Complexities of Task Management > Tasks

taskSo as I struggle with task management (both my personal tasks and business/team tasks)… Who doesn’t?  How can I keep up with everything I need to do while keeping up with (and assigning) things that my team needs to do?

For me, the worst part of testing task-management apps is going too far down the rabbit hole. You name it, I’ve installed and used it… for a while.  An endless list maker, I can get sucked into a great to-do list app and forget that I’m only testing it, that I probably shouldn’t try to meet too many real-life organizational needs in an app I’m only supposed to use for a few days.

When I started playing with Web-based Asana, I once again forgot to restrain myself. Asana can function as a personal to-do list and organizer; collaborative personal to-do list if you want to interact with, say, family members only; or a project management app for small teams.  The difference now is that my team and I are fully embedded in Asana!

Asana offers all the right tools for managing teamwork, light collaboration, and tasks, such as deadline settings, priority and label options, and a flexible and nimble work environment.

Although Asana can also be a project-management app, I wouldn’t recommend using the free version for complex projects in place of specialized PM software, such as Basecamp or Huddle. The free version conquers basic teamwork and personal projects with ease, but it doesn’t expand in a way that would accommodate complex projects well. For that, you’ll have to pay.

Design and Features

Thoughtful design makes the main workspace in Asana bend to your needs. The dashboard is divided into three sections. A rail along the left shows your workspace overview, containing all your groups and projects. From this pane, you can add a new member, start a new project, create a group, and manage tags. The middle section changes based on which project you select on the left to show all the tasks contained therein. Select an item in this middle section, and the third pane on the far right drills down into more details about that item.

The ability to move tasks around in Asana, ad hoc, makes the Web app unique. Tasks glide across the screen when you simply click and drag them to change their order (the app was built in HTML 5). It’s a piece of cake to reprioritize, say, purchasing that kitchen tile, without actually changing the due date by simply dragging up to the top of the list.

Asana’s fluidity makes it feels similar to a great iPad app that leverages all possibilities of multitouch gestures in its design, such as Flipboard, for example. The list of projects, however, is fixed in alphabetical order. I’d love to be able to reorder those, too.

When you resize the browser window, Asana likewise resizes appropriately to preserve the middle and right panes while hiding the left one—but not entirely. It peeks out so you can see it and access it quickly.

Asana didn’t skimp on features. When you create a task, you can assign it to a member, schedule a due date, upload associated documents, write comments, add tags, and even subscribe or unsubscribe to notifications regarding changes to the task. Asana gives each member an inbox for mail, and that’s where notifications appear.

Interactive checkboxes let you tick off tasks as you complete them—and just as easily untick them if you or another Asana member strikes something off in error.

Someone at Asana had power users in mind when it came time to put the final touches on the interface design because a short list of essential keyboard shortcuts appears on the footer. Also along the bottom are quick links to tutorial videos, which you can hide if you prefer.

I do have one issue with the design, but it doesn’t really apply so much to individuals as to larger teams. Asana doesn’t compartmentalize much. Everything you want to find is, for the most part, located on one screen, rather than tucked away under a series of tabs, or windows-within-windows, as it were. What this means for larger project management tasks and bigger group projects is that Asana can look very cluttered, which is a productivity inhibitor.

No Downloadable Version

While Asana’s speed and responsiveness in testing never faltered, and I love the fact that I can access Asana from anywhere I have an Internet connection, I do wish the app were available offline, too. Currently, Asana is Web-only. Even its iOS app requires a connection to work.

As much as I believe in “the cloud,” I still prefer hybrid approaches to software, apps that allow me to work offline when I need to, but automatically sync my changes to my Web account when I’m through. Rely on an always-on Internet connection, and you have no failsafe for Internet service or power outages, or other times when you can’t get online. And it’s not like these things are rare. Anyone who lives or works in a developing country or a region with nasty weather (Texas in summer?) simply doesn’t expect hiccup-free Internet 24/7. Frequent travelers, too, often prefer to work offline than connect to airport Wi-Fi for a measly 25 minutes every time they’re waiting to board. Asana already flies very high, but if users also had an option to work offline on a downloadable app, it could soar.

Personal Task-Management and Teamwork

Asana’s thoughtful design, fluid interactive elements, and generous member allotment in its free version make it a powerful task-management app for personal projects and light teamwork. The paid version provides the few extra features you’d need to use it for more complex project management (except for offline access). Depending on your needs, however, the free version of Basecamp, our Editors’ Choice for free Web-based PM software, may be a better bet.

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