Ever get totally overwhelmed just thinking about launching a product, creating a signature program, organizing an event, or redoing your website?
Are you wondering how you can possibly add another thing to your to-do list when your plate is already full? How do you maintain your sanity while serving as the project manager, copywriter, video editor, event organizer, media liaison, and content creator all at once?
Let’s face it: project planning and managing can be intimidating and stressful.
But you can tackle these high-leverage projects – the ones that are really going to take your business to the next level.
You just need to use the right project management software and understand how to break the whole process down into distinct, easy-to-take steps.
Today I’m sharing with you how you can do this with Asana – one of my favorite project management tools. I’m also walking you through the process of managing your project with it, so you can do everything you need to get done – without going crazy.
And if you already have another project management system, here’s the good news: you can use this same approach with just about any project or task management software.
Super Quick Overview of Asana
Before I dive into how Asana will save your sanity and give you back more time, let’s take a quick look at how Asana actually works. (If you are not familiar with Asana at all, you might find it helpful to take a look at this high-level overview.)
Asana displays information across three panes, from a broader level of organization (left side) to a more specific one (right side).
The pane on the left shows you a list of your workspaces and projects. This is also where you can access My Tasks (the list of tasks assigned to you) and My Inbox (the area that shows what’s happened in Asana since the time you last logged in). On the left-hand side, you can also see the people with whom you’ve shared Asana.
Do This in Asana
- Create a new project in Asana by hitting the “+” sign next to PROJECTS (in the left pane) and giving it a name.
- Color code it and/or add it to favorites, so you can quickly find it later. Hover over the name of the project. A little arrow will appear to the right of the project name. Click on the arrow, then in the dropdown menu, select a color and/or click Add to Favorites to create a shortcut and pin the project right under your avatar picture.
Here’s a quick video to walk you through how to do this.
The middle pane is dedicated to the list of tasks (or the calendar, if you choose that view). The left pane always stays the same, but the middle pane displays different things depending on what you click on in the left pane. This is where you will see the list of relevant tasks pertaining to a specific project or results of a search.
Do This in Asana
Add new tasks to a project by typing the names of the tasks in the middle pane and hitting enter at the end of each task name.
- Create a category name by adding a colon sign “:” at the end of the task name.
- Don’t worry about having a perfectly ordered list. You can list your tasks first and then drag and drop them into categories where they belong.
Need a video to get started? Check out this quick tutorial.
The pane on the right is where you add and view information about each task. You can assign it, specify a due date, set the task to repeat (if you want it to), include subtasks, add a tag, attach supporting documents and much more.
Do This in Asana
- Use subtasks for items that can be broken into smaller steps. Breaking things down into small steps makes it easy to fit the individual steps into your daily schedule.
- Assign tasks and subtasks to the responsible parties, so things don’t slip through the cracks. Unassigned tasks won’t appear on task lists or reports unless you specifically search for unassigned items.
- When working on a project with team member(s), use the comments area to have conversations about specific tasks. Get into the habit of regularly checking your Asana Inbox to see activity on tasks you are following (e.g., information added, comments made, or tasks completed).
Check out this quick video to see what I mean.
This is just a high-level overview of Asana. Later in this post I’ll come back to these individual features. You’ll see for yourself where and how they can be used.
Now, let me show you how you can manage a project in Asana.
5 Steps For Bringing a Project to Completion
Step #1: Define the Project and Set the Deadline
Start by defining your project. Go beyond just giving it a name. Get really clear about what you are trying to do and why. Envision the end result.
When you define the real purpose of a project, it’s as if you are bringing a telescope into focus. Things get clearer. You feel energized to get into action. Your mind starts buzzing with ideas.
Knowing where you want to end up is equally important. What will a successful outcome look like? Your vision of a successful outcome will help you establish the guidelines you need to keep you on the right path and help you make smart decisions along the way.
Committing to a deadline might be uncomfortable, even scary, but you’ve got to declare the project completion date to make the project real.
Do This in Asana
- Create a new project in Asana by hitting the “+” sign next to PROJECTS in the left pane and giving it a name.
- Add a description of the project in the Project Overview
- Also, add your end goal and deadline
And, since we all learn best by examples, take a look at this sample project to get a deeper understanding of how you can apply this step.
Step #2: Determine the Moving Parts of the Project
Now that you know what your project is, and what success looks like, you can start thinking about how to break down that big project into the moving pieces that will make it happen.
First, brainstorm all tasks. Capture all your ideas of what needs to happen. Don’t edit yourself and don’t worry if you end up with a long list. We’ll do the editing in a bit.
Talk things over with someone else – a friend, partner, even your assistant. As you talk through the moving parts of your project, you’ll get clearer about what needs to happen.
If you don’t know how to go about accomplishing your project, find someone who has done something similar and can give you some advice.
Don’t worry if you don’t find answers to all your questions. Brainstorm as much as you can at this point. You can always refine your list later.
Do This in Asana
- List the tasks by typing them in the middle task pane. Type a task, hit enter on your keyboard, type another task, hit enter, and so on.
Second, organize your tasks. Look for categories you can put the tasks into. Here are some ways you can organize your tasks:
- Chronological stages (pre-event, event, and post event)
- Sequential phases (survey the audience, create a product, promote it, follow up)
- Stages of completion (outline, first draft, second draft, video tutorials, final draft, graphic design of the final product)
Do This in Asana
- Create a category by typing its name in the same space you’d normally use for creating a task. Follow it with a colon. Hitting enter makes that phrase a header under which you can group tasks. Removing the colon will turn the item back into a regular task. You can easily drag the categories around within the project.
Third, pull information about your project into Asana. The most frustrating thing when you start working on a task is spending more time locating information than actually working on the task. A bit of prep work in the beginning will save you a massive amount of time down the line.
Do This in Asana
- Fill out the description part of the task with notes about history, examples, and expectations for this task.
- Add materials necessary for the project by giving links to Google Drive or Dropbox documents or attaching documents to the task.
- Use an “@” sign to link to other relevant tasks.
Step #3: Create a Timeline and Delegate
Ok. You now know what’s involved in your project, and how you’re going to get it all done. Now, it’s time to set some due dates, and delegate the work.
Work backwards from the project deadline to set due dates for individual tasks and milestones.
Decide if you’re going to have other people helping you make this project happen. As you go through the list of tasks, note where you do not possess the necessary skills. Then, decide if you want to learn those skills yourself or if you will hire someone who already possesses them.
If you are working with others, run the due dates by them to ensure that they will be able to meet them.
Once they say yes, adjust the due dates (if necessary) and assign the tasks. Train yourself to assign each task, even those you plan on doing yourself. This is very important, because unassigned tasks will not appear in your (or your team member’s) My Tasks and can easily fall through the cracks.
Do This in Asana
- Assign the task to someone by clicking on the little silhouette on the left side of the task name (middle pane) or in the top left corner of the task details pane (right pane).
- Assign multiple items by entering tasks in the middle pane, selecting items you want to assign, clicking on the little avatar silhouette to the left of the title of the task, typing the person’s name, and hitting enter. All selected tasks will be assigned to that person.
- Assign the due date for the task in the task details pane (right side) and click the little calendar icon.
Step #4: Devise a Structure to Keep Yourself and Your Team Accountable
You’re not working on your project in a vacuum. You’re also running a business, raising a family, studying, or even working full-time. Therefore, creating a structure that will keep you and your team accountable is crucial for the success of your project.
The best way to do that is to create a weekly task list – a list of core tasks that need to happen every week. This schedule doesn’t need to be strict, but it needs to exist.
To create your weekly schedule, divide your document (or piece of paper) into 5 categories, one for each day of the week except for weekends, and list the core tasks that need to happen on those days. You can include everything from writing blog posts and following up with prospects to driving your kids to soccer practice and attending an economics class.
Make sure that on that weekly schedule you set aside time for your project. Depending on your availability and project due date, your weekly task list should have 3-5 project-related items. If you can move faster, great! But start slow. Pacing yourself sounds like the least appealing piece of advice. But trust me, you’ll actually become more productive and feel better.
Get into the habit of ending (or starting) your week with a weekly review, where you examine what’s been accomplished during the week, reassign due dates for items that didn’t get completed, and record items that never made it to the list. At the end of your weekly review, look at the upcoming tasks for the project, evaluate the rest of your workload, and, if necessary, make any adjustments.
Strategic meetings like this help you feel grounded and in control.
Do This in Asana
Create a template for your weekly task list by following these steps:
- Click on the “+” sign next to PROJECTS. Name the project something like Weekly Task List Template.
- Add weekly repeating tasks in the middle section. If you add a colon after the name of an item in the middle task pane, Asana will make it a new category (like Top Priorities or Monday). If you don’t put a colon, the item will become a task.
- Create a Weekly Task List for the following week at the end of each Weekly Review by copying the template and adding the next week’s date range in the title of the project. To make a copy of the project, click on the little arrow in the right upper corner of the middle pane and select Use as a Template (Copy Project) option from the drop down menu.
Here’s a quick video of what you need to do in Asana.
If you’re working on a project by yourself, find a friend to debrief with on a regular basis. Having someone keeping you accountable will drastically increase the probability of your project happening by the defined due date. In fact, it will drastically increase the probability of your project happening, period. : -)
Working on a project with a team adds a level of complexity to managing your project. Make sure to keep track of the tasks they are responsible for and meet with them on a regular basis.
Step #5: Plan for Success
No matter how excited you are about your project in the beginning, you have to be prepared for when your enthusiasm wears off as you start chipping away at your task list. It is going to get hard. That’s why it’s critical to set yourself up for success from the very beginning.
Here are a few momentum-building suggestions:
- Establish clear intermediary goals or milestones and acknowledge achieving each one of them. The shorter your goal horizons, the easier it will be for you to keep the momentum going.
- Set a project marker for yourself and your team at about 2/3 mark. Knowing that the finish line is so close will speed up your progress and increase your productivity.
- Give yourself a perceived head start by building progress into your goals. Listing “obvious” tasks and immediately checking them off the list will give you sense of accomplishment and propel you forward.
- If you find yourself in a dead-end as you work on your project or realize that you’re not sure how to approach an item on your to-do list, concentrate on figuring out what is the next logical step – even if it’s just calling or e-mailing someone to ask.
- Stop telling yourself that you’re inconsistent, unorganized, or bad at follow through. Be nice to yourself. Don’t give too much energy to your negative thoughts. Focus on the positive outcomes. Remind yourself of situations where you made things happen. Have a chat with a friend who believes in you, no matter what obstacles you’re currently facing.
Project management can be intimidating, no doubt about it. But if you rely on the above strategies and plan for success, the intimidation will subside and you’ll see that your plan is nothing else but a compass to keep you on track.
Here’s a quick video of what planning for success looks like to get you started.
Back to You
Have a project in mind? Want to finally make it happen? Use my instructions above to:
- Create your project in Asana.
- Fill out the description part.
- Assign the due date, and
- In the middle pane list as many tasks as you can think of to make the project happen. Lastly,
- Share a screenshot of the project in the comments below by April 1st
I’m going to pick a person at random from the comments and send him/her free copy of my guide Asana for Small Business.