The Evolution of Task Management

When we start a new job / project, or adopt a new technology to help us go about our business we often do so with passion and determination. “This time round will be better than the last time” we tell ourselves. We know this because we’re constantly improving – learning lessons from past experiences and applying them as appropriate. It’s what we do. The irony, when it comes to Task Management however, is we’ve actually been going backwards, creating additional ‘busy’ work for ourselves and others as we look to manage a project.

Corporate ‘Do List’ Timeline
Some of you will recall fondly what follows, for others it’s more of a history lesson as we listen in on the thoughts of an executive from the early 1980s to the present day.

1980: “This is my new embossed leather folio. My company gave me at the annual leadership retreat. I’m going to carry it to every meeting I goto so I can keep on top of my to do’s.”

1985: “This is my Filofax. My wife gave it to me for Christmas. Everyone at the office has one. Mine is the latest! I’m going to keep all my notes in it which will be great – especially when I leave it in the magazine holder attached to the seat in front of me on the plane.”

1990: “This is my new laptop – I’m going to write all my to do’s in an excel spreadsheet and because it’s on my laptop it’ll always be with me.”

1992: “This is my new Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) – it has a monochrome screen and I can take notes on it. Because my suit jacket has extra large pockets I’ll be able to take it everywhere along with my wallet, keys, phone, laptop, camera and walkman.”

1993: “This is my new pad of paper – I’ve gone back to paper as my PDA wiped itself and I lost all my data.”

1996: “This is my new Nokia 9000 Communicator. I paid extra for the shoulder holster. I use it to take notes, surf the worldwide web, call people and make waffles (but not at the same time….)”

1997: “This is my new Palm Pilot/Psion Revo. It synchronizes with my desktop and has this awesome monochrome touch screen.”

2000: “This is my Pocket PC. It’s made by Acer/Dell/Compaq/HP/Gateway/Casio and runs Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system. It has a four-bit grayscale display and it’s bigger than my phone. It also crashes a lot, but I keep a backup so all is not lost.”

2004: “This is my HP (formerly Compaq) iPAQ 4700. It runs the Phone Edition of Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003. I can make calls from my PDA! The calls often drop, but that’s ok because I can always call you back… from my PDA!”

2007/8: “This is my new iPhone, someone developed a really cool app for it which lets me take notes. It’s cloud based too meaning I can access my notes from any device at any time, and it’s backed up by someone else so I don’t need to worry about that.”

Notice a common thread with personal organizers, personal digital assistants and what we call phones today? Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The fact is, we’ve been doing this for years. Yes we became more mobile, secure etc. etc. but we didn’t really become more efficient. We changed the medium of our to do lists and how we capture and store each task but never evolved the process. With all of the coordination, always on and expectations around that, we actually have become increasingly inefficient.

The Future is Bright
As luck would have it some rather smart people figured this out and came up with a world changing solution. All those years of notepads, Filofaxes, Post Its, PDAs, lost data, Finnish waffle irons, Excel spreadsheets, SharePoint, Google Docs, email, email, email, email, you get the picture – a lot of useless email can now be a distant memory thanks to the team at Asana.

Start on your journey to efficiency by visiting asana.com, sign in with your Google ID and build a task list. It takes seconds and I bet you have some to do’s! Founded in 2011 by former Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and engineer Justin Rosenstein, Asana aims to take us beyond email, identifying itself as, “The shared task list for your team. The place to plan, organize and stay in sync on your efforts.”

Having used Asana for several months its proven to be extremely versatile and limited only by ones imagination. Asana demos a number of use cases which include Project Management, Lightweight CRM, Bug Tracking, Applicant Tracking and Individual Task Management. It’s as robust in the workplace as it is in the home environment, use it as a means to capture to dos for the week or personal projects such as painting the spare room, or amp it up and add family members. Assign tasks, create or read notes linked to tasks. Add comments and links, due dates and mark as complete when done.

There is one word to describe the desktop version of Asana – beautiful. The app is written using an in-house framework called LunaScript. The user-interface (UI) is non-blocking meaning the user is never waiting on the server. Any action you perform is immediately updated in the UI because the queries are compiled in both JavaScript and SQL. You can work offline with changes being synchronized when you connect resolving any conflicts as appropriate.

In layman’s terms this makes it extremely fast and responsive in addition to enabling you to work offline. The app majestically flows around you in the most unintrusive way. It feels like silk. Did I mention it’s fast too? It works with you enabling you to perform what you want to do sometimes before you realize you want to do it. It’s simply brilliant. Quotes from Twitter tend to agree:

@PeteMatthew I flippin’ love Asana. It’s so, so fast it’s mind blowing. GTD implementation in its purest form?
@AbeMcCallum @asana – Really enjoying your product, has made team collaboration much better. Keep up the great work!
@twentworth12 Words can’t express my love for @asana. I get all teary-eyed thinking about how gorgeous and usable it is. Best web app, ever.

With Asana being built around the task, it is incredibly adaptable. I especially like being able to:

  • add tasks or comments to a task as I go about my day. Perhaps some downtime waiting in line allows me to research an item on my list and append any URL to the task for consultation later. It’s simple and that’s the brilliance of Asana.
  • assign tasks to people.
  • review all information regarding the task that is appended to it, without having to trawl through my inbox or ping someone for the latest slide deck.

I’m sure there is a contingent of folk in Seattle claiming this can all be done with SharePoint which has been around forever so this is nothing new. Here’s the difference – you actually want to use Asana because it is so intuitive as opposed to SharePoint which leaves you feeling so dense light actually starts to bend around you.

Mobile
With such a powerful desktop UI the mobile app has a lot to live up too. Sadly reviews in the Apple App. Store show it’s yet to live up to Asana reputation receiving some criticism with its 2/5 stars. The mobile experience may annoy you or you may find the heart to overlook its short comings with a forgiving eye based on the brilliance of the overall product.

Personally I have found it able to support me for the large part and use the desktop when it runs into issues. For example if you create a Project in the mobile app you’ll need to go online to either rename it or edit the title.

Over the past few months the Asana team have delivered several new features including Inbox and a REST API. Armed with a recent capital injection of $28m from Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund and existing investors (Benchmark, Andreessen-Horowitz and Mitch Kapor), there shouldn’t be any issues addressing mobile. In fact a tweet dated 27th Jul 2012 from Asana suggests it’s in the works, “We are hard at work on iOS, and should have an update soonish.”

In Summary
Asana is great, at work and at home. It offers the perfect balance of versatility and simplicity while delivering a structured environment. It’s really whatever you want it to be. Perhaps you replaced lists and post-its at home long ago with Evernote, Astrid, Remember the Milk, Wunderlist, Clear or any one of the others. Irregardless, give Asana a shot to run your household – create a shopping list for the week, your other half or room mates may check it at the store and pick up the milk which you just added.

If you own or run a small business or manage a team in a large company – try Asana. The ability to create, delegate and view updates on tasks will help you tremendously. There are other options out there such as whiteboards and notepaper… Joking aside you should also consider do.com from Salesforce. It’s awesome too and with the upcoming integration into the overall Salesforce workflow it has obvious benefits if your business runs Salesforce.

Asana means less busy work and more real work. It’s available FREE for teams up to 30 members.

Restaurant 2.0

As the Consumer Driven Health movement marches on delivering a growing number of exciting products and services aimed at helping us make informed decisions, new downstream opportunities present themselves. How will our dining-out experience change for example? What will the restaurant of the future look like? This post looks at these questions and presents 3 possible scenarios for Restaurant 2.0 – The Community Restaurant, The Nutritionist and The Curated Menu.

It’s time to admit we made a mistake

The USA Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a thought provoking animated map showing the percentage of adults with Body Mass Index (BMI) >30% by state from 1985 to 2010. Today, more than one third of adults are obese in the United States. England is not far behind with obesity rates at 26% according to the National Health Service report titled Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England 2012. By 2015 researchers predict 1 in 10 people worldwide will be obese. We really need to hold our hands up and admit we have taken a wrong turn at some point in the past 50 years and mostly played it wrong when it comes to nutrition. New studies challenging conventional thinking are being published, such as the recent Hunter-Gatherer Energetics and Obesity Study which suggests Westerners are growing obese through over-eating rather than having inactive lifestyles.

Have you ever found it strange how:

  • the produce section is often smaller than the pharmacy section in most supermarkets?
  • sugary drinks and foods loaded in saturated fats are available en mass.
  • it’s possible to justify eating cheese burgers, fries and soda everyday even when following the USDA food pyramid.
  • we buy stock in companies, which one could argue with little objection, turn profits from slowly killing us. Then, being the gracious creatures we are, we praise them for their success. Heck many of us even work at these companies.

Next time you are sitting in a restaurant look around – are the plates arriving at tables offering a balanced meal with correct portions of proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats? Good restaurants do exist – take a look at those run by The Bon Appetite Management Company for example – however I’m willing to bet only a handful of restaurants in each city deliver a well balanced meal. In reality, much of what we consume is working against us not for us. We subject our bodies to daily abuse which over time leads to inflammation – now widely recognized as leading to illness. The one part we seem to have correct is the age old adage, “you are what you eat!”

Consumer driven health

At the forefront of the consumer driven health movement is San Francisco based startup, WellnessFX (featured last month in Reasons to be Cheerful). Led by former WebMD founder Jim Kean, his team is certainly no newbie to wellness with a number of its leadership having 2+ decades in the space. WellnessFX recognizes, “consumers and wellness practitioners are faced with a dizzying amount of health information as well as tens of thousands of diagnostic, nutritional and supplement product choices” and aims to provide tools to, “help people collect, organize, manage and interpret their data so that they can make decisions that drive actual results.”

Along with helping us make good result driven decisions in regard to our personal health, the downstream opportunity this new industry will drive is particularly exciting.

Think about it – as consumers it is our choice to eat what we eat. Armed with personalized nutritional plans we will be able to make better choices which help us to optimize our body. This consumer choice presents quite possibly the biggest opportunity for restaurateurs in our lifetime in terms of how we interact with restaurants.

Opportunity for restaurateurs

Restaurants have yet to scratch the surface when it comes to leveraging social media and mobile. Imagine how exciting it becomes when you add consumer driven health. This trifecta of social, mobile and consumer driven health has the potential to play a significant role in reshaping the traditional dining-out experience we know today.

Empowered with data to make smart decisions – consumers will make the choice. The choice to continue eating whatever is in-front of them or the choice to make decisions which support their path to wellness and good health. Just in the same way it is the consumers choice to decide on what they eat, it will also be the consumers choice to build an environment around them which supports their journey to wellness.

Information will drive change

The controversial Health Care Bill in the United States includes a requirement for restaurant chains to disclose nutritional information on menus, menu boards and in drive-throughs! Will you order a Venti Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha from Starbucks if you see its 560 calorie / 14 grams of fat label? Or the 1380 calorie / 104 grams of fat, 16g saturated fat Shrimp with Candied Walnuts from P.F. Changs? How about a more healthy option? A salad perhaps – but don’t forget to read the label – the P.F. Changs Thai Chicken Noodle salad weighs in at 870 calories with 37 grams of fat, 6g saturated fat and 1390mg of sodium? Eeek!

Just as the information about nutritional value will help consumers in their choice, the advances in consumer driven health will mean the consumer will have the right information. Information enabling them to make choices which are in their favor as opposed to flavor!

This is what presents an interesting opportunity for restaurants – quite possibly the biggest shake up the industry will see in our time.

Restaurant 2.0 – the restaurant of the future

What does a restaurant of the future look like? Below are three possible scenarios for Restaurant 2.0.

Scenario 1 – The Community Restaurant

By adopting a community model a restaurant will be able to provide significant support to its patrons with little additional cost. Other benefits include connecting with the local community and forming strong and lasting relationships. By offering a 30 day program a restaurant can guarantee repeat business in addition to social mentions – for example customers could sign up to eat a plant-based whole food diet for 30 days. Your name or photo could be added to a display covering an entire wall. The display is broken down into days – day 1 to day 30. Each day you check in via a phone app notifying the restaurant you are still on the diet allowing you to progress on the wall to the next day. For example, John is on day 2, Sally is on day 3.

Being part of the challenge you are encouraged to share a recipe with the restaurant. Chosen recipes are prepared by the restaurant chefs and stay on the menu for 1 week. Based on the percentage sales winning menu items live for another week – to be challenged by a new set of recipes. If a recipe maintains a 4 week winning streak it is moved onto the permanent menu for a given period. Each day you have access to the menu via your mobile device. The app. pushes out notifications of whats on the menu and any specials tonight at a time which suits you. On reaching the goal of 30 days you have the option to move across to the, “I did it” wall or carry on. If you carry on you join a leader board. At various stages you win free meals and other recognition.

There are many benefits for customers and the restaurant. Think how great it would be to have your dish on the menu in a restaurant. Would you gather all your friends and family and take them there that week? Would you share this news on Twitter, Facebook and other social channels such as Yelp!

The support, the camaraderie, the community is something you might never experience in a restaurant.

Scenario 2 – The Nutritionist (in place of the sommelier)

What if a restaurant was to be actively involved in nutrition – with either a qualified nutritionist onsite who is able to help each customer with their selection (the same way a sommelier would help select a bottle of wine) or training for staff to help with nutritional questions. As a customer you could ask to see the nutritionist, explain you are concerned about your blood pressure and be advised on the best options available to you.

Scenario 3 – Curated menus tailored to your wellness plan

Armed with your personal plan to Wellness from WellnessFX you are able to decide on which restaurants in your local vicinity are able to offer you meals which meet your goals. Restaurants with this capability could also work to cut through the complexity and offer menus which categorize common needs such as reduce inflammation, reduce blood pressure, protein boost for muscle recovery, lower cholesterol etc. Menus curated around wellness.

Conclusion

It’s impossible to tell at this stage what will happen however its exciting to think through the downstream effect of consumer driven wellness. Restauranteurs have a tremendous opportunity ahead of them to reinvent the dining out experience. By leveraging the growing research around overeating, social media, mobile and consumer driven wellness a restauranteur has a wealth of new options available to them. Options which can drive loyalty, brand and revenues.

As James Allen Dator, Professor and Director of the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies states, “the future cannot be predicted, but alternative futures can and should be forecasted.”