Last Updated: March 20th, 2017
Managing an editorial calendar is a bit like the horror of herding kittens or trying to nail gelatin to a wall.
A frustrating and seemingly impossible task.
When I set up Craft Your Content, I got to experience this joy — with not only our own editorial calendar but also a dozen client calendars as well.
I figured out pretty fast that we needed a solution that was more robust than the Google Spreadsheet, steno-pad planner, and wing-and-a-prayer method I had been using for my own editorial process.
Wing-and-a-prayer is not only unprofessional, it also causes a lot more headaches than it is worth.
I was already a fan of post-it notes in columns on the wall for drafting any project or book manuscript coaching, when the fabulous Jill Stanton of Screw the Nine to Five and Kate Erickson of Entrepreneur on Fire told me about their recent love affair with scrum/kanban systems during one of our mastermind calls. Intrigued, I took to the all-knowing being of our universe, Google, to learn more.
Quickly I found a software system that was like project management, without all the bullshit bells and whistles that accompany most project management systems. It was exactly what I was hoping for — the quick simplicity of a scrum system with the tech and cloud-collaboration of a SaaS product.
Until now, we’ve kept our Trello editorial calendar system pretty well under wraps. In part because we never really thought our system was all that revolutionary (Trello has an article on their own site on how they use the software as an editorial calendar) and in part because there was a little fear to share the adaptations I’d created.
If we tell everyone how to do exactly what we do, why would anyone have a reason to hire us anymore?
But, the time has come for us to take a huge leap of faith that those of you that want to be able to implement and manage a pretty robust, collaborative, on-the-fly editorial calendar will be helped with this extremely detailed step-by-step guide I’m putting together. And those of you who would rather have someone implement and manage a system for you…well…hi.
As I said, I first was drawn to setting up our editorial calendars on Trello because of a few features and frameworks that make the system exactly what I was looking for to take the post-it notes off the wall and task-lists & calendars out of my brain.
With a virtual team that is strewn across the planet and a client list that reaches to the same corners, it was imperative to have an editorial calendar that would allow multiple people to access, change the assignments, and communicate with each other without having to wait for syncs and uploads.
With Trello not only available in your browser, but also on tablets and smartphones and anything else you can download Android or iOS apps to, the barrier to getting something added or updated is nearly obsolete. Add to that the fact that you can create and comment on the fly, no matter where you are, and my first problem was solved.
I have attempted to use so many of the various project management programs that are out there. It isn’t that I’m against an organized task-oriented system, you are talking to a person who gets a thrill out of making lists with checkboxes just so I can mark them complete.
But I am a person who is easily overwhelmed by choice and find that the simplest solutions are often the most used. Sure, those robust systems are great for telling everyone what to do with every single aspect and thought, but that isn’t how creation and creativity work.
Trello breaks their entire process down to three basic components:
Yes, there are other features you can use or enable (more on that later), but you can also get by just by using these. We did for the first iteration of our calendar systems.
No idea how they do it, but the freemium version of Trello is pretty badass. You can legit run your entire editorial calendar on it, especially if you are a relatively small operation or especially as a freelancer.
We did for the first year or so we were on the service. It managed our internal calendars (there were three) and four original client calendars. We have more internal projects and clients now, so the upgrade became necessary to get all the fancy bells and whistles. Plus, as a business owner, eventually the entrepreneurial guilt of not paying for a service we use daily got to be too much.
But you can easily maintain your own calendar(s) for a long while on the Free system.
Also during this time, because I added so many users to Trello (it was still relatively new), I got a ton of Trello Gold to use on our account. It gives you a bunch of the features you get in the Pro version, and shares some gold with the folks you add. You can only get 12 months of Trello Gold for referring new members, so we tapped out pretty fast there. Occasionally there are deals to buy Trello Gold as well, on sites like AppSumo.
Now, onto the good stuff…
Over the next few thousand words, screenshots, and gifs I’m going to break down for you exactly how we use Trello to manage our editorial calendar here at CYC. I’ll also include some of the adjustments we have made for various clients to fit the calendar into their process and team strengths.
That’s another great thing about Trello I didn’t mention above — even the templates you’ll find on sites for setting up a particular type of project boards are easily adaptable to your own processes and flow. What works for some may not exactly work for others, so playing around with different lists and cards and checklists will help you determine what the best for your own needs. It’s fun! (No, really, it is.)
This post will dive deep into not only how to setup and use Trello as your editorial calendar, it will also explain why we decided to do something a certain way. This may help you determine if this particular feature will work for you or your organization or if you should do something else.
We also recommend creating a simpler guide for you to send anyone who is using your editorial calendar on Trello. You can use ours as a template, just update anywhere you see highlighting (and, of course, any processes or features you use differently). To make your own editable Google Doc file, you can go to File > Make a Copy.
The first step here is figuring out if you already have a Trello account or not.
Since the system has been around for a few years now (and recently made waves with a nine-figure acquisition by Atlassian – we’ll keep you updated if this changes things, but so far nothing has!), you may have joined a board in a laptop realm long ago and far away.
I can’t tell you the number of contributors and new clients we’ll work with who “have never used Trello” before, but when I go to add their email address, they already exist in the system as an Inactive User.
Go to: http://www.trello.com
You can either create a new Trello login, or sign up with your Google Account (FYI – this will authorize Trello to access part of your Google Account)
If you already have an account, the app will tell you this in big red boxes that are pretty hard to miss.
You can click the Log In or Forgotten Password link and magically be reconnected with your sleeping Trello account.
If you know you already have an account, or want to avoid this lengthy process in the future, you can log in direct.
Go to: http://www.trello.com
You can either use your Trello login or your Google Account (FYI – this will authorize Trello to access part of your Google Account)
You’re in! So, now what?
From here, you are going to want to get started setting up your organization (if you have one) or going forward with your own personal boards.
If you are looking for an extremely in-depth guide to the basics of Trello, I highly recommend you check out their Getting Started series. Where we can, we will not only be linking to how we have set up our Trello system, but also how Trello teaches new users to create their own.
When you sign up for Trello, it will automatically created a section for “Personal Boards” for you. This may work fine for you if you are a freelancer or solopreneur, as you can still invite people to collaborate on your boards (calendars and projects, if you don’t have too many), and there probably isn’t much need for expanding beyond that.
You’ll notice that Trello has created a Welcome Board for you, to serve as an example — thanks Trello!
To create your own boards, you simply need to click on the “Create new board…” link in the grey box.
I’ll go over the different type of boards you can create in the Detailed How-To section below, but for now you can create one for “Your Name/Your Organization Name Editorial Calendar”.
Note the yellow arrow and bubble: It looks like this is going to set the permissions to just you, but you can add collaborators by email. Private means that it is not visible in Public spaces, like search engines and by link.
If you anticipate having a number of different project boards, or have a number of people that will be accessing your boards and you don’t want to add them every time, you can click the “Create a new team…” link on the lower left.
A team is a group of boards and people. You simply need a Team Name and Description, then hit the Create button.
Immediately Trello will load the team settings for you to review. You have two options here:
If you are jumping ahead to get folks added to your new team, after you click on the Members tab, you’ll find this screen:
In the lower left you can click to either add members individually by Name or Email (I always add by email, it’s just easier) or you can Bulk Add Members if you know everyone who needs to be added in now.
You can also adjust a team member’s permissions on the right side, by clicking on the tiny drop-down carat the gold arrow is pointing to and selecting either Normal or Admin.
If you want a super in-depth how to on adding members to a team, you can find it in the Trello tutorial, Go Deeper. Again, if you are new to Trello, just set up your boards now, and we’ll be going over adding members again below.
Create as many boards and projects as you want, but don’t go overboard; remember, we’re going for simplicity here. You can see a more robust example of these boards and teams by looking at a screenshot from my agency Trello login.
I use Personal Boards and Team Boards for Craft Your Content. Client boards I have been added to as a collaborator (and my own personal boards I’ve created) are in the top section, my Personal Boards. Boards under the Craft Your Content are Team Boards we’ve created for ourselves and the agency (clients names are blurred for privacy), and GGR Trilogy is a writing project/business I’m looking at launching this year.
You are probably noticing the technicolor dream-boards I’ve got going here…all will be revealed momentarily!
Now that you have your Trello workspace setup, let’s get down to it. The exact boards, lists, cards, and systems we use to manage multiple editorial calendars in Trello.
Trello is a first and foremost a visual system. At one glance, you can see everything that is happening in your content world.
Here’s a quick look at the upcoming CYC Editorial Calendar board (as of the original publishing date).
You can also use the Calendar Power-Up (in the upper right hand corner) to see when everything is scheduled, in a chronologic view.
Excited yet? You should be. You’re about to organize your entire content schedule and assignments to take control of your editorial calendar and publishing.
The first thing I’m going to say here is that every editorial calendar should be set up with a flow that works best for you.
I’m going to go through the exact process we follow here at CYC for our site’s Editorial Calendar. But you might find that you want to manage some of your workflows separately. I’ll give some examples of ways that clients have altered their editorial calendars as we go along.
The beauty of using the Trello system for your editorial calendar is that it allows your writers, editors, formatters, and other team members to see where an article or assignment is, in the process, at a quick glance.
You may not always have only team members on your board. Or maybe you only set up a personal board, and don’t have an organization.
For example, we accept guest posts and submissions at CYC for our blog. This means we add writers from outside our agency on a regular basis to work with editors on their articles, getting it ready for publication to the CYC site.
To add a team member outside your organization, all you need to do is click Show Menu in the upper right hand corner and then Add Members:
Once you click, all you need to do is fill in the email address they’d like to receive notifications at (yes, you’ll have to ask them this; we use a form to get all the author information for our contributors, but a simple correspondence should suffice):
If they already have an account on Trello, it will find them for you:
If they are new, it will ask you to invite them by name:
Since we run our marketing and promotion schedules on another calendar, I’m not worried about “outsiders” seeing what we might be working on. It’s all going to be put out to the public eventually, at least that’s the plan. If someone needs to steal an article we are in progress working on, I’m really not threatened that they might publish before us, because they likely aren’t a threat.
Periodically we’ll remove new writers who are not actively working on something for us (many contributors write multiple articles.)
To remove, click on their image/icon under the Show Menu link in the upper right hand corner, and then click “Remove from Board…”
This will pop up a box with a big Remove Member button on it, cause they want to make sure you are serious about this. Click and they are gone! (But their cards and interactions remain).
Before we jump into the full execution of using Trello as your editorial calendar, I want to quickly review two of the three important components we went over before on the Trello system, because it’s been a bit:
Consider if you were actually watching an article move like a train, from Idea to Publishing. What stops should it make along the way for someone to work on it? Who are those people?
Each stop is a List.
To create a list, it’s super easy. Just click the “Add a list…” link:
Type the name for your list and hit the green Save button:
At CYC, we use the following Lists:
If possible, you want to set up the lists in the order you’ll be using them.
Since we do three rounds of editing on every piece that is published (unless we’re on a rush), articles often bounce around in the Editing/Proofreading/With Writer for Review lists. This is a total violation of all things scrum and annoys some people.
They want to see things always progressing forward, and want to see exactly what round of revisions a piece is in at any time. This is especially important if you are working on time sensitive or last minute pieces.
An easy solution is to simply note every single stop with its own List. So our editing process with ALL the lists would look like this:
Since we usually are working on all our pieces at least 7-10 (if not 14-21) days in advance, I prefer to let cards bounce around so our editorial calendar isn’t so wide that we can’t see most of the works-in-progress without scrolling.
But this is one of those examples where “whatever works for you” is going to be the solution you should use. Not gonna lie, this might involve a bit of trial and error. Every new client of ours starts with a template from our system and we adjust for the individual team members (both ours and the client) involved, the deadlines for the pieces, and the revision rounds needed.
If you need to move the lists around, it’s a simple as clicking on the list, holding your mouse, and moving it to where you want it to go (the kids these days call this Click and Drag or Drag and Drop:
Basically, you are going to want to map out what your creative and publishing processes are (if you haven’t yet) and set them up in Trello.
Each article or assignment you create in Trello is a New Card.
To add a new card, simply open your Trello calendar and click the “Add a card…” link at the bottom of any list:
Add a title or overall idea note (see below for how I use new cards to save all my post ideas as they come to me):
From here, there are a lot of ways to add more information, save resources and research, organize the card in the editorial process, assign and categorize the tasks, and more.
The description is a Markdown textbox at the top of each card. All you need to do is click on it, start typing, and hit the green Save button.
I often use this to clarify thoughts I’ve had on the post, direction or suggestions for where I’d like the article to go, links or resources I’ve found to reference in the post, quotes or excerpts to include, etc. So this:
I had a near heart-attack the first time I was writing a description and accidentally clicked out of the box without saving it. You’re safe though. Trello is saving your work all the time for you. Just click the new link that now appears below the box after the sentence “You have unsaved edits on this field. View Edits.”
Remember before when we put all the new folks on your editorial calendar, either by adding them to your team or adding them to your board?
Well now you are going to take those little floating square heads and assign them to the articles and projects they are responsible for.
Sometimes it may be only one team member or contributor that is tasked with the full responsibility for the post (it is easiest to do this, so one person is aware of everything that is happening, usually the writer or author.) If multiple people have to contribute substantially (for example, our Writing Rundown email that goes out every other weekend has two writers, Gina and Erika. So they both are added to the post).
To add someone to a card, all you have to do is click the Members button on the right, and then click whoever needs to be added (can select multiple people) like this:
So it becomes this:
You’ll note you can also add members by clicking the “+” button that now appears under Members on the card as well.
Labels are how you organize your new cards at a quick glance. They add a beautiful (well, beautiful to those obsessively-organized and/or lazy folks) color coding system so you can see what a card’s purpose is without having to click on it.
At CYC, we use our own editorial calendar labels to determine the category and team for a particular piece. You can load labels by clicking on the Labels buttons to the right of the card:
In our editorial calendar, we use the following Labels:
You may have different labels you need to use. One of our clients has a multi-location event blog, so their labels indicate which city-team the article is for. Another uses labels to organize the different publications he writes for.
Like the lists, you’ll want to trial and error this system until you find what is going to work best for you.
To edit a label, you simply have to click on the little pencil icon beside the label you want to change. You can update the name, change the color, or delete the label if it is no longer relevant:
Now you have a color-coded label for your card:
A checklist is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. A list of tasks to be virtually checked off.
We use them a couple different ways at CYC.
Gina will often make notes of when big milestones are due for certain articles:
and I use them to indicate process milestones on the podcast, as there are a lot of moving parts and people there, and it usually happens quickly:
As you can see, as you check each task, a status bar will fill in how close to completion you are.
For this reason, some people choose to add their editorial tasks as a checklist, rather than moving cards throughout the lists. While I definitely understand the appeal of this, I like seeing where articles are in production by using the organization of the lists. If you are a die-hard scrum user, having a calendar with the lists To Do, Doing, and Done with checklists for the editorial process might be a good solution for you.
To add a checklist to a card, you simply click the Checklist button to the right of the card, type a title for your checklist, then click the green Add button (hidden in this screenshot, but can’t miss on screen):
You can also Copy Items From… another checklist you’ve previously created. Since Gina always adds key dates to our cards, I can pull from a recently used checklist and it will be the same basic structure:
To update previously structured items, you just need to click and edit. To add a new item, type it into the open textbox field and click Add:
This is a prime example of where I must admit that not everything with Trello is about eating gumdrops at the end of a double rainbow in a field of unicorns. Our biggest downside for checklists is that they do not have date and reminder functionality. So you can’t assign a task to be due on a certain day to a certain person, and have it come up on someone’s notifications. I long for the day when Trello will update for this (again, you listening Atlassian?)
This is a big reason some organizations prefer to use full task management systems like Asana or Basecamp for their task management. There are, of course, pluses and minuses to any organization system. I prefer the plus of simplicity and color-coded-sticky-note process to the robust micromanaged detailing of other task management systems.
Now we’re getting into the calendar part of this editorial calendar!
At CYC, we use the Due Date to be the date that the article is going to publish to the site. As I said above, unfortunately you can’t set due dates for tasks, and I really caution against constantly changing the due date for task items. This system should be used to manage your editorial calendar as a whole.
To add a date, click the Due Date button to the right of the card, click on the date and time for publishing, and hit Save:
The date and time will be set to YOUR COMPUTER date and time. So if you post to your site at 8 AM NYC EST on Thursday, but are updating Trello from San Francisco, you’ll want to schedule it for March 23rd at 5 AM. That way, your teammate who does the formatting in Amsterdam will log in and see the schedule as THEIR COMPUTER’S date and time, and can plan accordingly.
This adds a due date and time to the top of the card:
And adds the card to the Calendar Power-up View:
This is good, because you can see not only what your calendar comprehensively looks like, but any accidental overlaps you might have scheduled (like this one!)
Be careful here, because it can be easy to get ahead of yourself. I do it all the time on the editorial calendar, and it only drives our Managing Editor extremely crazy.
Only add a Due Date if you are sure you can publish for that date or it is part of a marketing/content plan that must be executed.
I note this before getting into how to add a date because we see it happen again and again with our own work, and our clients. Due Dates are added before a first draft is even complete, and a number of snafus pop up:
If you (and/or your writing team) can absolutely get quality first drafts completed on time and execute on the editing without delay, then set a due date as soon as an article is moved to In Process. If there is any cause for concern, then wait until it is through the first round of editing.
You want everyone to have access to all the working documents and files for a new article, so here you can add attachments directly to the card so everything is in one place.
To add an attachment, you just click on the Attachment button to the right of the card and click attach:
You can add files from your Computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, OneDrive, or an External Link (to a source file like a PDF).
We do all our editing work in Google Docs, as is (again) a no-brainer for real-time, collaborative edits and feedback in the cloud. Additionally, we upload the raw file for any images that are used, so that they are the best quality possible when getting ready to publish.
I won’t go too far in depth on the additional Power-Up and Actions buttons below these.
If you have Power-ups and integrations enabled, you can access them via their own Power-up button to the right of the card.
For the Actions:
This is where the collaboration, conversation, and magic happen.
The best part? It is so easy that you only need to know how to update a comment or status box. After that it’s pretty much lather, rinse, repeat. Talk to other team members, ask questions, offer feedback (that isn’t included in the doc), offer more links and research, @ notify someone of a comment, and anything else.
To add a comment, just type what you need to update in the box (you can notify someone of the comment by clicking @ and their Trello username (will auto-fill):
I don’t want to tell you how to talk to people, that’s probably another post for another time.
Besides, this is the end of the how-to’s for setting up and managing your Trello Editorial Calendar. Pat yourself on the back, pour yourself a stiff drink (or strong tea), and get excited to start setting yours up today!
I promise, we’re almost at the end. You’ve made it through about 5000 words at this point and hopefully you have a fully functioning editorial calendar set up on Trello.
There are a few other things I wanted to let you know about how we use our editorial calendars that aren’t necessarily “setting up process” tips but will be super helpful for you to use your calendar going forward; and be honest about some of the drawbacks we’ve found working on Trello so you know what you are getting into.
Saving Ideas on the Spot to New Cards
You know those great ideas you get for posts when you’re sitting at the cafe or reading a book that you always forget?
I take a quick 1-minute detour to jump on Trello (since it can be used on multiple platforms, I have it loaded on my laptop and my cell phone) and write out some brief thoughts on potential articles.
This includes things like links, things I’ve read, quotes, conversations and situations that warrant further thought and writing — whether I end up deciding to publish it or not.
To save just click “Add Card” in the lower left (this one looks different as I pulled a screenshot from my smartphone app so you could see what that looks like):
Once the new card is created, your options for updating are all the same as above. Members, Labels, Checklist, Attachments, Comments, etc.
This is where that “Unclaimed” label in the “Post Ideas/Submissions” list can come in handy. If you have multiple contributors or team members creating content, you can feed in a whole slew of available post ideas for them to choose from!
At CYC, our articles are primarily written by the editorial team themselves, so we are constantly reminded what it is like to be on both sides of the process. Plus our readers (and clients) get a glimpse into the writing and narrative styles of the folks they’re working on their own writing with.
While team members are encouraged to pitch their own ideas and outlines to our Managing Editor, I also add regular new content ideas I’d like to see on the site, so if one of those suggestions appeals to someone they can pick it up and run with it instead of coming up with something on their own. Whatever works!
Remember: every post idea that you come up with doesn’t have to see the light of day.
I save between 5-7 ideas a week, probably 1-2 actually become published articles. Time will pass and the post will become irrelevant, I’ll start writing and realize I don’t like the idea as much as I did when I originally saved it, or when I review I’ll decide this isn’t actually something I want to say (like the post idea from my conversation with Erika above.)
But it keeps a continuous stream of new ideas going, and gives me something to write about when I don’t know what else to write.
Markdown in Trello
Trello uses a simple language called Markdown to add formatting to text.
Yes, folks, you can add formatting to most of the text on cards in Trello. Meaning every time you want to make something stand out in a sea of text, or clarify an aside or emphasis, you can easily do that!
It’s called a simple language because a few additional characters are all you need to implement the change. A few of my favorite Markdown shortcuts are:
There are more features, like adding headers and inserting images, but since I use Trello for its simplicity, I don’t use those as much. You can see the other ways to incorporate Markdown in Trello here.
This doesn’t apply to the standard formatting style for some of the other text in Trello like list and board names, links, etc. Fun fact alert, you can use Markdown across a number of apps and programs like WhatsApp, Slack, and more. Quick to learn and makes you look like a programming pro!
I can’t decide that for you. I can tell you that I’ve spent three years perfecting this system, and it is probably one of the top 3 pieces of happy feedback from our clients (how much they love the system, process, and structure).
That’s a solid case for giving it a go yourself.
We use the program at CYC (internally and with our clients) because it has:
Hopefully after reading through this, you have all the information to set up your own editorial calendar in Trello and get started putting brilliant writing out to the world (or get more consistent in the brilliant writing you are already sharing.
Want help with setting this up and running it, while throwing in a tested and professional editorial team of word wizards to make your words even better? That’s pretty much what we do all day here. We want to work with clients who want more.
Got questions or want some clarifications? Anything to add about how you use Trello for your editorial calendar and process (or any other program — love integrating ideas from other systems!) Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to have some good editorial calendar system and processes discussion with folks.
Elisa Doucette is a freelance writer and editor who currently travels the world looking for great stories to live, interesting tales to share, and new ways to make words sexy. She has worked for over a decade creating compelling content and writing for various businesses and publications, including her popular column on Forbes called Shattering Glass. She is the Founder and Executive Editor here at Craft Your Content.