Archive for the ‘Best Practices’ Category
by Dan Kaplan
March 29th, 2013
It’s hard to imagine that in another 10 years, today’s incarnation of email will still be the de-facto communication tool we use to organize ourselves, to manage our work and to collaborate with our teams.
But, despite our belief that workplace communications tools must and will evolve, we understand that old-school email will not vanish immediately, or even particularly soon.
This is why we built the email bridge.
What is the email bridge?
The email bridge is the system we built to connect message-centric email to task-centric Asana. It lets you and your team do two main things.
- Send emails to Asana to turn them into tasks.
- Reply to task emails from Asana to turn them into comments on the original task.
Turning emails into tasks
To send messages and turn them into tasks, you’ll need to choose the Asana Workspace the emails you send to Asana should go to. This can be done in three steps:
- Go into your Account Settings by clicking your name in the lower left corner of Asana’s interface.
- Select the “Email Dropbox” tab
- Choose the Workspace you’d like to use.
Your Email Dropbox can now receive emails. The email bridge will turn them into tasks with these conventions:
- Email subject —> Task name
- Email body —> Task notes
- Email attachments —> Task attachments
- People in the CC field —> Task Followers
Once you’ve created an Email Dropbox with the above steps, there are three main ways to use it:
- Email tasks to your personal task list. Using the email address associated with your main Asana Workspace, simply send (or forward) an email to email@example.com. This will create a new task in your “My Tasks” list. If this is something you will do frequently, you should add firstname.lastname@example.org to your address book.
- Email tasks straight to a project. To do this, you’ll need the Project ID, which can be found in the URL of the project. The Project ID is the first string of numbers in the URL when you’ve selected a project: Once you’ve got this number, you can send emails to at the address x+PROJECTID@mail.asana.com. If you’d like to automatically assign the task to someone on your team, include them in the “To” field of the email.
- Auto-forward emails to a project. If you have an email address like “email@example.com” or “bugs@yourcompany” and you’d like to automatically turn emails to that address into tasks, you can set up auto-forwarding.
- First, add the forwarding email address (e.g. jobs@yourcompany) to your Workspace as a Workspace member.
- Set up auto-forwarding in your email service to send emails to Asana.
- Your email service will send a confirmation link to Asana. Go to the task created by the bridge and click that link.
Turning email replies into comments
The email bridge also turns replies to emails from Asana into comments on tasks. If anyone on your team prefers to stay in email, this can be a great way to keep the conversation around your team’s tasks organized in Asana.
There are a couple of ways this works:
- Assign a task to a teammate. When your teammate receives the task notification email, he or she can simply reply to it. The email bridge will automatically turn that reply into a comment on the task.
- Comment on a task that has followers. The task’s followers will all receive an email with your comment. Any of them can reply to this message and the bridge will add their reply as a comment.
Mind the gap
Here at Asana, email represents a small fraction of our internal communication. Instead of sending email messages back and forth, we send tasks. Instead of creating multi-person email threads with CC, we simply add followers. And instead of spending hours each week staying on top of email, we rely on Asana’s Inbox to keep us connected and up to speed.
But for many teams, email remains a way of life. Asana’s email bridge is our way of acknowledging this fact, spanning the gap between messages and tasks and giving you and your teammates a way to incorporate Asana into your workflow while keeping a foot in email’s message-centric world.
by Justin Rosenstein
March 21st, 2013
Doing great things takes more than a great vision and a great team, it takes great execution, down to the nuts and bolts of day-to-day organization.
Meetings get a bad rap, and deservedly so — most meetings are disorganized and distracted. But they can be a critical tool for getting your team on the same page.
Over years of iteration while working at Google, Facebook, and Asana, I’ve found a way of doing meetings that ensures we discuss the most important things, quickly and efficiently, and that things never fall through the cracks.
1. Know when to email vs. when to meet
Logistics are best done over a non-immediate communication channel like email or Asana tasks. Detailed status meetings will suck the life out of your day.
But when topics are complex and meaty, don’t create a never-ending email thread. It’s amazing how much time people waste composing and reading carefully-worded essays, when a 5 minute in-person chat would resolve the whole thing.
2. Capture goals ahead of time
Throughout the week, as you find those meaty topics, don’t keep everything in your head. Remembering is stressful, and you’ll forget important questions. Just add it to the agenda, in a shared Google Doc or, better yet, an Asana project.
Everyone can do this. By the time the meeting starts, the agenda already includes everyone’s ideas. No more wasting the first 10 minutes figuring out what to talk about.
3. Timebox aggressively
Establish how long you’re going to spend on each topic, and stick to it. Talking about a topic for 20 minutes will probably lead to a better decision than talking about it for 5. But if the topic only deserved 5 minutes, you’re not gonna have a chance to talk about all the other important items. Or, worse, you’ll spend all day in meetings. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great.
4. Make each agenda item a race to clarity
Go through each item: Extract information and perspective from the team, identify next actions, and owners for each action — as quickly as possible. If you’ve extracted all the perspective but it’s not clear what the right decision is, don’t debate or ruminate. Assign someone to think about it and trust them to make the decision — even if it’s not how you would have made it.
5. Guarantee follow through
By the end, you should have a written list of every new action item. Each should have one owner (not two) and a timeline. Keep that list in the same place you’re keeping the running agenda.
Then, when it’s time for the next meeting, you can immediately see all the items from last week. Hopefully each owner will just nod that they did what they committed to. Now things won’t fall through the cracks, and you won’t spend the first 10 minutes remembering what you decided last time.
The bottom line
When leaders know how to lead great meetings, there’s less time wasted and less frustration. We have more energy to do the work that matters, realize our full potential, and do great things.
What’s worked for you for having great meetings? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
by Dan Kaplan
March 8th, 2013
For non-technical people like me, APIs tend to be fairly useless. Sure, I might be able to follow a basic how-to guide for a really well-documented API and produce something marginally functional, but until the day comes that I decide to learn to code, that’s about as far as it’s going to go.
But I use a lot of web services, and many of these have APIs. Wouldn’t it be cool if I could connect them without having to spend a large chunk of time on Codecademy or with a big, fat book from O’Reilly?
Indeed, it would be cool, and thankfully, the good people of a startup called Zapier agree.
What is Zapier?
Zapier is sort of like the Ring Of Power from the Lord of the Rings, but instead of ruling other rings, it’s One Service to Connect Them All. Zapier’s team has built a wide range of integrations that make it easy to connect a large and ever-growing set of business apps, so that when you do something in one app, it pushes information to another. Other services, like IFTTT (“If this, than that”), and CloudWork do similar things.
Setting It Up
Setting up a “Zap” in Zapier is fast and pretty straightforward: You create a “Trigger” (an event in one app) that sets off an “Action” (the resulting push of information to another app). Let’s walk through the steps:
- Go into Zapier and “Create A New Zap”
- On the left side of the Zap, pick the app you want to use for your trigger, and choose the event that makes the most sense. For example, if you were connecting Wufoo to Asana, that event might be whenever someone completes a form. On the right side, you choose which app will receive the data whenever the trigger happens. To follow the Wufoo example again, that will be “Create A New Task.”
- Next, you’ll need to connect your accounts to Zapier. Some services, like Evernote, will let you authorize Zapier with your name and password. For others, you’ll need to use your API keys. You can find your Asana API key in your Account Settings, under the API tab.
- Next, you’ll build the Zap. In our Wufoo example, we use the most important form field as the task title and put the context fields in the notes, but you can customize your Zaps with any data the various APIs make available.
- Last, test the Zap with existing data. When you’ve made sure it works the way you want it to, name the Zap and you’re done!
How Can I Use It with Asana?
There are a lot of ways to use Zapier to bridge the gaps between Asana and your favorite apps – too many to list in one post. But here are just three of the most popular ways we’ve heard about:
Turn Wufoo Form Entries Into Asana Tasks
There are all sorts of ways this can be useful. Here are two:
- Processing Orders: One of our customers (a biotech lab) has a Wufoo form that scientists can use to request biological samples. This customer uses Zapier to turn those orders into Asana tasks, which instantly get assigned to the person in charge of fufilling them.
- Receiving job applications: This same workflow can be used to quickly turn Asana into an applicant tracking system. Instead of having job applicants email in their resumes and cover letter, you have them fill out a form. With Zapier, applicants become individual tasks in the Asana project that you choose, with their name as the task title and links to their cover letters and resumes in the notes.
Turn Evernote Notes Into Asana Tasks
Let’s say you’re a big user of Evernote, and you want to use Asana to remind you to read the articles you’ve saved (or to share them with your team). You could (if you had the technical chops), write a service that polls Evernote to check for newly-created notes, then sends them to Asana when it finds them. Or you could just create a Zap to do it all for you.
Send New Asana Tasks Into Hipchat (or Campfire)
If your team uses a group chat app like Hipchat to collaborate, this can be a great way to have real-time dicsussions around individal tasks. You set the creation of an Asana task as the trigger and then use Zapier to send an update with the task name and a link to it to your team’s room in Hipchat. This is especially useful for remote teams.
Other popular connections we’ve seen include creating a task whenever there’s a new ticket in Zendesk, or when there’s a new update in Yammer.
With Zapier’s team adding new integrations all the time, the possibilities keep expanding. Let us know if you’ve got some of your own.
One of my favorite productivity tricks is to keep my main task list uncluttered. When there are just a few tasks in view, my personal task list doesn’t feel so overwhelming and it’s clear what I should work on next.
We have found that one of the big sources of clutter in our “My Tasks” lists are tasks that we can’t work on yet. For example, we have a recurring task to send out a newsletter to our customers. When we send the newsletter and complete the task, we know we’re not going to start working on the next one right after the last one was sent. It would be a lot better to hide that task until it’s closer to the due date.
Today, we’re turning on automatic task promotion for everyone. Now, when you set a due date on a task, it will automatically move into your “Upcoming” and then “Today” sections in your “My Tasks” list as the due-date approaches. With automatic task promotion, you can set all of your far-off tasks for “Later”, and leave them alone without worrying that you’ll forget them when they are almost due. When the task is a week away, it will move up to “Upcoming”, and on the due date it will move into “Today”. And if you use recurring tasks, the new task will automatically appear in the correct section, which is a lot more satisfying than seeing it reappear in place!
If you really want to clean up your task list, you can use due dates to schedule your tasks for the future, even if they’re not technically due on that day. For the Getting Things Done fans, this means you can use Asana as a tickler file.
Have other suggestions for using automatic task promotion? Let us know in the comments!
by Kimberly Snodgrass
October 29th, 2012
At Asana, we strive to practice mindfulness in our approach to all the work we do. In this post, Kimberly Snodgrass, Executive Assistant to Justin Rosenstein, outlines how she built a simple tracking system to find Justin’s most productive hours and optimize his schedule accordingly.
How do you really know when you are being the most productive? The most on point? The most energetic? Should I be doing this right now? These are questions that many people (myself, included) often spend more time than necessary contemplating.
In August of this year, I joined Asana as the Executive Assistant to Justin Rosenstein. My goal: to enable him to be even more focused, mindful, and intentional about the work he was doing. Considering that Justin is the co-founder of a company that builds team task management software (I call him the “Task King”), I knew that taking an uber-productive executive and making him even more effective would be an awesome challenge.
After the first month of working together, it became clear that there was a core problem: Justin’s demands required both a different degree and different kind of mental output. Some of his tasks require deep thinking, some creative output, and others a less intense but still important grind.
We realized that to empower Justin to be more mindful about the way he applies his energy and time, we needed some data. We wanted to establish the times of day Justin was most thoughtful, the most creative and the most ready to grind, and plan his week of work accordingly. We wanted to find and optimize his “Superman time.”
To build a clear picture of Justin’s Superman time, we tracked his daily output by using Excel and by scheduling a “Track Time” alert that popped up every two hours. Every time this alert appeared, I would walk over to Justin’s desk to sync up. We would go over his completed tasks in Asana, and then I’d ask him how much energy he applied to each one.
(Yes, this was not always a fun or comfortable exercise, but, given how central mindfulness is to our values and the results we eventually achieved, the discomfort was worth it.)
Below is a sample of one day on how we decided to track our time.
Below is a graphical representation that shows time of day on X, and effort on Y
Synthesis from tracking Justin over the span of six days:
From 9:00am-noon, Justin averages a 6.45 effortless level (10 = effortless)
From 1-2pm (after lunch) the average drops to 5.75
From 3-5pm, it rises slightly to a 5.91 effortless level
From 5:30pm and later, it drops off to 4.16
As a result of this exercise, we have a built a revised game plan for structuring every week of work. Because I know that Justin is not as energetic in the afternoon, I know that I can schedule meetings later in the day because Justin described meetings as fun and relatively effortless. I also noticed that in the morning, Justin is more intensely creative, so I now aim to plan his coding, planning, and deep thinking time in the morning. Since we’ve made the changes, it’s clear to me that Justin is more productive and happy.
As we had hoped, it turns out that the secret to finding your “Superman time” at work is simple: Just commit, set an intention, and be mindful. Tell yourself that you will take 3-5 days to actually track your day, your time, your intention, and your level of energy. But maybe even more valuable than the data we got was the act of repeatedly checking in on our intention, progress, and energy.
Have you found your Superman time? Let us know how you did it in the comments.
Meanwhile, feel free to use our templates here:
by Jackie Bavaro
October 9th, 2012
At Asana, we’re passionate about tasks. Indeed, we’ve built our company on the notion that tasks lie at the foundation of collaborative work. It is by breaking down ambitious goals into component parts and then distributing each one to the team member most qualified to execute it that collectives of like-minded people are able to do great things. Asana’s magic rests in its ability to make this process effortless, enabling teams to capture and distribute tasks at the speed of thought.
For the last handful of months, we’ve been testing out subtasks. Our version of subtasks takes the speed, power and flexibility that are at the core of Asana and bumps them up a couple of notches. Today, we feel that they’re ready and are launching them to you.
Subtasks let you specify your tasks to the level of granularity that you want. In Asana, they aren’t just a simple checklist – each Subtask is a real Asana task with an assignee, due date, and its own comment thread (yes, even its own Subtasks).
Here are three of our favorite ways to use Subtasks:
Break a task down into individual steps
The most basic way to use Subtasks is to create subtasks for each of the individual steps in a task.
Many times when we find ourselves procrastinating on a task, it’s because we don’t have a clear idea of what to do next. Once we write down the small, actionable steps, the task usually doesn’t look as intimidating.
Another benefit is that you can mark the subtasks complete as you do them so you can see the progress you’re making along the way.
Assign different parts of a task to each person
We frequently hear people asking “How can I assign a task to multiple people?” With Subtasks, you can identify the parts of a task each person has responsibility for, and assign those subtasks to their respective owners. This enables each person to see the task in their “My Tasks” view, while still keeping the accountability for each action with a single person.
Since each of the subtasks is a real task, you can have notes or a discussion on them, with just the people who care about that subtask.
Ask for feedback or ask a direct question
We usually ask questions in the task comments, but sometime a teammate needs an extra nudge. If you want to make sure that someone sees & answers your question, you can create a subtask and assign it to them. You can also do this to give yourself reminders to follow up on tasks.
These are just three possible ways to use Subtasks, but the range of possibilities is huge. We hope you love Subtasks as much as we do.
by Kris Rasmussen
August 6th, 2012
Asana is building a new way for groups to communicate and coordinate. We have designed our app to combine the flexibility of a piece of paper with the structure and intelligence of a digital brain. In support of this goal, Asana already offers multiple ways to connect items in a Workspace: Tasks can simultaneously live in multiple Projects, have multiple people as followers, and be connected across Projects by Tags.
But there are often more subtle relationships between Tasks, Projects, and People. We wanted a way to capture these nuanced relationships and make the process of establishing them happen at the speed of thought.
Hypertext is a new Asana feature that makes it lightning fast to create links between any two things in a Workspace. Just type “@” into any note or comment, and instantly search for Tasks, Projects, People, or Tags. Select the item you want, and Asana inserts a link to that item into the note or comment. While you’re commenting on a task, @-mention a teammate, and they’ll be automatically added as a follower and receive your comment.
Hypertext makes adding context easy, fluid, and flexible, enabling you to link to Tasks, Projects, People, and Tags nearly as fast as you can type. With Hypertext, you don’t have to forward long email threads to give your teammates the context they need. You don’t have to copy and paste URLs from one Task to another. You just type “@” and link. Hypertext gives you a new way to connect information inside Asana and lets you navigate these connections with a single click.
When will I use Hypertext?
Hypertext increases both the flexibility and the structure of Asana. There are dozens of ways you might use it. Here are just a few:
Linking to Tasks
Linking from one Task another is a great way to highlight related Tasks, point out dependencies, close out duplicates and link follow-up Tasks back to richer sources of information. You could, for example, capture a customer interview in the notes of one Task and link future tasks back to the that interview. You could link a feature you’re working on back to the customer request that inspired it. You could link a task to publish a blog post announcing a feature to the task to launch the feature, as seen here:
Linking to Projects
Linking from a Task to a Project is a great way to connect a high-level task to the Project that contains the execution details. This is great for sprint planning. You can also link Tasks to Projects to highlight dependencies between them.
Linking to People
Linking to a Person from a comment is the fastest way to bring him or her into the loop. You can also use links to People to direct comments:
The introduction of Hypertext is just the beginning. In the future, you’ll be able to view all of the Tasks that link to the current Task, enabling you to see dependencies, duplicates, and related Tasks at a glance. Hypertext will enable your team to represent and navigate the relationships between Tasks, Projects, People, and ideas in ways that haven’t been possible before. Ultimately, you’ll achieve your goals more quickly, and be even more empowered to do great things.
by Jerry Sparks
May 3rd, 2012
The launch of Premium Workspaces means that larger teams can now use Asana to manage their workflow. We’re honored that teams of all sizes—from one-person projects to companies with more than 100 employees—are all using Asana to eliminate “work about work.”
When it comes to using a new workplace product, both small startups and large corporations have something in common: change can be hard. While many teams adopt Asana after a quick introduction, some teams—especially larger teams—take more time to adapt to a new way of communicating.
Whether you’re a business owner who’s decided to implement Asana company-wide or you’re someone who wants to get coworkers to use Asana, we have multiple resources at the Asana Guide to help get your team on board.
We also recognize that you might want more in-depth guidance for onboarding team members. So, we’ve outlined a comprehensive list of best practices and tips for adopting Asana. View the video below.
At Asana, we set out to build an application that enables people to do great things and reduce the volume of “work about work.” Asana is flexible and can therefore meet many needs; teams can accomplish their daily to-dos as well as high-level, long-term goals–all within one centralized product.
Asana is much more than a simple task and project management tool; it can also be used for specific internal functions, like bug tracking and applicant tracking. Since our launch, we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from teams and businesses that rely on Asana as a lightweight tool for customer relationship management (CRM).
When using Asana for CRM, customers become the Task or Project (or even a Tag). Teams are able to keep a record of every interaction–from generating leads to maintaining relationships with loyal customers–in the notes and comments section.
Watch the video below to learn more.
by Jackie Bavaro
February 16th, 2012
One of the things that makes Asana powerful and versatile is a capability it’s had from the start — a Task can be in more than one Project at the same time. Instead of treating Projects like closed folders, where the contents inside only live in one place, Asana Projects are more like playlists in iTunes. Just like a single song can come first in my vacation playlist and last on my dinner party playlist, a single Task can be in multiple Asana Projects.
Allowing Tasks to be in multiple Projects means a team has access to multiple views of the same piece of work, and each team member can organize Tasks without losing collective view of discussions, history, ownership, or other information.
We built this feature into the fabric of Asana because viewing information from multiple perspectives is essential for collaborative task management, especially in a world where people have their own work and organizational styles. It saves time, improves collaboration, and lets people organize work in a way that makes sense to them.
Let’s discuss a few concrete examples:
Focus on the Work That Matters
The nature of Asana means you can have fewer meetings, but it also helps make your meetings faster, more efficient, and more focused on the important decisions.
For some teams, preparing for a meeting means copying and pasting notes from scattered email threads, last-minute additions, and offline discussion of action items. Perhaps the finalized agenda is projected on a screen during the meeting, or maybe each individual team member views it privately on their own computer.
Whatever the process might be, it usually involves an unnecessary amount of time. But with Asana, you can create a Project for your agenda, and then add items to the agenda from previously created Tasks. In the agenda the Tasks are sorted by the order you’ll discuss them, but in the original Project they retain their priority order.
The ability to include Tasks in multiple Projects also means that items can quickly be added to agendas during a meeting. And, as your team discusses a Task, you can click on it to pull up the notes and conversation; any decisions you make can be recorded directly in the notes. You can also assign the Task and include it in the relevant Project immediately — there are no follow-up emails or meeting summaries needed.
When everyone is on the same page from a project’s beginning to end, you can spend less time doing busy work and more time on the issues that matter.
Effortless Cross-Team Prioritization
When two teams work together, you’ll sometimes find Tasks that don’t fall entirely under the scope of one team or the other. But eventually the work has to get done, and with Asana you can track which Tasks are complete without miscommunication.
For example, both the Sales and Marketing teams might want an update to the pricing page on their company’s website, but only one team needs to make the change. In Asana, you can put the Task in both the Sales Project and the Marketing Project, letting each team prioritize according to their schedule.
When one team starts working on it, the other team will be able to track the assignment’s progress so that they don’t accidentally duplicate the effort.
The Right View for Each Team Member
On big projects that involve multiple teams, each team might need to view a Project from their own point of view.
For example, if you’re remodeling an office building, the design team might think of the plans on a room by room basis, while the contractor thinks of the plans in the order they’ll be worked on. In Asana, you can create a Project for each team and put the remodeling Tasks in both Projects. Since the Tasks are the same, you’ll have one single shared history between the teams, and communication won’t get lost in the hand off.
An added benefit to allowing Tasks to be in more than one Project is that you get more freedom and flexibility; you don’t have to adapt to one method of organizing work. You can take the Tasks assigned to you from a shared Project, add them to a new, individual Project, and re-categorize them in your own way.
Do you have other examples of putting tasks into multiple projects? Let us know how you use Asana!