Throughout my career, I’ve experimented with A LOT of task management apps and processes. I have found that pretty much every marketing role involves juggling a stack of projects, each with different stakeholders, approval processes and deadlines.
In this post, I outline how Asana has become a must-have project management and collaboration tool for my marketing communications team.
For many years, I had bashed the Microsoft Office “tasks” feature into a task management workflow that vaguely aligned with David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. It wasn’t ideal, but this process carried me through a number of busy marketing communications and event management roles.
About 18 months ago, when I moved companies and began managing my current team of writers, graphic designers and digital marketers, two challenges arose.
The first was that the company used Gmail as its corporate email system, so my Office-based task management system was now not an option. I needed to find a replacement system to physically record my to-do list.
The second challenge was the complexity of managing projects across eight people, many of which involve detailed approvals and a lot of collaboration.
Productivity and project management tools had moved on since I had first set up my Office-based task management system. A new range of online, cloud-based apps and tools was available. I began trialling task management tools like Remember the Milk, Toodledo, and eventually came across Asana.
After trialling Asana for my personal projects and tasks for a month, I decided that it was worth rolling out to the team.
Asana claims that it keeps your team organised, connected and focussed on results. Having used it now for nearly 18 months, I can definitely say it has become a critical part of our daily workflow.
Keeping an eye on the big picture with Asana
It’s simple enough – Asana works on the premise of setting up projects. Each project can have sub tasks. You can even create sub tasks for your sub tasks.
We’ve set up our Asana workspace with sections for each of the major functions my team is responsible for. Strategy and Planning, Corporate Communications, Public Relations and Investor Relations are just a few of the overarching “projects” listed.
Within each of those major sections, we create a line item for each specific unit of work (or project). For example, in the Public Relations “project”, we create a line item for each press release, case study, bylined article and thought leadership piece we have in the pipeline.
Each line item is assigned to a specific team member, assigned a due date, and categorised with relevant tags; for example, press release. We’ve also standardised naming conventions for our projects to ensure that we can quickly see the break up of content types in progress.
It took some time to get our Asana workspace set up in a way that works for us, but what I love about it is that I can see who is working on what, what is in our pipeline at any time, what the status of each project is, and I can also drill down into more details for any project if I need to.
This process has cut out a lot of emails between team members asking where specific projects are up to – by writing notes against each tasks, almost all of the information related to each task is kept in one place.
Using sub-sections within each overall project to mirror workflow
Within each of our overarching projects, we use sub-sections (created simply in Asana by entering the name of the sub-section, with “:” directly following it.
For example, in our press release folder, our sub-sections mirror our content approval process, and include:
- Awaiting brief/further info
- Customer interview scheduled
- Drafting content
- Internal approvals
- External approvals
- Executive approval
- Distribution – internal
- Distribution – external
- On Hold
Asana’s drag and drop functionality lets us easily move specific press releases from one sub-section to the next, depending on where they are in the approval process.
This visual map lets us all see at a glance, how many releases are in the pipeline and where they are in approvals.
We keep projects that are On Hold in their own category, so we can see the history of any project that has come previously come through our team and was put on hold for whatever reason. This has been useful when we get questions about “whatever happened to that release?”. All of the communication around that piece is stored against the task in Asana, and we can quickly identify why it was put on hold.
We use this workflow approach for our external and internal communications projects, and pretty much every content type we work with.
Creating consistent workflows with Asana
One of the ways we use Asana to embed processes in the team, is by using templates. When one of our writers starts to work on a new press release for example, they’ll create a new project by duplicating one of our press release templates.
The template contains a pre-agreed list of tasks including everything from getting the brief, interviewing relevant stakeholders, obtaining relevant approvals, distribution of the release, filing, recording metrics and closing the task down.
Using templates ensures that our approval process is followed consistently every time, and that no important steps are missed. It also means if someone is away, any of the other team members can see where a press release is up to, and take action if required.
We’ve refined our templates over the last 18 months to include tasks that are pre-assigned to our writers, approvers and designers. This approach has definitely improved productivity both in terms of setting up the task, and giving other team members a heads up about what work will be coming their way.
For large projects, like creating the annual report, we simply duplicate the entire project from the previous year, and update the due dates for the current year. It saves having to reinvent the wheel each time for some of our recurring projects.
Other things we love about Asana
- It’s a cloud-based app, which means we can access our Asana workspace from any device, anywhere.
- Asana sends daily reminders of tasks that are due each day and week.
- Asana’s calendar function syncs with Google Calendar, so our Asana tasks automatically appear in our Google Calendar
- We can add attachments to Asana tasks, or links to other relevant documents in the comments section; keeping all relevant documentation related to that task together.
- Any team member can follow a specific project or task and get email updates when its status changes, cutting down the need for email.
Using Asana to manage personal projects
I use Asana to manage my personal goals and projects. I’ve set this up in a separate Asana account, but use many of the processes I’ve outlined above to help me record and track my personal projects.
It’s great for managing tasks related to Highflying Marketers, such as content creation, my editorial calendar, and recurring activities such as my monthly website review etc. I also use it to record which books I’ve read (against my goal of reading two books a month), and all sorts of things I simply don’t want to forget.
I now spend less time and energy mentally trying to remember all of the minute details, and rely on Asana to store those details.
Asana is just one of many project and task management tools out there, and ultimately it’s about finding whichever tool and process works for you. If you’re interested in exploring Asana (we use the free version), try these great resources:
- The Guide (Official Asana website)
- Asana Videos (Official Asana website)
- Templana – Pre-designed templates (some free and some paid); may provide some inspiration to get you started
If you already use Asana, I’d be very keen to hear how you use it – feel free to leave a comment or contact me via social media.