I hardly remember what I ate for breakfast. I don’t usually eat breakfast, so that isn’t a good example, but hopefully you get the idea.
These days I’ve accepted that I have a somewhat bad memory. Especially when it comes to when things are supposed to happen. I’ve taken a few steps to ensure that I don’t forget things… especially the important things.
The last number of years I had been using Google’s Inbox app to snooze emails containing things I need to do. I could also add tasks within Google Inbox. My life and deadlines revolved around Inbox.
Unfortunately Google announced a few months ago that they were going to be discontinuing Google Inbox.
When I first heard that they were shutting down Inbox, after checking to make sure it wasn’t a joke, I may have thrown a small temper tantrum. Apparently it’s going to shut down in just a few months, which means it is time to move on.
The Tools I Use
When I started looking for a tool to replace what I was doing in Inbox, there were a couple of criteria that needed to be met.
I had to be able to add and edit tasks from my mobile devices. (Phone, or iPad.)
It needed to be able to do recurring tasks.
I needed to have tasks “bubble up” based on a due date. If I set a task to be due in two months I don’t need to see it till it’s due.
It needed to be pretty simple… simple things are easier to use. Essentially it needed to get out of the way and let me do what I came to do.
I realized pretty quickly that the tool we were using at work (at that time) for task management would cover just about all of my needs. I began the process of adding tasks from Inbox and it quickly became my new “memory bank hub.”
Asana is my tool of choice right now. One of the biggest appeals of Asana is that the “Basic” level is free. For one person it’ll cover almost all of your needs. It does mine. Although there are in depth features that I don’t use.
Here is a little run down of how I currently use Asana.
Mobile – I don’t love using the Asana app on my phone or iPad, but the option is there. This is especially useful if I’m outside and think of something that I need to do. Sitting in a tree stand is a good use case. A couple of times this fall I sat in a tree stand and scoped out personal projects that I was working on, or just jotted down ideas for things that I would like to do.
Desktop – My main interfacing with the app happens on a computer. I couldn’t find an official desktop app, so I created one using Nativefier. If you’re the developer type (or are just adventurous) and like having dedicated apps instead of another open tab in your browser, I highly recommend this approach. Most of my task and project management happens from the desktop.
Projects – Each task I create gets put into a project (learning keyboard shortcuts can save a lot of time, for instance adding a task to a project is simply tab + p). I set up a project called “Personal” this is where little todo tasks (checking old email accounts) would go. I also have projects set up for all of my “side projects” if a client needs something done I drop a task into that particular project.
Assignee – The key to making Asana work well is to make sure that you assign each task to yourself. Otherwise it won’t show up in your “My Tasks” view. I wish, for an account with only one person in it, all tasks would just be assigned to that one person. Oh well… its easy enough to assign a task to a person. (tab + a)
Due Date – It is also ideal to add a due date to almost every task (tab + d). Although I have an “ideas” project where I dump things that I don’t want to forget, but that don’t have a specific timeline. These “ideas” tasks don’t get assigned to me, and they don’t get a due date. If a task isn’t assigned to me it won’t show up in the “My Tasks” view. In this particular case I don’t need to see this type of tasks, but they are there when I want to go look at all of the outlandish project ideas I’ve had. Note: When choosing a due date for a task I usually don’t set a “hard due date” my thinking is that I’ll use a due date for when I want to revisit or rethink about that particular task. There is nothing wrong with a task showing up on your to do list and simply moving the due date to another future date when you want to review it.
The Magic of Repetition – If you want to really up your game use repeating tasks. When you set a due date on a task, toggle the setting for that task to repeat. You can set the task to repeat a specific number of days after it is completed, or on a regular schedule (once every two weeks). I have a bunch of tasks that are recurring, things like “update budget” or “post weekly blog post” or “review yearly goals.”
Do It – I know it sounds like I have an obsessive disorder about the the way that I “manage” my personal life tasks. It took some time to get into the habit of doing things this way, but I made myself stick with it for a month or so. I’m really glad I did. Sticking with it for that amount of time allowed me to get recurring tasks set up when they first came around. Quarterly tax payments, birthdays, credit card payments, etc. Set them up, then remember them.
Things I Miss From Inbox – There really isn’t a lot I miss from Google’s Inbox at this point, but there is one major thing. Inbox showed Google “todos” as well as emails. So as I was driving I could just say “Hey Google, remind me this evening at 6 that I need to call my cousin.” That task would then show up within Inbox, and I’d get a reminder on my phone, which was super nice. With Asana I have to open the app, tap to create a task, and then use the voice to text feature on my phone to create the task, then I have to hit “submit.” It still shows up where I need it to, its just a bit more cumbersome.
Email – Now, the obvious elephant in the room at this point is the email aspect of things. Asana does not handle my email inbox. After some time, having the separation of email and task management is actually a positive. After a bit of trial and error and multiple different apps, I’ve landed on Spark for my email app, it’s Mac only I believe, but it allows me to snooze emails till evening, tomorrow morning, the weekend, or a specific date/time. I have to keep my inbox clean or I just about lose my mind. Spark also has a very useful feature that allows me to write an email at 4:45 a.m. and have it wait to send the email till 7 a.m. when the rest of the world wakes up. Or next Monday at 9:22 a.m. during regular business hours.
What I Want to Use in the Future
Asana is pretty great. It does everything that I personally need it to. It does more than I need it to really. However there are a few things I really dislike about it. Fortunately almost all of these are pretty superficial. First… the design of the app isn’t super clean. Second… when the app loads the initial view is “Home” while that makes sense in a lot of ways I never use this view. The first thing I do is switch to the “My Tasks” view. that extra click drives me bonkers.
One thing that isn’t superficial is how Asana organizes projects that are “across organizations.” This isn’t an issue if you just work with yourself… but, I’m currently in three “organizations” which requires me to completely switch which “organization” I’m viewing several times per day at a minimum. The “My Tasks” is scoped to only show my tasks for the current organization. While I understand why they did this, it doesn’t make sense to me. If my tasks are due today, I would love to have them show up in a single place instead of three different places (one for each organizations).
There are also a few other limitations in how the project/task life cycle. Most of these aren’t a big deal for my personal stuff, but for what we’re doing at work they are a pretty big deal. In fact because of a number of these things we’ve recently switched to another task management system. I’m still not sold on the new tool, truth is I kind of despise it, but I understand some of the reasoning behind why we switched, and I’m going to do my best to adapt how I organize work tasks to fit within that system.
Eventually I think I want to try to disrupt the project management space… by “disrupt” I mean build an app and offer it to people who think like I do when it comes to design and functionality. I don’t want an app that does a huge laundry list of things. I want an app that is pretty opinionated in the approach to projects -> estimates -> tasks. A beautiful app that I really enjoy using. I spend a lot of time in Asana. I wish it was an experience that I actually enjoyed. It isn’t horrible… but there are a number of things that I really don’t like.
Oh well, the time to build that app is in the future, for now I’ll keep tossing ideas into my Asana project for “Project Management App.” Yes, the irony of that is very evident to me. 🙂
Well… thats just about it for this week. I realize that you may not know what to expect from my blog posts at this point. After a couple of postsabout goals, and travel, you get one about “personal project management.”
I’m afraid that may be the new normal. I want to be able to write about tech, how I do things, design, travel, feelings, spiritual things, goals, etc… so I guess if that doesn’t sound interesting to you, well, I guess I should apologize.
Except I can’t really apologize, my mind wanders and is interested in a lot of different things. I believe I’ll be able to create more valuable articles if I don’t allow myself to get too pigeon holed into a specific topic.
Completely changing the subject… I forgot to give you links to the videos I’ve created over the last few weeks. I’ve been keeping my goal (so far) of creating and publishing a video each week. So far they’ve been pretty random and pretty simple, but I’ve already learned a fair bit about editing through the process.
With no further ado, here are links to each video thus far.