Getting Sh*t Done (+ Asana Playbook)

General rules / tips for Asana

Asana is also a powerful tool. It will take your productivity to the next level if used correctly, or it can be punishing if used incorrectly. Here is a guide on using Asana to organize your life in accordance with GTD, and maximize personal productivity. All the TODOs are highlighted yellow.

  • Any to-do you need from someone should be an Asana task. Not an email. Not a Slack message. And, vice versa. If someone sends you an email/text/Slack for a favor, ask them to create you an Asana task.
    • If the to-do is to review an Asana task, they should assign you a subtask to review that Asana task. If you don’t assign a subtask to that person, then you should not assume they are going to review or reply just because you mentioned them in a comment or slacked them a link to it.
  • Download Asana for iOS/Android. It can be helpful to have mobile access.

The Basics

  • Every time you have a new task, enter it into Asana by clicking “add task” and typing them out
    • Tasks can come from anywhere – your emails, things to do, etc.
    • Keep gmail inbox 0: Add tasks from your gmail inbox as they come up to be followed up on
    • Only check your email and messages during certain times of the day – ie. morning, noon, evening. Use this time to fill in more tasks.

Getting to Inbox 0 with Gmail Stars and leveraging Asana

We get deluged on a daily basis with inbound messages to email, text, Slack and other online tools. All of these inboxes make up our overall Inbox. Our Inbox is like a triage room at a hospital. So it needs to be kept clear and well functioning.

Best practice is to clear it on a daily basis. In order to manage your time, create special times in the day where you go through email, do not let it consume every hour of your life. Read each message.

  • Any email that takes < 3 minutes to reply to, reply to.
  • Any email that takes > 3 minutes to complete is a task, and goes into Asana. Create a new task, paste a link to the email in the description, and archive the email.
    • Put it into a someday maybe project if its someday maybe
    • Put it as upcoming if it should be done soon
    • Put it in a project as later if it should be done, but no specific time pressure
    • See “Managing your tasks” below
  • For emails that you are waiting on replies put them in your Waiting-For list (described below).

Team

You will be added to the team you belong to as part of the onboarding process. You can always be added to another team with the invitation from anyone belonging to that team.

To create a new team and to invite new members to a team you belong to, click on the (+) icon at the top right corner and follow the steps.

For more detailed information, give this a read.

Projects

Projects are larger than tasks, and typically have several (or many) sub-tasks. A big mistake people commonly make is treating tasks as projects, and overloading them with subtasks. Tasks are not meant to have more than a couple sub-tasks if any. Give this a read.

Make sure projects live in the relevant “Team” in Asana. Your teams are in your left sidebar. Projects should be replicated from our “Project Template”. When you create a project, click templates on the top, and then select the template you’re using:

Feel free to add your own custom sections. Create slots during your day to review projects. Make sure tasks assigned to you are marked today/upcoming/later (see below on how to manage tasks).

Tasks

Managing your tasks

Give this a thorough read.

There are four sections:

  • New → any tasks assigned to you that are non-triaged
  • Today → tasks you’re working on today
  • Upcoming → tasks you’re working on this week
  • Later → tasks you’re working on next week or later

See the section called “Move tasks between priority sections” in the link above on how to move tasks between these sections. Using keyboard shortcuts are highly recommended: “Today” (tab+Y), “Upcoming (tab+U), or “Later” (tab+L)

Daily Reviews (10 min)

TO-DO: Create a task that recurs daily called “Daily Review.”

This task ensures that you are reviewing upcoming deadlines and triaging your daily goals… daily. If you follow this regularly, you should never have a large goal missed out of nowhere as you see it every day up until it is due.

Here is what the task should look like (but with your picture):

In the description, it should say to:
– Review all upcoming and later tasks.
– During this review, drag any tasks into “today” if you plan on accomplishing the task today.
– Drag it out of today if it is not supposed to be there.
– Triage all tasks in “New” into the appropriate section
– Asana Inbox 0

Asana Inbox 0

The Asana Inbox has a list of all the activities and things you are following. Read this to learn about it. Here is the product tour video. Click Inbox on the top left to view:

TO-DO: Turn off email notifications (if you do this, ensure you’re checking Asana Inbox daily)

To turn off Asana notifications for a particular project, go to the relevant project, click the names on the top right or the link to change privacy settings. Then, you can deselect the items you don’t want to get notifications from. This will help clear up your inbox for only the most important items:

Click manage member notifications (bottom left) then change your notification settings:

Top Goal: Keep your highest priority projects top of mind

Greg McKeown wrote a phenomenal book on productivity called Essentialism. Here is a good summary. When we spoke to the author, he boiled it down to one key concept: Schedule two hours each day to work on your Top Goal only. And do that every single work day. Period.

Specifically:

  1. Block off two hours each day on your calendar to work on your Top Goal. The earlier in the day the better, as there is less chance that other pressing issues will interfere.
  2. When you get to this moment in your schedule, copy your Top Goal from your current goals list, paste it into your calendar for today’s Top Goal, and then only work on this goal for the next two hours. Do not respond to emails, texts, calls, etc. Only work on your Top Goal during these two hours.

If you follow this pattern each workday, you will achieve amazing things.

It’s important to keep your highest priority projects top of mind in Asana too. The way you do this is by starring projects, and they will appear at the top of your Sidebar called your Favorites. See https://asana.com/guide/help/fundamentals/navigating-asana#gl-sidebar. To star your project:

TODO: Star all your highest-priority projects that you’d like to keep top of mind.

Roadmap Goals

Every project will have roadmap goals. However, these goals are meant to be exactly that: goals. If it is simple, leave it as-is. For example, if a roadmap goal in an operations meeting is to “Create guide on how to use Asana”, you can leave that as-is. In contrast, if your goal is to “Hire a research scientist”, this is a longer project that involves several different forms of outreach, subgoals, and miscellaneous tasks. This should be its own project.

In the description box of a Roadmap Goal, you can reference the project. Type ‘@’ followed by the name of the project and the hyperlink suggestions will display. It is good to show in a Roadmap goal description where all the underlying work is taking place. Here’s an example:

When this becomes a goal, the description links to a project that is much larger.

Lists

Waiting For List

Oftentimes, you find yourself waiting for a reply from someone. Rather than scan your “Sent” emails for things that have fallen through the cracks, every time you send an email/text/message that you need a reply to, jot it down in a waiting-for list.

TO-DO: Create a note. You can do this on Notes which syncs with your laptop and phone. You can also create a note on Asana but this should be super simple to add/remove from. Keep a separate “Ongoing” folder so it doesn’t get lost in the noise of a million scrap notes:

Someday maybe list

The Someday/Maybe list is a list of items that you want to visit someday… maybe. It is not an Upcoming or Later task (those you are reviewing every day, if you were to review these lists every day it would be way too burdensome). Here’s how it can look:

During your Weekly Reviews, look through all the Someday Maybe lists. You will have lists on your individual projects in which you should review during your individual weekly review. You will have someday maybe lists that you should review in your Weekly Team meetings. Ex. in Operations Weekly, have a five minute section called “Review Someday Maybe – Operations Project”.

If you don’t want your Someday/Maybes to show up in your Later list, remove the assignee.

Other ongoing lists

TO-DO: Create other ongoing lists to keep track of ongoing notes. For example, another ongoing note called pending feedback for teammates. This is extremely useful for building up content for 1on1 feedback.

Other lists like “Things to-buy”, “Articles to read”, etc. should go in your Personal Asana under their own projects. Everything to buy or article to read should be a separate task, but with no name/date (unless of course you want to commit to a name/date). See Weekly Review below to see how you’ll end up re-reviewing these things.

Weekly Reviews (1-2 hours)

Weekly reviews are critical to accomplish certain tasks you should do on a weekly basis, but not on a daily basis. This is a review that repeats weekly. Here’s an example:

TO-DO: create the same task, recurring weekly (Ryan does his on Sundays). It’s mundane work that is relatively brainless and can be done while binge-watching Netflix.

Some notes:

  • You want to go through your Waiting For list to make sure nobody is slipping on replying to you. If you’re in sales/customer service, this should be daily not weekly.
  • Order your Today/Upcoming/Later tasks. You can manually drag Upcoming in chronological order.
  • Review Someday/Maybe projects. These are projects with tasks that are not in today/upcoming/later. These tasks do not have an assignee or a due date. If you have an assignee they’ll go in later, and you don’t want to review these weekly.
  • Review your missed texts!
  • Order eatclub!
  • Review any notes you dropped in during the week.
  • Thank people!
  • Have a separate list of things you want to do in your life, but are not critical if in a rush.

Advanced: Using Templates

We’ll write more about this soon. Give this a full read:

Create templates for any specialized Asana projects you find yourself re-creating repeatedly. Examples:

  • Product has a Large Product template, Small Product template, and a common set of todos for each project
  • Recruiting has a Closing Template for closing candidates that are created for every candidate we need to close.

Other Organizational Resources:

Everyone needs an organizational system to track goals, priorities, and tasks. The majority of successful managers use Getting Things Done: The art of stress-free productivity, by David Allen. While the book is dense, it is definitely worth reading in its entirety. The essence of Allen’s system is:

Each day, process every single item in your Inbox (defined broadly as all Inboxes [email, Slack, text] and all to-do’s). If the action takes <2 minutes to complete, do it immediately. If not, then write down what the action required is, and place it on one of the following lists:

  • Next Actions: These are the next tasks on your priority list separated into areas of context. Computer tasks (tasks where you need access to your computer), home tasks (tasks that can only be completed at home), phone calls, and outside tasks (tasks that can only be completed outside, such as errands). Tasks should be written as single actions (as opposed to broad goals). The key is to not have to think about what needs to be done once the Next Action has been written down. The only next step required is the action itself. In Asana, these are Tasks.
  • Projects: This list is for projects that have more than one Next Action (Task) that can only be done one after the other. Write out all of the Next Actions required to get to completion. Then simply add them chronologically to your Next Actions list.
  • Waiting For: This is the list of things that you have asked others to do, and are waiting for. List the person to whom you have delegated, the requested action, and the date on which you made the request. You can then easily scan your Waiting For list and see which aging requests are still outstanding. Move these aging requests to your Next Action list and ask the person again for the item. You can create a Waiting For project in Asana to keep track of things you’re waiting for, or tag things with a waiting-for tag.
  • Agenda: This is your list of regular meetings and contacts. When you think of something that you want to discuss with someone with whom you meet regularly, don’t simply reach out to them via text or email with the issue. Instead, write it down on your Agenda list. Then, when you meet with that person, check your Agenda list and review everything accumulated there. Inefficient leaders waste a lot of time responding to one-off issues in real-time. A much more efficient method is to batch your issues and discuss them all at once. This does not apply for urgent issues, as we shall address later on.
  • Someday/Maybe: This is the list of things that you one day want to do, but don’t need to get done now (e.g. a reading list, or a someday maybe marketing list).
    Calendar. Use your calendar to schedule Next Actions that need to happen on a certain day or at a certain time.

The Getting Things Done methodology is only as powerful as the discipline you bring to it. We recommend that you block out 15 minutes on your calendar every day to review and update your tasks. To learn more about it without reading the entire book, you can search summaries on google e.g.: https://www.samuelthomasdavies.com/book-summaries/business/getting-things-done/

Disclaimers

This does not completely apply to tasks/projects you are using other task-management-systems for (eg. Salesforce) but still might be useful.