COVID-19 has redefined our lives in many ways—both personally and professionally. And, with so many of us working from home now, on some days, our work and personal worlds feel as if they’re on a collision course. Days like this remind us that staying organized and working efficiently are key to success.
At the beginning of the year, I collaborated with a team of colleagues in pods or around conference tables in our large office. The team also had a virtual aspect and included others in offices across the country, along with a myriad of vendors and a large client base. These virtual and in-person brainstorming sessions were an important part of project ideation. As projects progressed down the proverbial highway to execution, we reported to each other in various meetings on project timelines and status updates. It was a race against time in many cases, and not a race that conserved energy when I needed it the most.
Fast forward to the fall of 2020 and our workplaces have shifted almost entirely to remote work. As the pandemic continues, companies are faced with a new reality—remote work is here to stay. With the proper efficiencies and technology, an entirely remote working environment can be just as successfully managed as one in a physical office, possibly even more so.
Whether you’re part of a large team (or multiple teams) working on a complex project; are a small business owner re-inventing the way you manage your associates and business; or a working family trying to juggle schedules, technology can be your friend and your savior. Here’s how.
What Exactly is Asana?
I was introduced to Asana several years ago by a technology client team who utilized it to manage tasks and deadlines. Smaller teams at the client's company used it to collaborate on projects together, and lead managers used it to “listen in" and get a birds-eye-view of activity and progression on projects across all teams. It didn’t take long at all for me to learn to use it, or to realize how terrific it could be for project management at work, and even for managing projects in my personal life.
In essence, Asana is a productivity management system that allows individuals and teams to collaborate on a myriad of tasks. Asana enables teams to coordinate their work processes ranging from simple tasks to robust projects. Regardless of where everyone is located, teams from around the world can come together to work. What I especially love and appreciate about Asana is the ability it gives me to see what other teams are doing—even if I’m not working on their tasks—and understand how all of the pieces and parts of a large project fit together.
Everyone and every team works a bit differently. And that’s only natural because we all think differently too. Asana understands this and has built in multiple features that allow you to work in exactly the way you want to. You can draw up lists, create calendars, use charts or boards or even portfolios. Even if you’re part of a large team, you can still create your own “private” space to manage your individual tasks.
Benefits and Features of Asana
Asana's features will help you keep your projects organized and in one place. I’m someone who’s very detail-oriented. I l-o-v-e using lists, due dates, boxes, and checkmarks to manage my work. With Asana I even have the ability to create sub-tasks (more checkmarks, boxes and lists). It used to drive me crazy having to manage emails in one place; use multiple cloud systems to upload, download, and edit documents; and then in another couple of places keep different chat systems open. Asana brings this all together in one tool. All hail to the technology gods!
Asana’s features are vast for task and project management. Here are a few of the “pros” (or features) that make Asana so productive for teams—and individuals, though hold that thought until later:
- Projects: Create multiple projects, share them with your team(s) and organize them with lists, meetings and other tools to manage projects from start to finish.
- Tasks: Managers can assign tasks to team players, and they in turn can create additional subtasks for greater work efficiency and transparency.
- Portfolios: Allows you to monitor the key initiatives and workload of your team.
- Calendar: Ability to see your team’s calendar of meetings and tasks.
- Conversations: Instead of missing emails, enabling conversations in Asana will allow you to create succinct messages and track comments back and forth from team members. Communicate within your team or across other teams by sharing critical information, documents and soliciting feedback.
- Deadlines: Set deadlines with start and end dates, and even specific times so you never miss essential targets.
- Attachments: Upload files from your computer, Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive or Box to any task or conversation.
- Training: A robust “help” section on Asana’s website includes various tutorials and video sessions to bring everyone from the novice to the experienced up-to-speed with new and increased capabilities.
Who Uses Asana?
Asana’s practical and efficient project management system and tracking tools benefit a variety of businesses. Examples include:
- Large corporations: Management of large-scale projects across multiple teams and diverse markets, enabling them to launch campaigns and track productivity, while organizing emails and internal conversations in one place. Efficient collaboration makes Asana a win/win for the larger companies especially.
- Small businesses: Optimization of day-to-day operations, allowing for the fostering of customer relationships, collaboration with team members and vendors and planning strategy for future growth.
- Bloggers: Treat your blog like a business with effective content management, email marketing, post promotions, sponsorships and much more.
- Personal/executive assistants: Keep track of executives and the leadership team by installing the Asana app on their phones. Suddenly, everyone can manage their tasks in one place, including confidential information that may require collaboration.
- Individuals and families: Do you and your partner ever get confused over the kids’ sports schedules, and where you need to be when? Asana will help track everyone’s schedule, work/school assignments, doctor appointments, chores, homework, grocery needs, and the list goes on.
My Top Five Asana Tips and Tricks
Everyone will use Asana differently since everyone has different goals and objectives. The beauty of Asana is that you make it anything you need it to be. It’s like a genie in an app (bottle)!
My favorite tips for Asana are:
- Instead of a standard to-do list, sometimes you need to see the workflow in a more visual format. For me as a blogger, this is super helpful. One of the "boards" I’ve created is “Blog Posts.” The board enables me to create process steps in columns: Blog Name and Content. Then Photo Creation/Implementation. Then the SEO process takes over. A due date is established. And following the posting, social media tasks are assigned and tracked, along with potential email marketing tasks. The board capabilities are endless. Effective creation and information enables you to see the process down the pipeline from ideation through to social media and analytics tracking.
- Color-coding is one of those tools many detail-oriented people prefer to use to keep track of a task's status. With Asana you can use different colors to specify if a task is complete, incomplete, on-track, etc.
- Asana comes complete with a custom template feature. This allows you to take a template and make it your own. This is great for managers. Even if a team member wanted to change the template to another format, they aren't able to do so. No more worry on the part of the lead manager.
- The different task view feature allows you to reorganize your tasks in separate ways in each project. For example, in Project A, you may want to highlight the due date so you can track the days to project completion. In Project B, however, it may make more sense to arrange the tasks by the members of your team so you can track Mary’s progress against Steve’s headway.
- Tagging gets more efficient when you mention a team member by typing “@” before their name. Asana will recognize the person because of their assignments in the project, and as soon as you make that tag, they’ll be notified within Asana. This makes it so much easier than the email back-and-forth of assignments.
Drawbacks of Asana
As in life, nothing is perfect. As fabulous as Asana is, there are a couple of things that it could do better. The following few “cons” could apply to you, yet they may not be deal breakers for others.
- Exporting projects. Sometimes, I’m just tactile and I want to print things out or export the project details to share with someone outside of the organization (i.e., boss/supervisor, etc.) You can only do this by exporting the details into a CSV format, which—as we all know—isn’t a great format for everything.
- Assigning a task to multiple people isn’t possible in Asana. Often I want to assign myself and a couple of team members to a task. We all have a hand in making sure the pieces and parts of the task are completed. Asana only allows one person per task.
- Time tracking is a tool to allow one to see how long it took a team member to complete a task. Asana doesn’t currently have a time tracking system. However, Asana does have an app integration that will pair within its system. HourStack is my recommendation for the ideal time-tracking integration.
Time-Tracking, Asana, and HourStack
If you have access to a tool as robust as Asana, why might you need time-tracking software? Let’s just say that it takes you roughly one hour to accomplish an assigned task in Asana. However, when the same task is assigned to another co-worker it takes two hours to complete. Time tracking allows the project lead to measure and document hours worked on specific tasks. For companies of all sizes, time tracking is an incredible tool to assist a project lead or small business owner with the documentation it requires to improve productivity and efficiency.
HourStack is my preferred time-tracking tool to integrate with Asana. When integrated with Asana, HourStack enables project leads and teams to track the time spent on tasks without having to duplicate the tasks themselves. HourStack will import the Asana project information directly into a visual worksheet that then allows one to put all of the tasks into a weekly (or monthly) schedule.
For small business owners who often have especially small profit margins, HourStack will—after a short period of time—help identify areas where there may be efficiency issues. For example, Mr. Business Owner may think it takes a person eight hours to do five tasks. However, when evaluating through HourStack , it may become more apparent that those five tasks can be done in six hours instead. And in the reverse, HourStack's data may help Mr. Business Owner determine that the tasks that he’s assigned for an eight-hour shift really need to be given 12 to 14 hours instead. And this could help him understand why that position has turned over in employment several times within the year.
Recommended Reading: Getting Started Guide: Integrate HourStack and Asana
For me, as a blogger and a detail-oriented individual, HourStack has proven to me the length of time that exists from creation of a blog post to the actual posting itself. I would have guessed it to be X hours, and instead it was Y hours, which helped me realize how long it really does take. Now I can schedule my day accurately and efficiently without over-committing. I don’t know about you, but when I have too much on my plate—especially too many complex tasks—my day just spins out of control. When that happens, nothing is accomplished and I have a wasted day.
One thing I absolutely love about HourStack is that it will notify me when I go over my allotted time for a task. On any given day, I might block out five hours for blogging tasks, and then two hours for social media engagement and one hour for lunch/buffer in the day. If I exceed the five hours for blogging, HourStack will notify me so that I can move on to the next task of social media instead. On some days, it seems like there’s never enough time to get things done. HourStack shows me it can be done and where I may need to make adjustments.
In my personal life, I’ve started tracking my time for appointments and every-day tasks. I noticed how inefficient and distracted I could become on certain days, choosing to channel surf or computer surf rather than get in exercise or accomplish essential household tasks. "Going with the flow" wasn’t working for me. And now, with HourStack, I can schedule my tasks and appointments, assign the timing, and ensure my productivity.
There’s nothing normal about our “new normal” with COVID-19. The unsettling nature of it can throw even the most detailed and efficient person off their own to-do list and into a frenzy. Technology is our friend and it’s in our best interest professionally and personally to use it. Asana and HourStack are the aces in your deck to ensure your priorities are scheduled. Remember, while you’re doing that scheduling and time tracking, make sure you plan some time for yourself. You deserve it . . . and I know HourStack will agree it’s an efficient use of your time too!
A great way to test the Asana-HourStack integration is with the free HourStack trial. You can try it for two weeks (no credit card required), and it's quick to get started.