionally use it wen it turns out that there's information that needs to be gathered for a checklist item. However, its a "smell" when this happens and you should re-examine your story decomposition as it is likely a bit wrong.

Using this technique regularly is effectively a suggestion to switch from Kanban board to a Scrum-like task board. That's a very big change in the way of working and changes your level of focus to something lower level and much less strategic.

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