Want a free year on Tuts+ (worth $180)? Start an InMotion Hosting plan for $3.49/mo.
Email overload has reached epidemic levels. Companies are bogged down by emails, and the constant flow of new email apps for personal use only underscore how annoying most of us find email.
Fortunately, this isn’t a crisis without a solution. While other companies have offered creative (and, sometimes, not-so-creative) communication tools as a piece of the solution to this problem, Asana took a much broader approach to solving the workplace email issue. By focusing on centralizing communication and a host of other project management functions in their web-based application, Asana has effectively made it possible to work productively with other people remotely, without using email—and without having to rely on multiple other technologies or platforms. And it works.
Packaged neatly in a cleanly formatted user-interface, the Asana app might on the surface appear to be overly simplified. The truth is, it’s an extremely powerful tool with no shortage of timesaving usability, tips, and tricks. And while the team at Asana done a great job with their how-to videos, this article will put it all together for the new user. I’ll explore some of the basics that will get you up to speed, allowing you and your team to get your heads out of the dizzying email vortex sooner than later.
Asana is completely free for teams of 15 members or less. For groups larger than 15 members, you'll be able to pick a package that fits your team starting at $50/month. That works out to around $3/month/user, depending on your team size, which is very reasonably priced compared to its competitors.
Now, let's dive into Asana's great features that'll keep your team away from email.
As part of the signup process, Asana will essentially create your first workspace for you. The workspace is the highest-level view, or the top of the project management funnel, which is why it’s typically designated as the organization or company name. As you’ll see shortly, there’s room for other broad designations under the workspace umbrella.
For smaller teams, one workspace is likely all you need, but additional workspaces may be created for individual use or to be shared with other teams.
The most important step in preparation of your shift from email (or another project management system) to the Asana app requires a bit of planning on your end with regards to use-case conventions. For example:
- Who will work together?
- Who will assign tasks?
- How will members communicate across teams?
- Who needs access to what information?
These answers will help you most effectively segment your teams. Quite simply, teams in Asana can be thought of the same way as they would be in your workplace–as groupings of individuals working together on a specific project or projects (a recurring theme with Asana: easy to use, easy to understand).
Proper team segmentation will serve to reduce many of the frivolous back-and-forth emails that are often the result of miscommunication and/or misinformation.
Understanding the Asana Workflow: Get Organized
It may be helpful to zoom out and consider the Asana workflow (or funnel) for the purposes of organizing your team’s planning. Essentially, that workflow looks like this:
Workspaces -> Projects -> Tasks -> Sub-tasks
Proper planning is the most effective way to immediately phase email out of your project management efforts to a large extent. And integrating the Asana workflow theory into your high-level thinking should help ensure synergies between your white-boarding sessions and the in-app experience of your team.
Since we’ve already touched on workspaces, we’ll jump to a brief overview of the remaining steps in the funnel.
A project is what it is—no tricks here. If a workspace is the 30,000-foot view in Asana, a project is the 10,000-foot view (give or take a few thousand feet).
It’s important to note that a project may or may not have a finite ending point. In other words, some projects can and will be ongoing efforts while others will be more goal-oriented. Identifying these ongoing project will not only reduce said project-related email exchange, but will also undoubtedly reduce the need for continuous planning and meetings outside of Asana after your team gets started.
Depending on the scope of your work, you may find it useful to drill-down more often than not, or vice versa. The good news is that Asana is equipped to handle both types of projects with equal grace and efficiency.
Tasks/Sub-tasks: Project Tracking
As logic would dictate, tasks are the individual components of a specific project. For ongoing projects, tasks may be duplicated/repeated, or they may be broken down into sub-tasks and considered over a longer stretch of time. For more goal-oriented projects, tasks might best be visualized as the specific items on your to-do list. Either way, the flexibility is there to make Asana work for you, and not the other way around.
We’ve all probably sent and received more than one of those annoying “status update” emails that give your team members and management a sense of the progress being made on a particular project you’re involved with. One of the great things about Asana is that these emails become completely irrelevant and equally unnecessary. The app itself acts as a real-time tracking tool of sorts. A quick look at a project’s task list should keep everyone in the loop on progress and current objectives.
Communicating in Asana: Teamwork Made Easy
Asana can be a timesaver when you’re using it alone, but it’s more of a lifesaver when you’re using it with a team. Email may still exist as a necessary evil from time-to-time. But in most work-related instances, you can lean on Asana to streamline and contain your team’s communication. Interaction, updates, and sharing are all part of the in-app experience.
Below, we’ll touch on these core communication aspects of Asana, which are essentially the features crucial to getting your team off of the email train.
Asana uses notes, comments, and assignments to support the daily inter-project communication most teams rely on to work efficiently together. The key difference is that, by containing all communication within the app, the information exchange becomes completely transparent to the entire team, thus eliminating the need for many of the emails and meetings that support keeping everyone up-to-date on progress.
In this way, it’s easy to understand why Asana serves as a communication tool first, and an organization tool second. The phrase “project management” probably does not do it justice.
The Asana inbox can be thought of as a follow/unfollow tool for specific tasks or projects. This enables updates to stream into your main view–just as they do on your favorite social media sites–for quick and easy browsing. After all, Asana’s founders are former Facebook employees.
I should note that if you still prefer to receive updates in your email inbox, you can have your Asana inbox alerts forwarded to your email account as well.
More Email Eliminating Features
Email has perhaps been most effective in recent years at conversation filtering, handling file attachments, and managing calendar integrations. Rest assured, Asana is equipped to support each of these email-intensive functions within the app itself.
Tagging, attachments, and calendar syncing round out the Asana features that are core to getting your team off of email and onto a streamlined communication and project management platform.
To improve your personal experience within the app, I strongly suggest devoting a few hours, or however long it takes, to mastering the keyboard shortcuts in Asana. Most are fairly intuitive, and knowing them will greatly reduce the time you spend keeping your projects, tasks, and interactions up to date.
Putting it All Together
At this point, you should have a solid understanding of one of the best "workplace email replacement" products on the market. In addition to inbox relief, I’ve personally always found Asana to be extremely usable, providing a great UX and limiting the amount of time you’ll spend learning the ropes. And once you’re familiar with the features and tools, you’ll likely find the use-case scenarios to be near limitless, accelerating your march toward power-user status.
All of this being said, if you’re in need of further guidance on setup, are interested in watching some solid how-to videos, are looking for more ideas on how to maximize productivity, or are just plain curious, Asana has put together a really great, comprehensive user guide. It’s worth bookmarking, just like this article.