A few months ago I was looking for a way to better facilitate communication, organization, responsibility assignment, and delegation for my business. Thankfully, I stumbled across the free webapp asana shortly after. We decided to give it a try and quickly realized it’s power as an organizational and communication tool. I then started thinking of it’s other applications. Though not in a presidency, bishopric, or council at the moment, I realized just how helpful this free tool could be for any organization.
Getting Things Done
The word “asna” is a Yoga pose that refers to a state that “is ‘to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed’ for extended, or timeless periods” (source: Wikipedia). My guess at the reason they chose this name, is because implementing the “GTD” or “Getting Things Done” method, and using asana to do it, help you put your life in a productive but relaxed state. At it’s heart asana is a task-based GTD application. It follows the pattern set-out by David Allen in his bestselling book “Getting Things Done.” You can simply dump anything and everything that comes across your mind there. This greatly relieves stress, as you don’t have to keep mentally juggling everything.
Plus it helps you organize things. At the highest level you have Workspaces. By default you have a personal one and a business one. But you can create more, such as “10th Ward Relief Society.” Then within each is whatever projects you create. So you might add “Visiting Teaching,” “fellowship”, “teaching”, etc. You can make notes at the project level for any members of the Workgroup or Project to view. Here’s a great, 2 minute overview:
Each project is then made up of tasks. But it’s much more than just a simple task list. Each task is a collaborative, contextual workspace. You can assign it to somebody, set a due date, input notes, tag it, attach files, add followers who are notified of updates, and even have a conversation in the comments section. Plus, you can create sub-tasks, which have their own notes, comments, due date, assignee, etc.
So let’s say you’re Relief Society President. You’ve got an upcoming RS dinner you’re planning with your counselors, one of which you’ve delegated responsibility for the whole night to. In your “fellowship” project you create a new task “RS Fellowship Dinner 10/22”, and set the due date for 10/22. Then you assign it to that counselor. Your secretary then puts in the notes from your meeting, and adds sub-tasks based on the various things that need accomplished. Now your counselor goes in and assigns those sub-tasks to various ladies in the ward (you just need their email and you can add them as a guest, which allows them limited access to only tasks you added them to).
As the evening draws nearer, your counselor realizes she needs to know if it’s okay to utilize a certain sister in the ward that there were concerns about overwhelming. She just types a comment in the “RS Fellowship Dinner 10/22” task and you see it in your asana inbox (and your email inbox if you elect to get email notifications). You can quickly respond and she’ll also be updated in her asana inbox (and email inbox, if her preferences designate). Since your counselors are assigned as followers of the task, they’ll also see the update in their inboxes and can provide their input as needed.
Better Than Email
It’s particularly awesome because 1. you don’t have to remember to include the right people in your reply like you would in email; 2. you don’t build up the miles of text you have to hunt through to read back through the previous reply, each comment is displayed only once, not multiplied with every reply or forward; 3. the conversation is part of the task, therefore it’s all in context of the thing you want to accomplish, not an email or multiple emails that may or may not have relevant subjects anymore. As well as a host of other reasons.
Additionally, you can set tasks to reoccur on a schedule, indicate whether you’ll work on tasks assigned to you today or at some other time, use tags to give another dimension to sorting and searching (such as tagging tasks designed to help a person, with that person’s name, while keeping the tasks in the “Service” project), and even attach files to share pictures, spreadsheets or other information. There’s also some slick features like tagging a person Twitter-style using the “@” symbol so that you can ensure a comment will be sent to them, keyboard shortcuts, and drag-and-drop reordering of tasks and projects.
There’s currently a free iOS app, but none for Android or other mobile devices. The mobile website acts like an app and is useable, but flawed. Still, it’s good enough for jotting tasks down while on the go, as well as checking items off wherever you have data connectivity.
For Personal & Family
Rather than try provide a guide, let me just say that Presidencies, Bishoprics, Councils and more, will benefit greatly from using asana alongside studying and implementing David Allen’s methods. In fact, even if you’re not in any of those assignments, like myself, you can lower your stress levels and multiply your productivity by doing the same for yourself and family.
I use the personal Workgroup to keep and organize my personal and family tasks, and often assign them to my wife. That way we can track and accomplish things “we should do,” but would otherwise forget or procrastinate without the reminders and lists. These include everything from budgeting our holiday trip to items to remember to pick up at the store. Even this post is a task in my “Mormon Life Hacker” project, that I’ll check off after I hit “Publish.”
TIP: You can send emails to asana merely by forwarding or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also add the project number to the email address to send it to a specific project. I created contacts in Gmail for the most-used projects, making it easy for me to forward a request from a client, directly to our Current Clients project, for example. asana takes the email and makes it into a task, using the subject as the task, and inserting the body into the notes. Here you can see the asana contacts I added:
I hope you’ll not just try it out, but really use it. Along with GTD principles, asana has really decreased the level of stress in my life and streamlined communication and collaboration in my business in a way I’d previously only hoped for.