A To Z of using Asana for project management

Kyle’s note: We have been talking a lot about Trello recently. We wanted to provide similar perspective on another project management tool, Asana. In this post Dan Virgillito shares his experience with the tool.

“Asana is a task-based project management system, well suited for individuals and teams of every size” goo.gl/ofCfHw @WPCurve – CLICK TO TWEET

Asana is a task-based project management system, well suited for individuals and teams of every size. For one-man organizations, Asana provides an easy way to plan work and stay on top of pending deadlines. For teams, Asana offers a way to encourage collaboration and ease communication about projects.

In this post I go into every detail about using Asana for project management.

Related: The best of WP Curve – productivity

The problem with email

Email is a great way to communicate with clients and people on your team. Unfortunately, it can quickly become cluttered, especially when the people you email are involved in multiple projects. Most email providers and suites allow you to easily sort by the sender of the email, but that doesn’t make it easy to determine which email pertains to which project.

With Asana, messages are tied to projects and to specific tasks within that project. If you get an email in your own inbox, you can forward that email to Asana so that the email stays with the project it’s related to.

Projects

Asana uses projects to divide the work into manageable units. These projects can be almost anything, and Asana provides a few ideas and templates to help you get started with your projects.

Asana projects

The project itself can be managed independently of any tasks. A project manager or owner can be assigned, a due date for the entire project can be set, and details about the project can be entered directly on the project screen.

Individual team members can post a status update on the project’s main page, and the status of the project is tracked by determining how many tasks have been assigned and how many have been completed.

Tasks

If you’re brainstorming ideas and you don’t want to slow down, you can easily add new tasks to your project by simply typing and pressing ‘enter’ at the end of your line. To create a new category, use the colon after your category name and a new category will automatically appear.

Once you have a good list of tasks, you can use the task detail window to fill in the important details. Click on the arrow at the right of the task title and the task detail window will appear.

task detail window in Asana

Task details

Each individual task gives you the option to assign it to yourself or a team member by clicking on the button at the top left-hand side of the window – this will either have your name or it will say “Unassigned”, and you can assign it to a team member or leave it assigned to yourself. You can also leave it unassigned and allow your team members to decide who wants to do it; they can assign themselves or another team member to the task. The calendar button can be used to set a due date for the entire task.

Subtasks

The list button next to the calendar can be used to add subtasks. Subtasks can be individually assigned, commented on, and have their own individual due dates. For example, if my task is to write five posts for my blog, my task might be titled, “Write five posts for the blog.” My subtasks might have the name of each individual blog post I plan to write. For every task and subtask, I can add details like research materials I’ve found, outlines, or specific instructions.

Tags

Tags can be attached to projects, tasks, or subtasks, and this is an often-neglected but very useful feature. For example, I might have three projects for the same company. Each individual project can be tagged with the company name, which makes it easy for me to search for all tasks related to a specific company.

Attachments

The “paperclip” button can be used to attach files to the project, and this is where Asana really shines. Because Asana has a lot of flexibility to create and alter assignments, all necessary files go with the project or task. With email, if I assign a team member to do something with an attachment, I email that attachment to him. If for some reason he’s unable to complete the project and I have to reassign it to someone else, I also have to re-send all the attachments and files related to that project. With Asana, I can easily change the assignment and the new team member immediately has access to the files that he needs to finish the project.

Asana provides a lot of different options for adding attachments. Files can be uploaded directly from a computer, and they can also be attached through cloud drives including Dropbox, Box, and Google Drive.

Emails pertaining to the project can be forwarded directly to Asana, and team members using their mobile devices (iOS or Android) can use the Asana app to connect attachments even when they’re away from the desk.

Hearts

The hearts feature is useful for projects that haven’t yet been fully fleshed out. Team members can “heart” a project or task, which means that they’re showing approval for it. For example, I may come up with a dozen ideas for a new post and place them as tasks into a project called “Post Ideas.” My team members can look at these titles and heart the ideas they like the best, giving me valuable feedback in determining which ideas to work on next.

Time tracking

Most teams won’t use the time tracking feature, but it’s useful if your team is billing by the hour, or just if you want to keep track of how your team members are spending their time. The stopwatch button connects this project to “Harvest“, allowing your team members to track the time spent on each individual project. By connecting to Harvest, it allows you to accurately track time for billing and to monitor time usage directly on Asana.

Permissions

Each task can be assigned different permissions. When the padlock icon is open, the task is visible to every member of the team. When the padlock is closed, the task is visible only to the creator, any responsible parties, and any team members listed as followers.

Description

The description allows you to share information about task specifications, information needed to complete the task, and clarification about what the task itself entails.

Comments

The comments box can be used for status updates from team members working on the task or for questions they have about the task. In this way, the comments function replaces the back-and-forth emails that might otherwise be sent. Any team member who’s got permission to view the task can comment on the task.

Followers

Finally, the followers tab at the bottom allow you to assign followers to the task. The followers might just be other team members who need to have input, or they might be supervisors who need to be able to supervise work on the task.

Using Asana as an individual

When you first open Asana, you’ll either see your dashboard or your My Tasks window, depending on which option you have in your settings. The My Tasks window will show your tasks either in list view or calendar view, showing you at a glance which projects are due on which dates. To sort your tasks in list view based on due date, you can use the arrow next to the View button to change the task sort order. You can also use the “Calendar” button to display the calendar.

Tasks can be checked off the list, and by clicking on the arrow at the right of the task title, you can bring up the task detail window. This is where you can change the details of the task or work on checking off subtasks. New tasks can be added directly to your My Tasks window, or you can add them to individual projects.

Projects

To add a new project, click on the plus sign to the right of the Projects heading. Your existing projects will be listed by title beneath the Projects heading. Clicking on the arrow to the right of the project name (it appears when you hover over the name) will bring up the project arrow menu. You can copy or delete the project, assign it to your favorites, or set a highlight color for it.

Checking on your team

To check on your team, click on Team Calendar in the left sidebar of the page. This will bring up the calendar which shows everything your team members are working on by due date. You can simply drag and click assignments to a different date to change the deadline, or you can click on the task to bring up the task detail window.

My inbox

Clicking on My Inbox on the left sidebar of the page will bring up your inbox. This gives you a list of every change that’s been made on projects or tasks you’ve created, are assigned to, or are following. This allows you to see at a glance if any of your team members have made changes or adjustments to your tasks or projects.

Ways to use Asana

Asana is incredibly versatile, and it makes a great tool for time management, project communication, and personal organization.

Personal organization

One of my colleagues is a freelance copywriter. He uses Asana to manage clients and stay current on deadlines and outstanding projects.

Upon getting a request for a proposal, he adds three tasks to his “Proposals & Contracts” project that are tagged with the client’s name and include the details or email attachments he was sent. The first is “Write proposal,” then, “Send proposal.” He also writes a task that says, “Follow up on proposal,” and is due a few days after he sends it. When a client accepts the proposal, he uses the same process to send the contract and follow up on it.

Once a job is accepted, he creates a new project for it, using his tasks as milestones. The tasks listed in the My Tasks pane help him to make sure he doesn’t miss a milestone or a deadline, and he color-codes his projects to help him easily see the different clients he’s working for.

Because he doesn’t work with a team, he seldom uses the team functions built in to Asana. But Asana can be used effectively for an individual who works on a project basis. Students – especially college students – can use Asana to keep track of class assignments, projects, tests, and materials by making each class a “Project” and each assignment an individual task. They can use tasks that aren’t affiliated with a project to remind them of a date, a party, a networking event, or just to call Mom.

Team collaboration

Personally, I use Asana for team collaboration, and I find it especially useful for geographically separated teams. Any change in instructions can either be made directly to the project or task, and comments allow me to communicate changes to my team members located anywhere in the world. Skype is nice for real-time communication, but if you’re working with team members located in different countries or time zones, it can be difficult to set up a time for a Skype conference. Asana allows me to share information with my team without demanding that they work according to my own time zone.

Asana is also a great tool for creative work that requires input and collaboration from an entire team. The hearts feature allows me to toss out ideas and get quick feedback, and the comments allow for more detailed communication. Asana allows all of the minds on my team to come together as a mastermind, resulting in some great ideas and amazing projects.

But Asana is also a great way to supervise my team members, which is more important when you’re working remotely than when all your team members share an office. I can tell at a glance who’s supposed to be doing what and whether they’re doing the work or not, without having to review keyloggers or spend all my time staring over someone’s shoulder. Asana gives me enough data to keep me informed without requiring that I waste time micromanaging.

Creative teams

Ron Dawson of Dare Dreamer Media uses Asana for creative tasks. He works with multiple workspaces to define specific businesses or business functions, including one workspace for Dare Dreamer Media (his video and new media production company), one workspace for Teen Identity (his photography and magazine company), one workspace specifically for customer relationship management (CRM), and one specifically for his own personal projects. By dividing his work into different workspaces, it makes it easy for him to place projects into specific workgroups.

Dawson says that one of his favorite features in Asana is the ability to duplicate the task list from a previous project, allowing him to ensure that every project progresses smoothly with the same tasks being accomplished. For someone working with film production, it makes it easy to duplicate the workflow necessary for every project.

Another way that creative firms like Dare Dreamer Media can use Asana is with collaboration. By adding a comment with a person’s name (like “@Sally”), that person is automatically added to the project as a follower. Every follower (as well as the person assigned to the project) can comment on the project, adding their ideas and input. Responsible team members can comment if there’s anything they have questions about, and followers can answer their questions within the task itself; this allows the questions, answers, and ideas to be stored within the task itself so that followers or future responsible parties can easily follow the information.

Bug tracking

Asana’s own team uses Asana for tracking bugs in their software, and there several other companies that use it for this purpose as well. Bugs can be entered in as tasks, sorted based on priority, and assigned to a coder or programmer to be fixed. Several other companies have praised Asana for bug tracking, but not everybody is thrilled with it.

When the person entering the bug to Asana is relatively tech-savvy, Asana is more well-liked. If users or non-technical co-workers enter a bug, they frequently mistake a user error for a bug. They may not know how to prioritize bug reports. This often results in additional or unnecessary work for the developers. Additionally, if users are entering bugs directly into Asana, it’s very common to get duplicate entries, making it hard to see when a bug has been finally fixed. Finally, Asana doesn’t always make it easy to report on bug tracking, at least not in the format that’s often requested from the development team. This, however, may be more of an issue with organizational structure and expectations than Asana.

The good news is that, as Asana is using their own platform for bug tracking, they are making continual improvements and listening to feedback from their users. Additionally, a number of third-party companies have developed add-ons and API scripts to help increase the functionality of Asana for bug tracking, or to help integrate a bug-specific program with Asana’s tasks. For example, Usersnap has an app that allows users to take a quick screenshot of the bug and add that to an Asana task. BugHerd has a script to integrate bug reports to your Asana tasks.

Asana’s popularity means that in a log of organizations, Asana is used by tech people and non-tech people alike, so where it’s not a perfect tool, it’s improving rapidly as a result of feedback and tech people trying to integrate their existing tools with the Asana task management tools.

Related posts: How we effectively use Trello for project management

Conclusion

If you’re the type of person who makes a to-do list, or a company handling a multitude of projects, Asana is a perfect digital equivalent that helps keep you on track. If you need to communicate with team members and be able to share data, files, and attachments easily, Asana can take the place of email to make that communication more efficient. It’s a robust project management tool, but it’s flexible and easy to use for almost any size of project or team.

Asana is free for up to 15 team members, with paid accounts beginning at $50 per month and above based on the number of people.

JOIN 20,000 AND GET OUR BEST CONTENT

Each week we send 1 email to 20,000 smart entrepreneurs just like you. Enter your email below to join the crew.

We will not share your email. 100% privacy

About

Dan Virgillito is a storytelling specialist, blogger and writer who helps digital startups get more engagement and business through online content.

WordPress problems?

Our WordPress experts have you covered.

Hyper-responsive 24/7/365 WordPress support, maintenance and small fixes.