Solve the work about work problem with AsanaThe biggest challenge for knowledge workers (essentially people who sit all day and work) is knowing the one most important thing they should be working on at any given moment.

Since you will never get to the end of your to do list, you just need to be smart on what you decide to work on.

Our second major problem is knowing what everyone else is working on at any time.

To accomplish this, you have endless email chains, meetings, instant messages, and the friendly tap on the shoulder as you’re working.

This is what Justin Rosenstein (co-founder of Asana) calls “work about work,” and it’s a major issue.  Many companies (ours included) see an increasing amount of our day eaten up by this communication meltdown.

Most Management Tools are Patches, Not Solutions

Honestly, most people who care about their work are trying something to make this better.  They have elaborate calendars with their days blocked off, scratch pads and sticky notes, and use their email inbox as tools.  Unfortunately, these tools are not adequate for modern knowledge work.  They are not flexible enough to accommodate the types of work that is required of us.  Most importantly, they are not collaborative.

It’s Great, BUT….

We have used numerous web applications in the past to try and help this problem.  They were either great communication tools but lacked proper task management, or great task management tools but the tasks only existed in each person’s silo.  At some point this year I got fed up with our current solutions (including Bascamp) and spent nearly a week on a crusade for something better.

Enter Asana

Asana dashboard screenshot

Asana is a Yoga term that means “position.”  I think the founders just thought it sounded cool, but it works.  Asana has a great story as well.

Created by Silicon Valley Superstars

Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook, and Justin Rosenstein (from Google and Facebook fame) created an internal tool at Facebook that has helped them communicate and manage tasks while they grew at a rapid pace.  It was so successful at the company that they decided to leave Facebook and bring this tool to the masses.  My favorite two parts of the story are the vision and the funding.

Vision of Empowerment

The team at Asana feels that the tool they are building could be as popular and more powerful than email.  After all, email was built for a different era, and something really needs to take it its place.

The application is as flexible as paper, and it can be used to fit very specific needs.  Initially they are focusing on tasks, but they plan to eventually add a calendar, visual representation tools, and much more.  They really feel they are helping empower people so they can align their efforts and create new and better things.

Funded for the Long Haul

The funding means that they can recruit the best talent and they are not going anywhere.  Dustin is ranked as the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.  According to The New York Times they had a recent evaluation of $280 million dollars.

The more I dove into researching task and project management, the more I realized there are a lot of players in this industry.  There is no clear winner and you don’t know who will last.  But with Asana’s vision and funding, I’m confident this company/system/app will be my company’s longterm solution.

Asana’s Fun Details

So, that is enough about the problem, search, and solution.  It’s time to dig into Asana’s details!  In future posts I want to go into greater detail how our company uses the application, but let me give you a quick overview:

  1. Free under 30 users – If your company/team is under 30 people, it’s 100% free.  At first, I could not believe that,  But once I understood the thinking, I got it.  Being free for small companies/teams helps you grow virally.  You can invite your clients and other companies to projects at no cost and get them hooked. Brilliant.

Screenshot of OWC's team members using Asana

  1. Focus on tasks – An elephant is eaten one bite of a time, and that is how Asana approaches task management.  At its core, every item in Asana is a task.  These tasks exist on a single line of the project, much like a ruled notebook.  It can be a little overwhelming at first, but if you remember this basic thing, it can help you stay focused.

Asana screenshot of template tasks

  1. Task data – In the far right pane every task has information about it, such as: who is the single person responsible for it, due date, followers (more on that below), files, and notes.

Screenshot of Asana Task Details

  1. Collaboration – Easily Asana’s strongest feature is how collaborative it is.  The more people using it, the more powerful it becomes.  For every task you can have followers.  Followers get all task updates like due date changes, completion, or discussions revolving around the tasks.  It does not 100% solve the “work about work” problem, but it comes really, really close.

Screenshot of Asana collaboration

  1. Feature additions – What amazes me on a weekly basis is the new features and additions the Asana team cranks out.  We have been using it for less than 6 months and they have already launched a bunch of incredibly useful and intuitive (i.e. – not cluttered) additions.  Plus, if you have a great idea for a new feature or tweak, tell them.  They welcome user suggestions.

Asana Features

(Note: my new favorite addition is “search views”)

Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below.  Thanks!