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How We Use Asana

Written by James Jackson while listening to a Jazztronica playlist at some point on February 1st.

Asana’s hierarchical structure mirrors how we think about our agency and its’ work, so it makes a lot of sense for our team and others like it. From the Organization umbrella, to Teams and on down to Projects and Tasks, I’ll outline how we use each one and a couple other of Asana’s features we use and how they integrate into our workflow.

org chartAsana’s hierarchical structure mirrors how we think about our agency and its’ work, so it makes a lot of sense for our team and others like it. From the Organization umbrella, to Teams and on down to Projects and Tasks, I’ll outline how we use each one and a couple other of Asana’s features we use and how they integrate into our workflow.  

Organization

Organization is all-encompassing, everything else falls under it. You can have multiple Organizations within the same account, like if you wanted one for work and one for personal use, for example. We each belong to an Organization we’ve named “activatorstudios”, that holds our Teams, Projects and Tasks.  

Teams

asana-teamsThe way our company is structured, at times we all have our hands in everything so we thought the best way to make use of the Teams was to separate them in two 1) Internal Projects and 2) Client Projects. We’re all members of both. All the work we have to get done can then fall under those two categories. The nature of our company, our clients and the work we do for them, means we all need to be a part of every major project. What this also does is provide a high level transparency you don’t often find at agencies like ours.   Conversations/Calendar Inside each Team, there are a couple things going on. The first being Conversations. While probably useful, it’s taken a backseat to Slack. The threaded conversations are nice (a feature that Slack recently added), but without a way to edit posts (only delete), Slack serves this purpose better. The other thing happening in here is the Calendar. It gives a nice overview of the tasks that are being done so if you have to line up a particular project task with a project timeline, this is where you’re going to end up.

asana-calendar
Asana’s calendar view of a particular team

Projects

Also under the Team umbrella, there’s the ubiquitous Project. Our Projects range from an internal Social Media board, to prospective client projects and everything in between. Basically it helps keep all the projects organized we need to keep up with our clients’ growing business demands. The view for all of our Projects defaults to a list of Incomplete Tasks, recently switched over from a view that shows each of our tasks segmented by team member. I’ll get into why we did this and why it’s so important, a little later.  

Tasks

asana-top Tasks is where most of us work, most often. Speaking for most everyone, this is where we spend the most time. Moving from Projects to Tasks allows you to move out of the sidebar and into one of Asana’s major selling points and a large reason we switched from Trello. In the top navigation, lives My Tasks. Or your Tasks. Or whatever. All you need to know is that it’s the place where all your stuff is. It’s a hub for everything you’re responsible for. asana-task-viewThis view, like our other Projects, defaults to Incomplete Tasks, but it didn’t used to. But before I go into how we used to use it, here’s why the default view is so important: it’s the first screen you see when you click on a Project, or a team member, or anything else. So in the name of productivity, you want that view to be the least cumbersome as possible. You don’t want to waste time wading through junk to find what you need. That said, here’s the (much less efficient) way we used to do it: we’d sort tasks per project which is great and super organized in theory, but we found that it didn’t give us a sense of when tasks were due. In other words, form > function. We often need to bounce from one project to the next to make sure all our clients are being taken care of, so being able to see a list segmented not by project or client, but by due date was critical. But sometimes, due dates aren’t set in stone. So for a while we were lacking something for us to sort tasks in a more flexible way. That is, until we discovered the ability to “mark” tasks instead of setting a due date. We’ve gotten into the habit of marking them as Today, Upcoming, or Later. They’re specific enough to help each of us get an overview of what everyone else is working on for the day or the week, but loose enough that we’re not chained to a due date. Tasks marked Today are surprise surprise, what we plan to work on or finish today. The most pressing tasks on your plate. Upcoming, are for tasks that need to be done in the very near future, like within a week for example. These are of medium urgency. Later, are tasks that don’t need to be addressed for another week or so, or something that requires more information from the client. These aren’t urgent tasks, but tasks that should be sitting in the back of your mind to get done when the other, more urgent tasks are done.

asana-incomplete
The “Incomplete Tasks” view in Asana
So what we do now is make sure every one of our tasks are marked as Today, Upcoming, or Later then in the Incomplete Task view, we can work based on what’s due next. Tasks not marked will show up under New Tasks. And the best part, Asana will update the Incomplete View automatically as tasks are marked. Asana will only let you change the default Project view at the Team level (meaning, it can only default to a view for everyone at once), which at first was frustrating, because we all have our ways we like to work throughout the day. But, over time, we found it forces us all to stay on the same page and another inadvertent benefit, has helped us steer our daily stand-ups.   Tags You’ll find Tags in pretty much any project management tool out there, and the function is basically the same across the board, too. It’s a useful feature especially in Asana to group similar tasks together. Right now, we’re using Tags for the sole purpose determine which Tasks are “Roadblocked”, either by the client or another team member, by using a tag that’s literally, “roadblock”. That way, at a glance, we can see which tasks need to be prioritized over others. We started out using Tags as a way to group Tasks based on service area (Content, Design, Engineering, or Marketing). And while useful in certain situations it turns out, being able to see all the tasks belonging to a particular service area isn’t really helpful for us. So the jury is still out on this particular feature and how it’s going to help us going forward. Asana’s web app packs a ton of function and does so quite nicely. And as our clients’ needs change and we add more people to our team it’s the project management app we found best equipped to handle that growth. Our workflow is still being optimized, but we’ve definitely hit a stride in our individual and collective workflow with Asana.