Workflow tip: Todos with Asana

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My projects in Asana - an insane mix of English, Swedish, and Norwegian plague my tasks and projects.

As one of the maybe last cavemen alive I used to manage all of my web projects with Notepad. The ease and speed of just typing my tasks, separating them with a line break was what worked for me. No fancy online tool or fancy project management thingy worked for me, not even my own todo webapp. It looked like todo.txt would survive the apocalypse. But then I found Asana and started improving my workflow. Same ease of use as before, but with a lot of added power.

Moving on from todo.txt

I’ve been using Asana for the last 1,5 year now. And I haven’t looked back to my old todo.txt since. Because before Asana I mostly managed my projects with Notepad (or something as fancy as pen and paper). The “todo.txt”-file sat in my project folder, for each of my projects. It was simple. Each line was a task. When I finished one I removed it. If I needed to switch computer, which hardly ever happened, I e-mailed the file to myself. Sounds like a pain in the butt, but really this way of working fit me like hand in glove, and it stole very little of my time.

Like most developers I built my own todo-tool eventually. It worked. But maintaining and working on new features took more time than it’s worth. Fun in the beginning, but quickly got too complex. So by accident, via some developer blog, I found Asana.

Picture of Asana main work page

I would sum it up as a tool being just as easy as writing your tasks as text in notepad, but with loads of powerful functions that you could use if you need and want. I never liked working with Jira, Pivotal Tracker, whats-its-name. At least not in smaller projects (1-4 people teams), with shorter spans. Those tools stole too much time from me. We’re talking hours of maintenance per week.

The consultants at Enonic are now all trying out Asana. It serves our workflow very good because we mostly work on projects with short time spans and few team members. With Asana we use minimal time on things that isn’t coding.

Ease of use in keyboard heaven

The cool thing about Asana is that you don’t set up complex issues with loads of parameters - unless you need to - that take you many minutes per task. To add a task you type a descriptive title and hit Enter and type the next one. Very easy to create 20 tasks on-the-fly. All controlled by your keyboard. When you’re finished with one task you just click the checkbox, or hit Ctrl + Enter while the task is selected.

Example tasks in Asana with colored tags

To flesh out a task you can easily tag it with any number of tags (which you also can colorize to get a better overview), and you could also add a longer description. You can even have a full blown conversation about the task in the comments section on each task. I use that to track my line of thought on tasks that are a bit more complex.

If you write a short task name and end it with a colon, “:”, it will transform into a category. Just hit enter to keep it as a category, or keep typing to turn it back into a normal task. Categories are used to group tasks and are easy to drag around. Categories could have names like “Design”, “Javascript”, “Waiting for approval” or “Ready for QA”, it’s really up to you.

Re-organize one or many of your tasks to sit under one of your new categories with ease. You can Ctrl + click many tasks (even Shift + click) to select many tasks and drag them to a category. Select one task and press Ctrl + Up or Ctrl + Down to move the task around. Keyboard joy! If you have multiple projects going you can easily drag your tasks to another project completely. Or just duplicate that project of yours (very nice when you have a template of tasks for going to production with code).

More power?

Asana even let’s you create sub-tasks (a list of todos inside another todo), merging of duplicates items (handy when projects grow large), assignment of tasks to people (by e-mail), and due dates (with a full blown calendar-view). All of this adds to my love for Asana. It’s very small and easy by default, but you can add more complexity to it if you need. Making it a product you can grow with. I use it for practically everything - even when I moved to a new apartment and needed to get a lot of different things sorted at different dates by different people.

A feature I found extra awesome was that I could use their powerful copy-paste - see the section “Paste multi-line list here” - to get rid of my old txt-files. With it I could do some quick “search and replace” in all of my old “todo.txt” and then just copy-paste it straight into Asana to turn each row into a task of its own.

BonusSnow effect in Asana's Winter theme

Asana has a full API you could work with if you’d like. And why not try out their Chrome extension?

If you already registered at Asana and wanna see some nice snow animation you should click on your Asana username in the bottom left of the main screen. In the list click “Account Settings”. Now click the “Themes” tab and select the theme “Winter”.