How to Use Asana to Work Asynchronously
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April 1st, 2022

Asana is a task-tracking and project-planning system.  It helps us coordinate our efforts so that we can accomplish more as a team than we can on our own.  It also sets us up to work asynchronously, which is important for team sustainability.

Asana is non-opinionated, meaning it doesn’t enforce a certain workflow.  It’s essentially a bunch of TODO lists with linkages between tasks. This means that each team can set up their own, custom workflow.  Here’s a simple example:

List view on the left, Board view on the right
List view on the left, Board view on the right

Tasks start in To Do, and when started, they’re moved to Doing. When finished, they’re moved to Done. This is a very simple workflow - your team’s is probably a bit more complex. Luckily, Asana can be used for almost any kind of workflow.  You can use it for yearly plans, seasonal roadmaps, meetings – whatever you like!

This doc will give you a quick rundown on Asana so you can start collaborating with your team.

When to Make a Task in Asana

Not every task needs to be in Asana.  The general rule of thumb is: if the task takes longer than a day OR you’re working on a task that requires coordination with a few people, you should put it in Asana.

That being said, many people use a different system to organize their “day-to-day” tasks.  I personally use a notebook and copy tasks from Asana into it, along with other small chores that don’t go in Asana.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to put your day-to-day tasks in Asana, you will be assigned tasks, and they will show up in the My Tasks view.  For this reason it’s a good idea to learn how the view works.

The My Tasks View

The first key to using Asana is the My Tasks view on the top of the screen.  If you click it, your default view is Incomplete Tasks which has 4 sections - Recently Assigned, Do today, Do next week and Do later.  These can be changed to whatever you like, but they’re a good start.

When someone assigns a task to you, it’ll show up in Recently Assigned.  You can plan your day, week, and beyond by moving the task between sections. You can even customize this list (like every other list in Asana) to match your personal workflow.  Here’s my current view:

However you decide to organize your tasks, it’s important to look at this view at least once a day.  This will ensure that you’re up-to-date on the expectations of you.  I like to check out My Tasks first thing in the morning to allow me to plan my day.

The Inbox View

The second key to using Asana is the Inbox View. This view allows everyone to work asynchronously by keeping teammates up-to-date on tasks and projects in which they are interested.

For max collaboration, you must clear this view once every work day.  I suggest doing it as part of your morning routine.

The Inbox shows a list of notifications for all tasks you are following.  Asana automatically makes you follow a task if you comment on it, or it was assigned to you, or someone mentions you in a comment, etc.  You can also follow projects to be informed when new tasks are added.

You can clear the list by taking action on a task if required (i.e. comment, change sections, re-assign). After you take action, you can Archive the notification by tapping E or clicking the Archive icon on the top right.

You can also Unfollow tasks or projects you no longer care for by removing yourself as a collaborator at the bottom of a task, or the top-right of a project.

PROTIP: If you don’t like cluttering your email inbox, turn off email notifications using Manage notifications on the top right of the Inbox view.

Using Asana to Manage a Project

Beyond keeping track of your day-to-day tasks, Asana can also help you organize and execute on a larger project involving lots of moving parts.  It’s a very free-form tool, so you can use it in lots of different ways, but here’s a basic workflow to get your started:

Create a Project

To create a new project, just click the + button beside the circle header and create a Blank project.

Set the Name of the project, select List as your default view, then click Continue. After that click Go to project.

You’ll be greeted with a blank project (scary!) Start by adding the following sections in the order you see below:

  • Done – tasks that are complete
  • To Review – tasks that need to be reviewed before they can be closed
  • Doing – tasks that are currently in progress
  • To Do – the next most important tasks to do
  • Backlog – tasks that we don’t have plans to complete just yet

This simple structure has one big assumption: a task that is higher on the board is more important to one lower on the board.  That small assumption is extremely useful when prioritizing work.  Tasks start at the bottom of the board and move up as they progress through the workflow.  At any given time, you should be able to see which tasks are most important to the team - the higher it is, the sooner you should do it.

Prioritize

A project board like this is only useful if team members update it regularly.  Although working asynchronously is the goal, it’s useful to have a weekly synchronous meeting where everyone gets together to ensure there are no bottlenecks.  Holocracy calls this a Tactical Meeting, and you should aim to have them once a week.

During this meeting, you start at the top of the board and work your way down (most important to least important).

  • Done – you can close these tasks together as a team to keep everyone informed and celebrate our wins
  • To Review – ensure all tasks have reviewers, and that reviewers make time to review tasks so they aren’t blocking anyone
  • Doing – ensure all tasks are assigned to a teammate and have no blockers
  • To Do – ensure all tasks are still expected to be complete in the next 2-4 weeks
  • Backlog – no action required, skip this section.

Divide and Conquer

At any point in time, your project may start to outgrow your current workflow.  The flexibility of Asana gives you a few options:

  1. Change your workflow to include more steps.  For instance, a new software feature may go through “Code Review” and “Functionality Review” steps.
  2. Create a NEW project board which creates a new workflow for complicated pieces.

As an example of the second option above, imagine you have a software project which is tracking features (i.e. the user perspective). You spec the features, then send them to the Development Team to code.  The Development Team has their own workflow around prioritizing tasks, developing them, and ultimately releasing them.  No problem!  Just cross-post your task to the Dev Team’s project workflow!

Power users can also use TAB+P to cross-post.
Power users can also use TAB+P to cross-post.

This way, the Development Team can use any workflow they like, and can even change the workflow without affecting the top-level view.  All you have to agree upon is the intake/output:

  • For task intake, I recommend every project have an Inbox section at the top of their project board.  This allows other teams to add tasks, and it can be processed as part of your Weekly Tactical meeting.
  • For output, I recommend assigning the task back to the person who put it in the Inbox. You can also remove it from your project board at this point.

Make it your Own

Working remotely on projects that require multiple, cross-functional teammates is normal these days, and communication is the deciding factor between success and failure.  Learning how to use Asana will help you communicate with your teammates more easily, which leaves you more space to create.

Any time you put into learning and optimizing your tools will pay for itself quite quickly as you spend less time following up with your teammates and more time actually creating something you’re proud of.  Take the time to ensure that you actually enjoy communicating with your team!

Cover photo by fabio on Unsplash

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