Trying to keep track of what I’m supposed to be doing and when is complicated. I’ve gotten much better at it over the years – but I still manage to miss a meeting here or there, forget to pay a bill, or so on. I use Asana, Google Keep, and Google Calendar, along with their integrations into my Galaxy S3 smartphone to keep me going.
But now the question is – how do I keep other people going? I’m in the position of assigning responsibilities to folks – if it is something with an impending deadline, how do I remind them that the deadline is impending without wasting my time? And how do I remind someone if something needs to be done on a certain day or at a certain time of day? These are more difficult questions.
Right now I use a combination of Boomerang and Ohdontforget – neither of which is a perfect tool and both of which I wish would have their functionality integrated into Asana.
So what is On Don’t Forget? Its an SMS reminder service that allows you to schedule an SMS message to be sent to a specified phone number at a specified time and can include the ability to repeat the message on a specified basis.
So, lets say Isaac needs to do something for me tomorrow night at 7 pm, but I know he might forget – I can use ohdontforget to schedule a SMS reminder to go out to him at 7 pm. This won’t help if he is out of the area, but as long as he is in the area – it is a lifesaver.
The service does cost $5/mo., but I’ve bit the bullet and signed up and have been using it for a few weeks. The biggest feature it doesn’t have that I would like it to have is the ability for individuals to reply back to my initial message with a status update: e.g. CANT, COMPLETED, POSTPONED, etc. Then I should get notified by email or text regarding this update. This way I not only know someone has been reminded, but I can also relax knowing that the task has been done (or make alternative arrangements if it isn’t getting done).
Besides that, I’d also like to see them add the ability to search sent SMS messages, to delete SMS messages en masse (especially sent ones), and to create templated messages. But all of these are fairly minor compared to the ability to receive status updates regarding tasks (and also to auto-kick off a snooze/delete of the reminder once the task is completed).
For the last few months the buzz around Asana, a new task management application, has been increasing. But my Google Reader is pretty packed with blogs – oftentimes hundreds of new stories in a single day – and task management posts are usually filed away for review another day…when I eventually have time. I went back through most of my “for a later day” posts and found a number of task management related posts – including ones for Asana. I visited them all…expecting that none would offer the unique set of features I have been hoping for…but so far Asana is looking AMAZING. I’d like to take you along on my journey of exploration…
One’s initial visit to the Asana website shows an aesthetically pleasing design – but a little busy. Perhaps I’m different from most people1Okay, okay, I know my friends are going to jovially reply, “Dave, of course you are, you are strange.” But what I mean here is, in this particular area am I strange?, but I hate watching videos and prefer reading text.2I think this has to do with my ADD, I have a hard time sitting still while videos meander about stuff I know or don’t care about when text allows me to jump in and out exactly as I desire. The Asana homepage puts the emphasis on signing up or watching a video – bleck! Thankfully, if you scroll below the fold you’ll find “Learn More about Asana” and get a quicker view of the featureset.
Here is what impressed me at this point:
It is Free – For all intents and purposes, Asana is free. Sure they are interested in profiting from corporate sales, but for your general needs and for any small to medium sized business, Asana is free.
It is Team – A lot of great task management applications are out there, but many of them cost an arm and a leg or they don’t support teamwork…being weak in either of these areas really undermines the product…and those that are strong in these two areas then oftentimes demonstrate weakness in underlying features.
People Views – The ability to view what is going on by the person responsible is pretty sweet. Not entirely a new concept, and maybe just cooler b/c it is called “People Views” instead of “User Views” – it feels more Facebookey (umm, Facebookie, Facebookesque, someone help me out here!).
Calendar Sync – This is a pretty sweet feature, though it isn’t one I personally find essential.
Inbox Integration – One of the goals for Asana is to completely replace a diversity of workflows – ensuring data is recorded within Asana. Part of this involves automatically integrating email conversations into Asana threads. This is a simple feature many do, but Asana’s looks really slick.
Not to say that is all there is to see…there are numerous other neat features – those are just the ones that I really like – mainly b/c a lot of other task management applications are missing one or all of these features.
I do have one question at this juncture: Is thirty team members a firm number or does this reset for each workspace? I’m guessing it is the former, but hoping it is the latter. I suppose the latter option would open Asana up to abuse by its users – who could theoretically just create a new workspace whenever they ran out of users (but that would get extremely unwieldy). Reason I ask is b/c I’m involved in multiple venues – and thirty people is a lot when each venue can contain thirty, but not so many if thirty has to last over all my different venues.3For example, I would want to do workspaces for work, for home, for church, for other projects…for any one of these thirty team members is enough – but if I have to have only thirty members between all the workspaces? Might be a little tight.
Next thing I did was explore their blog – from the beginning…and I was impressed. The frequency of posts is regular enough and the quality of the posts is quite deep. At the bottom of this article I’ve included links to additional reading, including a few by the folks at Asana. Take a read and you’ll quickly see that these posts reflect a depth of philosophy, clarity of communication, and quality of composition that exceed many technology blogs whose sole purpose is to cover technology – not sell a product.
One item that becomes very clear while reading the blog posts is that Asana is being utilized heavily by Asana – and this is always a good thing. Products suffer when the creators of the product do not have an investment in the product beyond monetary success. Asana will oftentimes provide its own most standing criteria for ongoing featureset.4For example, as I was reading Asana posts I thought to myself (and I don’t know what already exists at this juncture), “Boy, it seems great…but what if someone at Asana is slacking off? How do they track that?” I’m sure Asana will hit that bump (may have hit?) and will respond appropriately…this is the advantage of a company using their own software.
Okay, so I have some more stuff I like about Asana:
Company Culture – Some tech companies have really led the way in creating (again) a culture where the company cares about its employees. For a while employees were disposable assets – but some companies have moved back and forward at the same time – back in purely statistical financial analysis but forward in employee satisfaction, productivity, and longevity.5Perhaps the tech industry innovated in part out of necessity. The technology sector requires specialists – the longer you stay at a job the better you are at it…picking up a n00b may save a few dollars, but there will be a huge learning curve and the lost experience and productivity are significant. Asana seems to be following this tact with company-wide lunches and regular yoga sessions.
The Methods – It is obvious that David Allen‘s GTD methodology is widely utilized within Asana – but beyond this one sees numerous management innovations to streamline and increase productivity, reduce errors, allow rapid development, and so on. These models are impressive and could be copied elsewhere (and perhaps where copied from elsewhere).
On the other hand, and this is not uncommon in technology culture, I’m wondering how many hours the folks in Asana are putting in a week? In this post Jerry Phillips notes folks eating lunch and dinner together (at 7 p.m.) which makes me ask, “When did you start working?” Sure, sometimes long hours are required – especially in IT and especially during the startup phase – but this can become a dangerous, long-term practice…and usually does not involve overtime compensation for the employees.
Now, what about the team? The team behind a product is an important consideration. In general I like two types of teams: the teams where you don’t know anyone and the teams where you see everyone’s legacy. The teams I don’t like are ones with a lot of fluff and bravado without necessarily a lot of accomplishment or technical ability. So, I tend to prefer companies that are either lean, mean startup machines run by some guy in his basement or companies that have be-knighted geniuses on the workforce.
Dustin Moskovitz – “co-founder of Facebook” (yup, that is impressive), “CTO…VP of Engineering” (okay, that is much more impressive…not just an idea guy, this guy works with the tech…and Facebook has some pretty impressive tech). Last but not least, note that Moskovitz dropped out of Harvard6I’m assuming since he only spent two years as an economics major. and didn’t major in the technical field yet excelled in it.7He was an economics major at Harvard…someone correct me if he had a technical background from elsewhere…
Justin Rosenstein – Justin may not have been CTO or VP, but he did hold significant positions at both Facebook and Google – mecca8Nope, not a spelling error, “pilgrimage” doesn’t connote the right sense here. tech companies. Again, appears to have dropped out of college…not that I’m suggesting that is a good idea (I completed my degree and work for a higher ed institution), but it occasionally indicates someone just has such great ideas or ability for self-learning that they are able to “skip a step.”
Malcolm Handley – Worked for Google on several significant projects including Android, Google Earth, and Mobile Maps. All pretty sweet products.
Greg Slovacek – Again a Google guy – his work seems a little more from a niche, but this can be good as well – indicating a passion for deep understanding of particular topics and a willingness to slog through the mundane work it takes to make stuff happen.
Jerry Phillips – Okay, she gets a pass b/c she studied psychology and now is working in technology…I just think that is cool.
Jack Stahl – Stahl seems like an interesting character – and interesting characters oftentimes bring something unique and powerful to a team. Note Stahl attended Burning Man, and while that is kind of mainstream, its also like the outstream portion of mainstream…nothing I plan on attending. 🙂 He also impressive technical experience from Yelp.
Avital Oliver – Wow. Look at this list: “started coding as a child”9This isn’t surprising, but it does indicate that technology runs in his blood…Something those who have it sometimes wish they could escape, but never can…the draw of tech. always calls them back when they attempt to pursue other ventures., “large-scale re-implementation of the Israeli Air Force tactical information system”10This probably means he’s an algorithmic genius…, and “founded the School of Mathematics in Brooklyn, NY”11Ummm…You don’t look this old dude.
Kris Rasmussen – Was “chief architect” at Aptana – an impressive company with impressive products. Don’t forget he co-founded RivalMap12A company somewhat in the same arena as Asana. and worked for numerous tech. companies including the (to some) tech mecca Microsoft.13I think Microsoft is impressive, and a ‘mecca’ though I don’t know much about their corporate culture. Yeah, they have been a pain at times but they’ve moved in some really great directions over the last number of years with much more openness…though this whole Windows 8 / HTML5 push…I’m not sure about.
Theresa Singh – Okay, can we get Theresa to write some articles for us on Post Colonial Literature? That’d be sweet, thanks. 🙂
Yup, I’m getting tired of ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the team Asana has assembled…but there are still a lot more folks who stick out on the team: Donnie Thompson (gourmet chef), S. Alex Smith (machine learning at Facebook), Jackie Bavaro (Google and Microsoft14Wait, is that allowed? Isn’t there some sort of “I will always be an enemy of (insert Google or Microsoft here) for as long as I am alive?”), David Braginsky (Facebook, Google, “numerous startups”), Andrew Watterson (Meebo), and Bella Kazwell (Gmail, Google+).15I apologize to those team members I didn’t mention explicitly – Stephanie Hornung, Tim Bavaro, Kenny Van Zant – I expect great things from you as well, I’m just not as personally familiar with your accomplishments.
Now, with such a great team I’ll admit I have some hesitation over Kenny Van Zant – but with the rest being so excellent – I imagine I am mistaken. Let me explain. My hesitation with Van Zant comes from his association with SolarWinds. I’ve used a number of their products – both free and trial – but always found them to be of that somewhat lumpy enterprise class that Asana is attempting to overcome. I also hate having to enter my contact information every time I want to download one of the products – free or trial…but I’m sure Van Zant is great and maybe he can put in a word to his friends at SolarWinds that the contact info. every download is annoying (maybe we could just create an account so we only have to enter the info. once…?) and provide some streamlining of the enterprise feature-set but sometimes clunky products (no, I haven’t actually used SolarWinds enough to give real feedback…I just know when I’ve tried them they haven’t been entirely intuitive or slim and I’ve found other options I like better).
Wow, this is a really long article…guess this is what happens when you can’t sleep from 4 a.m. till (now) 6:30 a.m. In any case, I’m going to sign off for the time being. I’m not 100% sold on Asana yet, I haven’t played with it enough – but I figured it might be helpful to compile the info. I’ve been compiling myself about Asana into one place…b/c I have OCD and do things like that. 😛
Okay, so I’m working through Asana and I’m seeing a few issues. Here is what I’ve found so far: