How do you use Asana for planning on the fly?


#1

As I mentioned in another thread, I’m the assistant director of a very small nonprofit and I’m trying to figure out how to implement Asana in our office. When I say “very small” I mean VERY small - only two full time staff, me and my boss. We have a lot of areas of work that are really different from each other - in addition to our substantive projects, we also do communications, fundraising, event planning, etc. Even our substantive projects are generally really different from each other - for instance, our current active projects include drafting and publishing a self-help publication, organizing a symposium, and helping a partner organization promote a bill for the next legislative session.

The consequence of all this is that our work isn’t very systematized, and most of our planning is pretty dynamic and takes place on a VERY short-term basis. There are of course some things we can plan for in advance (newsletters and other publications, board meetings, events, etc), but that tends to be the exception. Our usual workflow is that my boss and I have a staff meeting every week where we basically go through our major areas of work and figure out what the next step of each thing is. Since most things look so different from each other, there are very few known milestones we can really plot out in advance.

Since we’re such a small shop, being nimble in this way tends to work for us, but I’m struggling to figure out how to set up Asana for our workflow. Most of the use cases I see seem to involve work with known structure or at least pre-identified milestones or workflows that are repeated for loose variations of the same task (i.e. an editorial calendar with articles on different topics but that go through the same set of steps, or multiple clients who are contracted for similar services). Our work just isn’t like that right now, and is often just as much about “figuring out” and strategizing as actually “doing.”

I guess what I’m really curious about is hearing from other people whose work is similarly dynamic about how they set up their workspaces, and in particular, how they use projects. I’ve been playing around with multi-homing tasks in multiple projects, but it almost feels like “too much system” to me. Like, suppose our grantwriter asks us to pull together some financial documentation, should I add that to the Development project, or just add it directly to our Staff Meeting project, or directly to My Tasks? Adding it to Dev and then multi-homing it to the Staff Meeting project or My Tasks feels like the “correct” thing to do, but it also feels like an extra step that might not be necessary.

At the same time, I do need some way to at least know the current status of our substantive projects, even if we can’t plan very far in advance and the only immediate action item is “call so-and-so at the ACLU to talk about next steps.” A standalone project feels like overkill for just a handful of super-granular tasks like that, but at the same time, having just one task with a few subtasks for a major campaign that might last us months feels wrong too. It’s not that it’s a small project or a single unit of work - it’s just that I don’t know what most of the steps are right now, I’ll figure them out as I go.

Sorry this was so long! I like Asana, but I just can’t figure out where things should live and how to organize them without drowning in process. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


#2

Some ideas to consider.

  1. Use Asana at your weekly meeting. You are seem to be redefining what needs to be done and what your priorities are at your weekly meeting. Use Asana to see what tasks were captured in the past, where the current status is, and capture new tasks. Updated assignee, due data, and a customer priority field as needed.

  2. Since there are only 4 users, I would guess fewer Projects are better. But use Sections in the Projects to make sure Tasks stay in smaller groups.
    Normally I would say Projects should have a defined goal and end date, but it doesn’t sound like that’s how things work in your organization.

  3. Make your best guess and develop an Asana usage plan. Write it down, even if it’s bullet points. Then moving forward, be open to adjusting to what using the plan shows you is actually going to work best for your team.

  4. And of course, make all these items Asana Tasks at your next meeting :wink:


#3

Thank you! This is really helpful.

Haha, you’ve doubled us, but I see why my post was confusing - we have two full time staff, who are me and my boss. So the vast majority of the time we would only be two users, and she’s not even onboarded yet because I’ve been experimenting before I bring her in. Today also happens to be her last day before a 4-week vacation, so for the next month or so it will just be me and our summer interns, which is kind of good because it will give me a little space to play around with different systems and experiment with the interns to see what works and what’s overkill for us.

I think that’s right - I think my initial mistake was setting up too many projects (probably a common mistake!). One of the main things we need is a way to see our priorities from week to week while also keeping sight of our medium and long-term deadlines so they don’t sneak up on us. So for instance, if we have a board meeting on May 23, we need to send out materials around May 16, which means we need to be prepping those materials the week of May 7, which means we need to be starting to talk about what we want to accomplish at the board meeting the week of April 30. But defining our priorities on a weekly basis means that on April 30 the board meeting feels really far away, and we don’t always realize we need to be thinking about it now. So we need some way to track those long-term benchmarks, as well as a fluid, dynamically changing weekly to-do list. Which maybe means that at this point we only need two projects, and we can add more as it feels like we need them?


#4

Sorry, I meant to reply to this too but don’t know how to edit - I think this is a really good idea. It’s the kind of thing that feels like overkill when overkill so small, but one thing we’re learning is that having written policies in place, even if they’re fluid and changeable, is useful just so you have a record and everyone’s working from the same information. I think trying to put something like that together will be a good goal for while my boss is away as well.

If anyone else has any advice I’d love to hear it!


#5

Yes, you understood my misreading on the number of employees exactly.

This should work well with interns. You have a list of predefined tasks to parse out and the interns have a place to post their progress, so you aren’t left wondering what happened when they are gone. Just be sure to set process expectations from the beginning and be prepared to remind as needed. People need help in establishing new habits.

I think the common mistake is changing how you do things to how the tool does things. The tool should work for you; you shouldn’t work for the tool.

When it comes to long term goals, break them into smaller parts to be completed at the proper time. Then when the big day is here, you are prepared for it.
(ex. To accomplish goal X in one month: I need to do A this week, B will take 2 weeks, and C the following week.)