How did people manage projects before computers?

Project management platforms have changed our professional lives. And my favorite project management tool is (drumroll) Asana.

In this beginner’s guide to Asana, I’ll to introduce you to the basics of Asana, including what it’s best for, how to create projects, how to create tasks, and tips for getting the most out of this task management app.

What Is Asana?

Asana is a project & task management app that functions on both desktop and mobile devices. It’s designed to help teams of professionals organize, distribute, manage, and analyze their work.

Asana allows you to create tasks and assign them to your team members. Each task provides a way to collaborate and communicate about that task.

Managers can also use Asana to track employee progress. How many tasks are they closing out? Are they meeting their deadlines?

Benefits of Asana (or any task management platform)

Asana can help your organization in many ways, including:

Better organization.

First, Asana keeps all of your work better organized. It’s clearly labeled, nested within a hierarchy, and assigned to the right point person. Every employee in the system knows what they’re responsible for, and it’s easy to catch mistakes.

Better communication.

Within each project and task, you can upload files, edit descriptions, and even have a discussion thread. Overall, this increases collaboration and communication within your team—which is especially important if your team is operating remotely.

Better delegation and assignment.

Managers can distribute and assign tasks however they see fit. This makes it much easier to balance workloads between individual team members and ensure everyone stays on tasks relevant to your bottom-line goals.

Better tracking and insights.

Speaking of your bottom-line goals, Asana can help you track your progress. If a project gets derailed, you can analyze it to see what went wrong. You can review the tasks assigned to each employee and their close rates. From there, you can glean even more meaningful insights about the productivity of your team.

Asana Pricing

Let’s talk Asana pricing. There are four tiers of plans available, including:

  • Basic. Hey, this one’s free! This plan is designed for individuals, and gives you access to unlimited tasks and projects. You can also manage a team of up to 15 people, track time, and review projects. But beyond that, this plan is somewhat limited.
  • Premium. For $10.99 per month (billed annually), you’ll unlock access to dashboards, a timeline, advanced search, custom fields, “guest” roles, an admin console, and more. We won’t be getting into these features in this guide, since we’re focused more on the basics.
  • Business. For $24.99 per month (billed annually), you’ll add portfolios, goals, workload distribution tools, approvals, a custom rules builder, and more advanced integrations.
  • Enterprise. For pricing TBD (you’ll have to contact them and find out), you can get data exporting, SAML, attachment controls, custom branding, and a ton of other custom features.

If you’re not sure what you want or need yet, just try the Basic plan. It’s free and it gives you access to most of the basics.

The Asana Hierarchy

If you want to get the most out of Asana, you should become familiar with its conceptual hierarchy.

Here’s a helpful visual:

asana hierarchy

(Image Source)

At the top, we have your Organization.

Your Organization is your company. Plain and simple.

Within that Organization are several Teams.

You can decide to partition your Organization into Teams however you see fit. In this diagram, Teams are split along departmental lines, with Marketing and Design being examples; you might also have Teams for Accounting, Sales, Customer Service, HR, etc.

Each Team is going to have access to individual Projects (though some Projects may require multiple Teams working together).

These are the real bread and butter of this project management app. They’re high-level objectives you need to complete to advance the business in some meaningful way.

Within each Project, you’ll create Tasks.

Tasks are individual to-do items that must be completed in order to finish the project. Sometimes, they’re distributed to different team members to tackle independently. Sometimes, they must be completed in order and require collaboration at each step.

Finally, within each Task, you’ll create Subtasks and Comments.

Subtasks are micro-level to-do items that must be completed before the Task is complete. It’s a helpful way to break down a particularly complex Task. Comments are self-explanatory; each Task will have a comment thread for discussion and regular updates.

It’s worth noting you can make comments on Projects too.

These are the basic organization philosophies you’ll use when managing tasks and projects in Asana. So let’s get to the meat of the platform!

Creating Your First Project in Asana

Let’s create your first Project in Asana.

Projects are usually tied to a specific goal, initiative, or other “big” piece of work. And sure, maybe your boss is a “big piece of work,” but he doesn’t count as a Project here.

If you’re not sure how to conceptualize projects, Asana has a helpful visual for you, noting the three most common types of projects used within the app:

asana projects

(Image Source)

To create a new Project, you’ll need to find the + icon in the upper-right portion of your screen. The design of the app changes periodically, and may vary based on the device you’re using, but there should be a + or Create icon somewhere. Click it.

asana create project

From there, you’ll have the option to start a Project from scratch, use an existing template to build your Project, or import a spreadsheet and build a Project around it. That last option is helpful if you’re exporting and importing project data from somewhere else.

If you’re just getting started, I recommend using a Template. It’s a good way to see what a “typical” Project looks like.

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From there, you can fill out a bunch of details. You can name the Project, add a description, and even attach individual Users to it. You can also set a Deadline, add Attachments, and add Tasks.

Once you’ve created a Project, you’ll be able to view it (and any progress associated with it) as a list, a board, a calendar, or a timeline.

asana list mode

Asana in list mode

asana board mode

Asana in board mode

At EmailAnalytics, we use board mode. It makes it easy to drag and drop tasks from one bucket to another, as they reach varying levels of completion or milestones. List mode is great, too. I used it at my previous company and it worked very well.

If you have lots of Tasks to manage within a Project, you can group them into individual sections; you can think of these as sub-Projects. In the screenshot above, you can see that we have sub-projects called “To Do”, “In Progress”, and “Waiting”, among others.

Creating Tasks in Asana

Next, you’ll be ready to create Tasks in Asana. You can tie these to specific Projects (either within the Project itself or by linking the Project directly), or have floating Tasks with no Project.

asana add task

Again, you’ll look for a + icon or Create button to add a Task. You can then add a title, a description, and any other details you want.

asana create new task with details

Make sure to add a Deadline and Assignees for your Task. If you’re so inclined, you can also add Subtasks to be completed before the Task can be finished, add Attachments, or add Comments in a discussion thread.

Finding and Organizing Your Tasks

Let’s say you’ve created 1,000 Tasks for yourself, like a madman.

How are you going to figure out which task to do next? How can you find that one Task you vaguely remember?

Asana offers a number of tools to help you stay organized.

In the sidebar, click My Tasks to generate a convenient list of all the Tasks and Subtasks currently assigned to you. Whenever you get something done, you can click the Checkmark next to it to remove it from this view and mark it complete.

asana my tasks

Whenever you’re an Assignee or a follower of a Project, Task, or other item, you’ll receive a notification about it by default when it’s updated. For example, whenever a Project receives a new Comment, Attachment, or completion action, you’ll get a notification. You can choose to receive an email or just receive a notification in the app itself. At any time, you can go to your Inbox to see a list of all the updates you’ve received recently.

asana notifications

Most importantly, most versions of Asana have an intuitive Search feature you can use at any time. Type in keywords associated with whatever you’re looking for, and conjure a list of items that somewhat match your description. You can search specifically for recently completed tasks, tasks you’ve created, or tasks you’ve assigned to others. You can also tap into Advanced Search options for even more control over your search results.

asana search

Tips for Success With Asana

No Asana guide would be complete without some pro tips. As an experienced Asana user, there are some important tips I think can lead you to success:

Be consistent.

Some people love to create Subtasks for every little step of the process, while others just want to keep Tasks high-level. Some people create new Projects constantly, while others reuse the same Projects over and over. There are many different ways to use Asana, and most of them are viable. What’s really important is that you’re consistent. Once you settle on a specific formula, and a specific way to organize your work, stick to it. Encourage your employees to stick to it as well.

Set expectations with employees.

Maybe they went through the online training already, but your employees aren’t really going to know how best to use the platform unless you tell them. If your deadlines are firm, tell them. If you expect all communication to go into the Project thread (instead of, say, email), tell them. Be proactive and clear with your expectations if you want to stay organized.

Click around.

Asana has dozens of neat features that aren’t immediately obvious. You can discover them more easily by just clicking around. For example, when setting a Deadline within a Task or Subtask, there’s an option to set that item to repeat at a specific interval—so you can set up a weekly task. You can also click a little thumbs-up icon on any Task, Subtask, Project, or Comment to “like” it. It’s a great way to show you’ve seen something without actually having to respond to it. You can also duplicate Tasks, add follow-up Tasks, create Milestones, or set Approvals (with the right plan tier).

Use tags.

In the menu of each item in Asana, you can add custom Tags. These are ideal if you want to group certain Tasks together even if they’re in different Projects. It also makes your work much more easily searchable. The only catch is that you need to be highly consistent if you want this system to be effective.

Be careful with notifications.

Asana enables you to receive notifications about virtually every update within the app. This can help you stay informed and up-to-date, but it can quickly become overwhelming. Personally, I encourage you to disable most notifications and just pay attention to your Inbox within the app when you want to see updates. You can also encourage your team members to “tag” you with a mention of your username whenever they want your formal attention in a discussion thread.

More Asana Resources

There’s a lot to learn and master within Asana; more than I can fit in this beginner’s guide to Asana.

So if you’re looking for help beyond the basics, Asana itself has a number of tools to review. For example, you can review the How to Asana video (which has some helpful visuals for many of the lessons in this guide) or browse Asana Lessons, which take about 3 minutes each.

You can also check out Asana’s thorough guide here or the Asana Blog for more information, or engage in the Asana Community Forum! That’s a lot of resources, sure, but better too much than not enough.

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