Og Mandino, author of The Greatest Salesman in the World, wrote:

“The victory of success is half won when one gains the habit of setting goals and achieving them. Even the most tedious chore will become endurable as you parade through each day convinced that every task, no matter how menial or boring, brings you closer to fulfilling your dreams.”

As a process-driven founder, this quote really hits home for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve used tools to keep myself organized and to move work forward. As a young student, I used notebooks, agendas, and labels. As a freelance graphic designer, I used Things and Evernote. Today, at Splash Effect, we’ve settled on Asana as our platform of choice for getting things done. We take Asana very seriously, as projects are the lifeblood of our agency. And poorly planned projects fail. In fact, only 64% of projects meet their goals, and 70% of companies report having at least one failed project in the last year. For every $1 billion invested in projects and programs, organizations lose on average $109 million. Worse, is that 46% of organizations admit to not fully understanding the value of project management, even though understanding boosts the success rate of strategic initiatives by 16%.

But the 77% of companies who use project management software (including 87% of high-performing companies) enjoy the many benefits of a well-oiled machine. There are many challenges overcome by using project management software, such as capturing time/cost of projects (62%), lack of integration between tools (38%), no central source of project information (35%), poor visibility & resource management (31%) and lack of visibility into work in progress (21%). Ultimately, the use of project management software offers significant benefits to the business, in the form of increased:

– Team communication (52%)
– Quality of final product (44%)
– Number of projects completed on budget (44%)
– Number of projects completed on time (44%)
– Customer satisfaction (38%)

Asana’s clients include Uber, AirBNB, Pinterest, NASA, Intel, Tesla, and Dropbox. At one point, each of these companies were made up of just a handful of individuals who each had their unique way of getting things done and could get those things done relatively quickly and without much friction. But then they began to scale, and had to get everyone in the company on the same page. With Splash Effect’s team size now in the double-digits, I’ve created this short guide to tighten up the way we use Asana. In fact, it’s now officially part of our new staff on-boarding process. And I hope that it can prove equally useful for you and your team. Let’s go!

GTD – Our Productivity Methodology

If you haven’t already, please read Getting Things Done by David Allen (there’s a copy floating around our office, if you want to borrow it). If you don’t have time, read the Actionable Books summary, as well as this LifeHacker primer. And as a visual companion, grab this flowchart.

In particular, memorize the five steps below. They will govern the way you use Asana, and 10x your productivity in general:

1. CAPTURE | Collect what has your attention.
2. CLARIFY
| Process what it means.
3. ORGANIZE
| Put it where it belongs.
4. REFLECT
| Review frequently.
5. ENGAGE
| Simply do.

Then, take Asana’s guided tour to familiarize yourself with the platform.

The hierarchy of elements in the product (and how they fit into your workflow) is perhaps the most important thing to know right from the jump:

A. Teams (A collection of people who collaborate on…)
B. Projects (A list of…)
C. Tasks (The basic unit of work. Often comprised of…)
D. Subtasks

About Teams

At Splash Effect, our teams are:

– TEMPLATES | An assortment of sample projects and workflows.
– STRATEGY | The company’s “meta” to-do list, a topic I wrote about for Asana.
– MANAGEMENT | Projects involved in running day-to-day agency operations.
– MARKETING | Projects involved in crafting and sharing the Splash Effect story.
– CLIENTS | Every client project, structured as “[CLIENT NAME] | [DELIVERABLE]”
– PRODUCTS | Every internal or partner product, structured as “[PRODUCT NAME] | [DELIVERABLE]”
– GROWTH | Those projects dealing with sales, business development, and innovation (especially new lines of business)

About Projects

Each project should have a project scope document in its description, along with all pertinent login details. Nothing is more annoying than to drop into a project and not know which side is up!

We have two preferred default views for projects:

1. Tasks By Due Date
2. Tasks by Project/Priority

Colour coding helps to visualize tasks in your personal to-do list. Our default colours are:

– Strategy = Red
– Clients = Blue
– Products = Purple
– Management = Orange
– Marketing = Yellow
– Growth = Green

Everyone has a Dashboard view that enables them to glance key information about their projects:

– Deadline
– Tasks Completed
– Tasks Remaining
– Status
– Next Steps/Blocker
– About Tasks

About Tasks

For a detailed breakdown of how to write a perfect task, check out this post I wrote for Asana a while back. Here’s the gist of it:

1. STEP | Make it clear what specific action needs to be performed.
2. DETAILS | Consider the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, Why, How?
3. DEADLINES | Establish the due date, and all of the milestones between now and then. Deadlines are everything when it comes to a project. Without them, our goals become dreams. That’s when Parkinson’s Law kicks in and “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. In other words, assign no deadline, and nothing will get done.
4. CONTEXT | And finally, provide additional details to help you prioritize this task. How long will the task take to complete? What type of work is this? Is it a priority, and at what level? Which project does it fall under? It’s worth considering the use of tags to help sort through tasks. I personally use the following tags to help me decide what to work on between meetings, or when my energy or time is low: 5 Minutes, 10 Minutes, 30 Minutes, and 1 Hour.

About Subtasks

Not much to say here, other than these are tasks broken down into micro-tasks.

…And that’s more or less how we use Asana at Splash Effect. It’s simple, straightforward, and helps us to move many projects forward.

FAQS

When should I add a task to Asana?
If there’s something that requires action, add it to Asana. If you’re reading an e-mail, try to distill the action item(s) from it. If there’s something that’s been assigned to you in a meeting, add it to Asana right away.

When should I not add a task to Asana?
If you can take that action within two minutes, then just do it instead of processing it. Also, if you haven’t had a conversation with the person you’re delegating the task to ahead of time, it’s probably best not to catch them by surprise.

When should I start a new project?
Asana has perfectly outlined when to do this:

– A simple rule of thumb: If you have 5-10 subtasks on a task it may be time to use a project instead (especially if you anticipate adding more subtasks over time).
– If you have multiple levels of subtasks (a subtask with a subtask), it’s definitely time to make a project.
– If your subtasks have a lot of comments, it’s probably time to make a project since commenting is more visible at the task level.
– If more than three stakeholders are involved in completing a piece of work, a project is an easier way to see who is responsible for each piece.
– If you have a workflow that involves moving work from one stage to the next (like a sales or recruiting pipeline, a review process, bug tracking, etc), using Sections is really helpful, and they’re easier to create within projects.
– If you want to track progress towards a goal or project due date using Dashboards, use a project with tasks, since subtasks do not appear on the progress charts.
– If you anticipate the scope of a task increasing from a small chunk of work to a major initiative, use a project.

When should I use a section instead of a project?
If you have a workflow that involves moving work from one stage to the next (like a sales or recruiting pipeline, a review process, bug tracking, etc), using Sections is really helpful, and they’re easier to create within projects.

Checklist

Let’s do a quick recap. Here’s what you need to structure your Asana workspace:

Every team must have:

1. Privacy set to public
2. All members added

Every project must have:

1. Project scope
2. Necessary information (ie. logins, etc.)
3. Directly responsible individual
4. Default view (determine by DRI)
5. Dashboard view
6. Proper colour coding

Every task must have:

1. Step
2. Details
3. Deadline
4. Context

Once you’ve got your structure in place, start working. Be sure to update your projects statuses at least once a week, and then meet as a team to review project progress and quickly address statuses that are in yellow and red.

American industrialist Henry Ford once said: “coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” I’m proud of all that we’ve accomplished together at Splash Effect, powered by Asana. But the journey to align our work in the ways outlined hasn’t been smooth sailing – there’s been a lot of trial-and-error and missteps along the way. But as a leader building processes, it’s crucial to help your team find their legs, to regularly check in to see how they’re faring, and to be open to changing the course (even if it’s out of sync with your personal productivity style). For in our line of work, it’s better to go further than to go faster.