Boards vs. Lists (and why you should choose List if in doubt!)

boards
lists

#1

After the community seemed to really like the post To Subtask or not to Subtask, I thought I’d do another in-depth post summarizing my blog article about Boards vs. Lists.

When creating a project in Asana, you have two layout options to choose from: Board or List. Both options display tasks, but there are differences in how tasks are presented. Because it’s currently impossible to switch between the two layouts after you create a project, you want to think about the project before you create it and choose the layout option that makes the most sense.

As a consultant who works full-time with Asana customers to help them deploy and optimize Asana, I’ve found a lot of users (especially new users) tend to overuse Boards, not understanding why Lists are better in most cases.

BENEFITS OF LISTS

1. Maximize use of screen real estate
The List layout will fill the main content area until it is completely full. On my 15″ laptop with normal resolution and the header collapsed, 20 tasks can fit. However, based on which columns your tasks are under in the Board layout, there may be large areas of wasted screen.

See my article for image examples of wasted space in Boards

2. Multi-select
In the List layout, you can easily multi-select multiple tasks at once using the Shift, ⌘ (Mac) or CTRL (PC) keys. However, there is no multi-select when using a Board view! This is a major pain when you need to adjust multiple tasks at once, such as:

  • Assigning the same person
  • Giving the same due date
  • Adding to another project

3. View task details AND project tasks at the same time
In the List layout, when you click on a task, the task details pane appears at the right. But you can still scroll to see other tasks and the overall context of the project.

In the Board layout, however, clicking on a task brings up a modal popup of the task details. This blocks the project; you can’t view task details and the project simultaneously.

4. View more information in the task list
In the List layout, you can see a lot of information in the task list including tags, other projects, and Custom Field data. You can also edit Custom Fields directly from the task list. This avoids the need to click on each task individually to access this information, which is exactly what you need to do with the Board layout.

5. Better sorting & searching
Want to sort by a Custom Field? Or due date? This is not possible in a Board layout. You also can’t search (or create a report) for tasks in a specific Board column, which I think is a major disadvantage when you can find tasks in a specific section of a List project easily.

6. Use more Sections
With the List layout, you can access 10+ Sections easily. Sections not visible when selecting a project can easily be located by scrolling.

With Boards, however, it’s more complicated to use more than 4 or 5 columns. This is because it is more difficult to scroll horizontally with computer mice. And each time you scroll horizontally and see that the tasks extend below the bottom of the screen, you also need to scroll vertically to view the tasks in that column. This makes it extremely awkward to scan all tasks within a project if using 4+ Sections/Columns due to the need to constantly scroll both horizontally and vertically.

BENEFITS OF BOARDS

I think it helps to understand why the Board layout exists (besides attracting Trello customers). If a List is a digital representation of a notepad, then a Board is a virtual representation of a corkboard. It’s derived from an approach called Kanban.

The primary benefit of Boards is the ability to visualize tasks moving through a process. But if that isn’t essential, then the List is probably the way to go because it has other advantages.

If you’re putting tasks in a Board view in different categories (e.g. Marketing, Operations, Finance), I think a List would work better for you. The main purpose of Boards is to spot bottlenecks and obstacles while moving through a process.

1. Better visualization
With Boards, each task is like a card you can easily drag and drop. Examples of use cases where Boards might make sense include:

  • Kanban Method (Backlog, In progress, Done)
  • Developing a piece of content (Ideas, Draft, Review, Published)
  • Bug tracking (Backlog, Pending, Testing, Next release)

2. View thumbnail images
The tasks in Boards include a thumbnail image if an image file is attached. In the List layout, you cannot view an image without first clicking on a task.

This could make certain workflows, like a design department handling image reviews, work better with Boards.

3. Facilitate group experiences
Boards, since they are more visual, might be a preferred format during a working session or meeting. For example, if you were developing priorities, goals, ideas, etc., it’s nice to throw them up on a virtual whiteboard and be able to manipulate them with more flexibility than a List.


I hope this helps! Remember, you need to choose when creating a project whether you want a Board or List. Unless you have good reasons for a Board, I’d suggest you use a List.

Todd Cavanaugh
AsanaTraining.com

P.S. If you’d like to learn more, I’m giving away 45 minutes of the Asana Training Masterclass for free.


Large projects with recurring tasks
More filters in the board view (users, custom fields ...) like in list view?
#2

Great post @Todd_Cavanaugh. I have had trouble trying to work out which is best for some projects. Especially meeting and Standup projects.

Jason
@Vera_Woods fyi.


#3

This is very insightful. There’s just something about the look of a list that is very overwhelming to me, which makes me use boards for most things. I can see from what you’ve said, though, that if I could get over this hurdle, then things could work a bit more functionally for me!


#4

Great post, Todd. I totally agree. When I first moved from Trello to Asana, I assumed I’d continue using boards as before. However, once I started using lists, it instantly changed the way I work, for all the reasons you described above. I know a lot of people prefer boards, or desperately want the option to switch between them, but I’m very happy with the list view and timeline.


#5

@Stephanie_Baxter That’s funny because I actually love list and don’t like boards :sweat_smile:


How to switch from list view to board view?
#6

Agreed. You can’t get as much information on the screen with a board and boards are behind lists in functionality.

Until you can switch between boards and lists. I’d rather commit to boards.


#7

Ideally, it shouldn’t be a case of boards vs lists views.

Asana should have the flexibility of switching between the two, as all that needs to happen to achieve this is to transpose a select field into columns with a card-based UI.


#8

Totally agree. You could start a board view for the first phases of a project (meetings, brainstorming, etc.) and then change to list view for the following detailed development.

The original post by @Todd_Cavanaugh is great, by the way!


#10

While I love kanban boards and still continue to use them as my primary means of project management, this article definitely gave me food for thought and made me value lists more than I had previously.


#11

Another good use of lists is that it’s easier to see the tags (it shows the name without having to hover the mouse over) and also shows if a task is shared between multiple projects (ex.: the project the director uses to show progress to the CEO and the project the analysts uses to show progress to the director).