10 Tips to Tame The Wildest Asana Projects

Josh Johnson
Apr 25, 2018 · 9 min read

At Creative Market, we use Asana, a lot. It’s the core hub of everything we do, from planning team trips to managing design and dev work. No matter who is doing it or what they’re doing, we put it in Asana.

Asana is a truly powerful tool, but that comes with complexity. I’ve noticed recently that a lot of the members on our team can be intimidated by Asana’s vast feature set and confused about how to perform certain actions. I began to write up some internal tips but thought other product teams might find them useful too.

General Best Practices

You probably already know about these features but just in case, here are some quick tips for making the most of Asana.

  • Check your inbox daily: The inbox tab is your friend. It keeps you up on all the important stuff that’s been happening lately. Be sure to check it at least once a day to stay caught up.
  • Archive old projects: Project clutter is the biggest contributor to the people on your team being completely overwhelmed when they bring up Asana. Archive any old projects that aren’t being actively worked on and make it a goal to keep your project list as clean as possible.
  • Private projects: Another great way to keep your projects list clean is to organize your own personal work in private projects. I do a lot of messy brainstorming in private projects and I love that I don’t have to worry about it cluttering up Asana for the other members of my team. When it comes time to collaborate, you can clean up the mess and migrate it to a public project.
  • Use Teams: We used to dump all our projects into one big team, but that quickly broke as our head count grew. By setting up different teams inside Asana, we give each person an easy way to focus in on only the projects relevant to them.
  • Never make people dig through comments to complete a task: If you’re running a project, it’s your job to make sure all the task descriptions stay up to date. This sounds small, but getting lazy about this has disastrous effects. When someone picks up a task, they should be able to read the description and get to work. If the nature of the task has fundamentally changed over the course of fifty comments below the description, and those changes never make it to the description, your team will waste time and money doing the wrong things, redoing them the right way, then having meetings about why it all went wrong. Save yourself the trouble and always update task descriptions with key changes.

1. Create Sections in List View

Let’s start with the basics. Asana lets you organize tasks into different projects, but even within a single project, the task list can be overwhelming and difficult to sift through. Sections to the rescue!

When I first started using Asana, I saw other people using sections but couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they were doing it. It’s tricky to find!

A highly questionable design pattern…

It turns out you have to hover over the area above the task list to see the “Add Section” button. It’s admittedly super strange to have a button that doesn’t appear until you hover over it, but that’s how it works! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Bonus Tip: Section Shortcut

I use sections every day in Asana, but I never click the button in the screenshot above. The much faster way to create a section is simply to end your task name with a colon. That automatically turns it into a section!

Add a colon to turn a task into a section

2. Favorite Projects for Quick Access

If your team is like ours, you’ve got a million projects floating around and it can be next to impossible to quickly find the three or four that you want to focus on this week. The single best way to cut through the clutter and focus on just the projects you care about is to make a list of favorites.

Favorite projects for easy access later

To do this, simply click the little star near the title of a project. Your list of favorites should appear at the top of the sidebar on the left.

3. Quickly Move Tasks to a New Section or Column

Most of the time, whether you’re in a list or a board, the easiest way to move tasks around in Asana is to simply click and drag them. However, when you have a complex project with lots of tasks, columns, or sections, this starts to get difficult and tedious.

Use the dropdown to change sections

In these situations, it’s easier and faster to use the little dropdown next to the project name at the top left of the task. Simply select the column or section you want and the task will change positions in the project.

4. One Task in Multiple Projects

Some tasks need to be tracked by multiple people in different teams working on a variety of projects. But where should a task like this live? The thing to avoid here is creating duplicates of the task across several projects that you then attempt to manually keep in sync. That’s nonsense. Fortunately. Asana allows you to have a single task appear in multiple projects.

Click the + icon to add the task to another project

In the project area at the top of a task, you can see which projects the task is currently in and add/remove projects using the icons on the right. This allows you to both add a single task to multiple projects and easily move a task out of one project and into another.

5. Color Code Your Projects

Using colors can be a quick and easy way to spot projects that matter to you in a whole bunch of places in Asana. For instance, in board view, you can quickly see which projects a task is in by hovering over the little colored bars at the top.

Hey look, colors!

Instead of using random colors, try developing a system at your company. You could make all the growth team projects green and the customer support projects blue, giving each team a quick visual reference for tasks they should pay attention to in busy boards or lists containing tasks from multiple projects.

6. Set a Start Date

At a glance, it looks like Asana only allows you to set due dates, which doesn’t help you keep track of how long tasks are taking from start to finish. For this, you’ll want to use another almost hidden feature: start dates!

When you’re setting your due date on a task, there’s a teeny tiny text link at the bottom that lets you add a start date.

Setting a start date

Notice in the screenshot above that you can also set up specific due times as well.

Bonus Tip: Timeline View

Using start dates on all your tasks will allow you to take advantage of Asana’s great new timeline view, which is basically their version of a Gantt chart (there’s also a standard calendar view if that’s more your jam).

The new timeline view

At Creative Market, we often find ourselves using Asana plus some other Gantt chart tool. This new feature allows us to consolidate project planning into a single app, which is much better!

7. Repeating Tasks

I only recently realized that Asana could do this! In the same little piece of UI that we saw in the previous tip, there are some controls for setting up recurring tasks.

Setting a task to repeat every Wednesady

Tasks can repeat as often as you like: daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly. You can even set tasks to repeat again within a certain number of days of being completed the last time.

8. Set Task Dependencies

We often have front-end tasks that depend on prior back-end work in order to be completed. Asana allows us to easily communicate this to everyone involved by marking tasks as dependent on each other.

Setting up dependencies

To add a dependency, click the icon with three dots at the top of a task and select “Mark as Dependent on…”

One interesting thing to note here is that dependencies can only go one way. You can’t grab two tasks and mark them each as dependent on the other.

9. Pin a Comment or File to the Top

The comment and file section at the bottom of a task can get messy. After a few people have chimed in on a discussion, it quickly buries the important stuff like a screenshot or comp that you wanted the person assigned to a task to see. To prevent this, click the little dropdown on the comment or file and select “Pin to Top”.

Pinning a file to the top of the comment feed

Now, no matter how deep the conversation in the comments goes, the file won’t get buried.

10. Custom Fields

I saved the best for last. Custom fields are easily one of Asana’s most powerful features because they allow you to add all the stuff you wish Asana had.

For example, at Creative Market, we use story points. Each project is broken up into user stories, and each story is assigned a certain number of points based on the complexity of the story. The problem: Asana doesn’t have a points feature! Custom fields to the rescue.

Setting up custom fields

To create a new custom field, click the little dropdown next to your project name and select “Manage Custom Fields…” Custom fields can be in one of three formats: text, number, or drop-down.

For our points example, we use number as the type, which restricts input to only numerals. As another example, our team often use a “status” custom field for AB tests. We have this field set up as a drop-down full of custom statuses, allowing anyone working on that test to easily see if it’s under development, ready to go live, currently live, etc.

Use With Care

Each individual project in Asana can have its own set of custom fields, but those fields can be optionally reused on any other project. Without any kind of coordination or restraint, we quickly found ourselves with lots of duplication and clutter in our custom fields. Make it a goal to have as few custom fields as possible and to get buy in from other teams on how to structure those custom fields to be as versatile as possible.

Blame Your Process Before You Blame the Tool

At different times in our company’s history, Asana has been the best and the worst part of our project process, and each outcome was based on how we used it, not the tool itself. Whether you’re using Asana, Trello, Jira, or a whiteboard hanging up in a conference room, never expect to be able to solve all your project management problems by bailing on your current tool and starting fresh in another. I promise, you’ll bring your problems with you! Instead, create a system, teach everyone to use it, gather feedback, and iterate on the parts that don’t work.

We’re always looking for amazing people to join the Creative Market team. We value our culture as much as we value our mission, so if helping creators turn passion into opportunity sounds like something you’d love to do with a group of folks who feel the same way, then check out our job openings and apply today!

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