How I use Trello, Zapier and RescueTime to keep track of what I’ve been doing


This post covers how (and why) to use Zapier and RescueTime to create a persistent record of your completed Trello cards. If you’d like to jump directly to the setup instructions, skip to the end.
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Trello is the first task manager that’s really clicked with me. It’s a great, simple system for tracking things that need to get done across various stages of progress (by default “To Do”, “Doing”, “Done”). There are other apps that do similar things, but Trello just nails the experience. I love it. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should check it out.

Trello is great, until the very end when it isn’t.

The experience of going back and looking over what I’ve done is the one part of Trello that isn’t so great. Things get really cluttered unless I archive cards when I’m done with them, and then they just kinda disappear. While I can go back and review a list of the archived cards, it’s buried and basically just looking at a big unsorted pile. That’s OK. If I had to choose, I’d much rather have Trello focus on the process of getting me to the finish line than looking back.

But I still want to be able to look back.

Why is it a good idea to reflect on those completed cards?

One of the problems I’ve always had with to-do lists is the unsatisfying feeling they leave me with when I’m really busy. That’s when they should be the most gratifying, right? That act of marking things as “done” feels good for a minute, but then that feeling gets shoved aside as I look back at the ever-growing backlog behind it.  Going back and reviewing accomplishments helps maintain a sense of progress, even if my to-do list never gets any shorter.

It also gives me an opportunity to ask myself if I’m devoting time to the correct things, or if there are other things I’d rather be getting done instead. It really helps draw the line between being productive and just being busy.

What can we do about it?

RescueTime has highlight event logging, and some of the highlight events I was manually entering were similar to the Trello cards I was completing. If I could just automatically log a note whenever I put a card in the “done” column, I’d save myself some manual effort. Luckily, Zapier makes this really easy. I was able to connect my Trello account with RescueTime, and log a highlight event whenever I completed a task in Trello. I had to fiddle with the filters a little bit to target just the “done” column, but once I figured that out it was fully automatic.


Now I’m tracking events on different boards for my work and personal to-dos. Reviewing my highlights helps me see what I’m getting done and how balanced I’m being. Am I spending too much effort on work at the expense of personal tasks I need to get done? Or is it the other way around? That used to be a really hard question for me to answer and now it’s so much more visible. It also keeps me more organized because I know that if I use Trello, I’ll save myself some typing later when manually updating my highlights list. The two systems compliment each other really well.


How to automatically log a RescueTime Highlight event when you complete a task in Trello

The quick and easy version (recommended):
Zapier can walk you through the whole setup process. This requires a Zapier account, obviously, but they’re awesome.


The step-by-step version:
You should use the guided zap version above. The detailed steps are listed here in case you have problems with the guided version, or just want to understand exactly what’s happening.

  1. Make sure you have a Trello board that you are using to manage your daily tasks
  2. Make sure you have RescueTime Premium (which you will need to log highlights)
  3. Make sure you have a account
  4. Log into and click “Make a Zap!”
  5. Choose Trello as the target app and “New Activity” as the trigger
  6. Choose RescueTime as the Action app and “Create a Highlight Log Entry” as the action
  7. Click continue and verify your accounts
  8. Under “filters”, choose the board you are using for your tasks
  9. Make sure the “List” filter is set to your “Done” column
  10. Set two custom filters, the first is “Data List Before Name” (Text) Does Not Contain “Done”
  11. Second custom filter: “Data List After Name” (Text) Exactly Matches “Done”
  12. Set the Highlight event params. Date should match up with the Trello “Date” field, “Description” should be “Data Card Name”, and “Highlight Type Label” should be set to something descriptive of the tasks on that Trello board. “To do”, “Personal Task”, “Work item” for example.
  13. Test the zap, you should immediately see your highlight event logged on your Highlights page in RescueTime.
  14. Name the zap and save it.

That’s it! I’ve found this to be a big help. Give it a shot a let me know what you think in the comments!

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  1. Or, you could just keep a list, label tasks A, B and C, and check them off as they are completed. Count the A at the end for a feeling that you have moved forward on the most important goals.

  2. I can’t get this to work! Instructions 10 & 11 just don’t match what I’m being offered by the menu – there isn’t ““Data List Before Name”” only “Data List Name”. Any suggestions?

    1. The “data list before” and “data list after name” fields are way down the list, so you might have to scroll to see them. They’ve always been there for me. I’m not sure what circumstances could cause them not to show up. Sorry!

      Does the guided version of the zap (linked above the list) give you any errors?

  3. great idea for milestone-ing things you complete – and Zapier is an excellent tool for gluing together different bits of your digital life. For example, I now save everything I want to read to evernote, but zapier it to a Trello Board for sorting and prioritizing.

  4. I’ve been busy with a major project or two, and only just discovered RescueTime’s recent awesome upgrades, like the improved Highlights, and Zapier integration. Did I say awesome? Yes, I did, but it’s worth repeating.

    My question for the RescueTime team: What Zapier plan do you use?

    I’m on the old free plan which only triggers every 5 hours, so I’m looking at upgrading. But it’s fine for end-of-the-day highlight summaries, with the exception of less well-designed apps which don’t handle dates very well (*cough* Todoist *cough*).

    1. We each have our own individual plan. Most of us are on the free plan (which according to their plans page triggers every 15 minutes, not every 5 hours). I’m on the Basic plan because it’s helpful for testing out different zaps, but that updates on the same interval as the free plan. I haven’t noticed any real issues with it. If you’re not seeing updates but every 5 hours, that sounds like something I’d check with Zapier support about because that doesn’t sound right.

  5. Brilliant, just found rescue time so i’m going to look into it more. Iuse trelloa lot, but like you say, its a bit unorganized but it really helps at the end to see what you’ve done. great post.

  6. I haven’t tried Trello yet but I totally agree with you about looking back. Getting things done is important, obviously, but being able to see how many things you’ve ticked off on your to-do list already would be great for motivation.

    Great post, Robby!

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