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30 Days With: Asana

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30 Days With: Asana

    (Editor’s Note: This is a featured post in our ongoing series “30 Days With…”, which outlines the use of a productivity tool, service, or product that we have used for the past 30 days. We want to provide our readers with an in-depth view of tools and products that they are interested in, provide them our thoughts anod offer ways to use these products faster and better. Enjoy.)

    When I was working independently, I really didn’t have much need for a task manager that could handle communication and collaboration across the miles. However, since I started to be involved in many more team activities – so much so that I tend to spend more time in a team environment than not – I found that my task manager I was using (OmniFocus) was leaving some of the much-needed tasks on the table. In addition, a lot of the people I work with aren’t on a Mac or iOS device, which made using OmniFocus a moot point.

    I tried other task management solutions, such as Flow and I even waded into Wunderkit for a bit. But nothing captured all that I needed in a solution better than Asana, the brainchild of former Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and former Facebook employee, Justin Rosenstein.

    There was a lot to explore in my 30 days with Asana. And while I did dive in pretty deep, I don’t want to overwhelm you with all of the finer points. Instead, you’re going to get many of the highlights I discovered during my use of Asana during the last 30 days, and I’m leaving some breathing room for more exploration as the product develops.

    Let’s get started…

    Workspaces

    Asana allows you to create Workspaces – which are really more than projects. In fact, you can put projects inside of Workspaces. The best way I can describe Workspaces is that they are really “areas of focus” that you need to keep tabs on – and have several layers to them so you can manage tasks and projects within them. I have created several Workspaces:

    • Personal: Contains personal projects and tasks
    • Professional: Contains individual projects and tasks that are work-related
    • Family: Contains family projects and tasks
    • Multiple “Team-Based” Workspaces: Each of which contains projects and tasks associated with the team I’m working with in that Workspace

    On that last point, Lifehack has its own Workspace, my podcasts that I have co-hosts with have their own Workspaces, and so on. Basically, any professional area of focus that requires sharing (as a whole) gets its own Workspace. I made the mistake of putting them under Professional at first, but then had to make all of my Professional projects and tasks private to me as a result. So if you’re going to use Asana as both a team and individual task management solution, keep your Workspace solo and add Workspaces for the different clients/partnerships you need to collaborate on and add those involved to those Workspaces.

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      I also have Family separate so that I can share that with my wife and she doesn’t have to see all of my other stuff that doesn’t directly impact her. Sure, I can share individual tasks and projects with her under that Workspace, but having a Family one basically makes her and I teammates in an area of focus instead.

      During my first couple of weeks with Asana, I wasn’t able to move around Workspaces on the sidebar; they stayed in the order in which they had been created. Yet just before I finished up my initial time with Asana, they had made reordering of WorkSpaces (among other things ) happen. That’s how actively developed Asana is.

      Each person you add to a workspace will receive an email invite, and you’ll be able to see whether they’ve accepted by checking the Members tab in your workspace settings.While someone can be a member of more than one Workspace, the tasks and projects of each are independent – so they can only see them within that Workspace and not throughout Asana as a whole. I find that – despite not digging getting a ton of email – a regular update email from Asana on Workspaces helps out with this if you’re not used to working in multiple areas of focus. You can turn on or off email notifications in your Asana Account Settings under the Email Notifications tab.

      Tip: The great thing about Email Notifications from Asana is that you can send them to whatever email you’d like for the Workspaces you choose. All of my Lifehack notifications come from and go to my Lifehack email account, making the managing of that area of focus far easier.

      Projects

      Projects are essentially the backbone of Asana, as opposed to tasks in other systems of note. You can view prjects in several different ways: by priority, by assignee, or by associated tags. The filtering that Asana has built-in allows for a great deal of customization so that you can look at what you want and how you want.

        Once you figure out how Workspaces work, slotting projects in them is easier to grasp. You can create both public and private projects within a given workspace, the former of which are viewable by all the members of that workspace. You can also create a project by duplicating an existing one – which is great for repeating projects (such as managing a podcast or a weekly blog posting schedule, for example). Just click the arrow dropdown at the top of the project you want to copy, and select “Duplicate Project.” Then you’ll get a list of what items you want to duplicate, as well as the opportunity to change the name of the newly-created project.

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        Tip: Create project templates using the duplication method above; they are extremely useful to have and you can maintain many of the attributes from the original project so that you can work more efficiently with those projects that cycle regularly. Oh, and you can’t add due dates to projects, so let the tasks inside the projects do that for you. Just archive the project when all the tasks are done.

        Tasks

        Tasks are the building block of any productivity-type system, and with Asana this is no different. Tasks are basically “to dos” and you can attach a wide variety of things to them to make them more information-laden. Notes and comments are fantastic aspects of Asana, in that comments allow for teammates to communicate with one another on a task outside of email, and notes let you put hyperlinks and much more in side of a task so that you can provide all anyone will ever need for a task within Asana.

          You can view tasks by project, tag or person, using the tabs in the left-hand pane. You can ensure that you see only the tasks assigned to you by opening “Your Tasks,” which you’ll also find located in the left-hand pane. While in your own task list, click the dot to the left of a task name (or use the icons in the the task details – located in the right-hand pane) to organize your tasks by “intention” – as in, when you’re going to work on them. When you’ve completed a task, click the “Archive” dropdown at the top of a project to hide it from view.

          Something you need to keep in mind when creating tasks is that any you add within Your Tasks (or within a private project) are private by default. But as soon as you add public tags or add the task to a public project, you will make the task public – and viewable by all the members of the Workspace. I add an “x” to tags that are meant for private use (like “xwriting” vs “writing”) so that I don’t accidentally share something that’s meant to stay under wraps. Make sure you put the “x” at the front of the tag so that you don’t auto-complete to a public tag by mistake.

          To add a due date to a task, simply click into the task details field (or use “Tab +D” on your keyboard). You can set the task to repeat regularly – or set it to a pretty cool interval known as “periodically”. That bascially allows you to assign a given number of days after it is marked complete to repeat once more. If you need to keep tabs on others, just check the status of a task in an assignee’s workflow by looking at the icon to the right of their name in the task details.

          Tip: When you make a list of tasks (for me, it is with Simplenote on my iPhone – although you can use any text editor that syncs back to your computer) and drag it to Asana, it creates a separate task for each item. And if you have a space between each list – using bullet points for example with a heading, it makes the non-bulleted point a Priority Heading. While this doesn’t work in the iPhone app, it does allow you to make simple lists with a text editor and then bring them over to Asana for processing when you’re ready.

          Tags

          I look at tags as if they are contexts in the GTD sense. Here’s what Asana says about tags:

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          “Tags provide an additional level of categorization to tasks – they identify important characteristics that tasks share in common.”

          I use locations (or activities, like “Writing”) as tags. But unlike contexts in GTD apps like OmniFocus, I can assign multiple tags to a task by looking at them this way. This is a great feature, especially when you consider that you can change a tag to a project if you ever feel the need to do so. I haven’t done this yet, but if I end up using “twitter” as a tag for several tasks to the point where it has gone beyond its usefulness as such, I can change it into a project and then attack it from that vantage point. That allows me to duplicate it over and over again, should I need to spend a lot of time on Twitter (or it becomes a bigger aspect of my Workspace than what a tag would indicate).

          Tip: This comes straight from Asana: For tasks that are necessary to the completion of more than one project, you can indicate this by clicking the “plus” button to the right of Projects in the task details, or by typing “Tab + P,” and typing the name of the relevant project.

          The Inbox

          Here’s how Asana defines its Inbox, which is somewhat different then what most people would traditionally think:

          (Asana’s) Inbox shows all of the tasks that have been assigned to you by someone else, or from another context.  You can accept tasks from the New Tasks section by clicking the inbox icon and choosing an option.

          The best thing you can do with these is to follow simple GTD practices of Do, Delegate, Defer or Delete. I generally go through each Workspace Inbox every morning and attach tasks to various projects (if that hasn’t already been done by the assignee). Then I attach due dates, tags, etc. to them accordingly. That gets me out of the Inbox and one step further into my Workspaces – which is exactly where I need to be.

          The great thing about Asana is that the Inbox is only there to hold tasks, it is not a viable place to keep them. In fact, keeping them there in Asana is far more transparent than if you were to do that in a regular email inbox. Since notes and comments are updated by team members once a task leaves the Inbox is great for those who just can’t wrap their head around getting things out of email and into a task manager. Asana eliminates the bad inboxes by introducing better ones. That’s why it works so well for non-GTDers – and why it’s counter-intuitive for some to move to it after being in something like OmniFocus, for example, which treats inboxes completely differently.

          A Seemingly Seamless Connection

          As long as people “buy into” Asana, your workflows will improve dramatically. I’ve had one teammate who has jumped in and is playing along with me – and we’re ahead of the game as a result. I’ve had others who just can’t get into it, forget to follow a task or email me back rather than updating through Asana, which creates redundancy. But since I’m using it religiously, I’m able to keep myself on track and am slowly converting the previously unconvertible.

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          Those unconvertible include those using other team task management solutions, those using individual task managers…and those using none at all. That’s because any changes I make under the Projects, Tags and People tabs will push to everyone else in the Workspace. That kind of connection is hard to keep consistent via email.

          That is just one of the things that makes Asana’s barrier to entry exceedingly low (at least by productivity solution standards), and that can only bode well for the company.

          The Asana Wish List

          If you’ve been using Asana already, you know that’s in active (and steadily active at that) development. Still, there are some things that I was curious about when it comes to features that may or may not be coming to Asana. So I asked Kenny Van Zant of Asana to address them:

          Me: Can you convert tasks into projects?
          Kenny: We’ve actually been iterating on the design for subtasks/hierarchy for a long time.  There are a lot of interesting nuances, and we don’t think any of the existing services get it quite right.  At this point we’ve been through a number of designs and prototypes in search of the perfect balance of power and ease-of-use/difficulty-of-hanging-yourself, and we’re really excited about the solution to which we’re converging.

          Me: Exporting of data for offline access – thoughts on that?
          Kenny: We do plan to support that sort of export, beyond the existing Print and multiselect-and-copy capabilities.  But more excitingly, we plan to support offline access, and ultimately even editing, right in the browser through HTML5’s offline support.  Our technology stack makes us really well suited to provide this, as nearly all of Asana’s functionality runs inside the browser.  (Even today, if you disconnect from the Internet while using Asana, you can continue to make changes, leave comments, etc., and your changes will get saved whenever you reconnect.)

          Me: Considering the recent rash of posts on the importance of Start Dates vs Due Dates (mainly with OmniFocus), does Asana have any plans for implementation on that front?
          Kenny: Our plan around calendaring/timeline is one of the most exciting parts of our product vision.  I don’t want to reveal too much yet, but we’ll be giving individuals and teams a shared understanding of time and a confidence in their ability to forecast their projects’ futures at a level that was previously impossible without an onerous and detailed project management process – well beyond just due dates vs. start dates.

          Me: Time of day…why isn’t it there?
          Kenny: We actually don’t see too many requests for due-times, but agree it’s a missing feature, and it will be addressed by the aforementioned calendaring/timeline work.

          Me: What is down the road for Asana in terms of iPad, iPhone, Android…?
          Kenny: The current mobile app is primarily a companion to Asana on your desktop, so you can access your tasks wherever you go.  But that was only version 1: we’re going to build an experience on iOS and Android that’s as responsive and featureful as the desktop app is today.  We’re very committed to providing a great experience on mobile and tablet.

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          In Conclusion

          I am really digging Asana. It has the ubiquity, cohesiveness and adaptability I’ve been looking for in a task management solution. It scales up or down, allowing for team and individual task management – and it is lightning fast in both syncing and connectivity (it takes a page from Google Wave and allows you to see when someone else is typing). And it lets those who want to manage tasks via email do just that without hindering progress for those that don’t because of the integration put in place.

          While my 30 Days with Asana are done, my days with Asana are just beginning. I strongly recommend you give Asana a look. It’s a real game-changer.

          More by this author

          Mike Vardy

          A productivity specialist who shows you how to define your day, funnel your focus, and make every moment matter.

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          8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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          8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

          How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

          Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

          When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

          Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

          What Makes People Poor Listeners?

          Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

          1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

          Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

          Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

          It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

          2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

          This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

          Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

          3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

          It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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          I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

          If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

          4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

          While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

          To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

          My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

          Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

          Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

          How To Be a Better Listener

          For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

          1. Pay Attention

          A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

          According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

          As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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          I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

          2. Use Positive Body Language

          You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

          A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

          People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

          But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

          According to Alan Gurney,[2]

          “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

          Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

          3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

          I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

          Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

          Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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          Be polite and wait your turn!

          4. Ask Questions

          Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

          5. Just Listen

          This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

          I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

          I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

          6. Remember and Follow Up

          Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

          For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

          According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

          It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

          7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

          If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

          Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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          Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

          Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

          NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

          1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
          2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

          8. Maintain Eye Contact

          When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

          Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

          By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

          Final Thoughts

          Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

          You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

          And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

          More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

          Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
          [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
          [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
          [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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