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.

One thought on “The Evolution of Task Management

  1. I would recommend checking out http://www.Gtdagenda.com for an online GTD manager.

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote, and also comes with mobile-web version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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