Editor’s Note: The Ladder team uses Asana as an internal task management tool, but this methodology can be used with other task management tools and software.
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to perfect productivity, and real change takes work.
There are a lot of great task management systems out there. The approach I’m going to share is a methodology, but it’s also a way of thinking and problem-solving. You don’t have to adopt this system to benefit from it.
If you’re a busy, ambitious person, chances are you multitask a lot. The American Psychological Association found that multitaskers work at an average efficiency of 60%. There’s also a good chance (if you’re anything like me) that you eat lunch at your desk, work long hours, and push yourself hard to go above and beyond your own expectations. You know this isn’t healthy, but what you might not know is that you may be hurting your own output.
Over the last few months, I’ve experimented on my workflow and on the workflows of my coworkers around the world at Ladder.io. What I’ve found is that by breaking projects down into bite-sized pieces and being compassionate when setting expectations, stress decreases and output increases both in terms of quality and volume. In other words, by doing less, you can get a lot more done.
In order to teach and manage this system, I use Asana. While there is no shortage of productivity platforms out there, I love Asana for its ease of use and full feature set. This way of thinking works on other systems, too (including post-its on a whiteboard), but I’d recommend Asana as a great place to start.
- This method should be used with a board layout.
- Always break projects into bite sized pieces. Every block of work you have to do should have its own card; subtasks can work here too, and are largely a matter of preference.
- You should never have an in-progress tab. Work on one project at a time and then move it!
- Delegation is your friend.
- Getting to task zero every day is easier than you think (and should be your daily goal).
- Expectation setting + transparency = less pushback + greater motivation.
- Offloading all tasks into one place means you don’t always have to be thinking about everything.
- There will always be more to do, so set expectations for yourself.
- Be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Setting a Monthly Plan
The following monthly plan was developed to help Ladder strategists project manage upwards of 40 full-funnel growth experiments per month.
If the wording we use doesn’t fit for you, feel free to change – the important part here is the way in which you break down work.
1. Open Asana (or your platform of choice).
2. Create a new project, using Board layout.
3. Create the following columns (explanations below):
- Inbox – P1: Everything you’re ready to do and must do today.
- Inbox – P2: Everything you’re ready to do and need to do this week.
- Outbox (Needs Brief/Delegation): Put things here which you need to delegate or brief or otherwise pass along. This way, you won’t have to remember all the little things you need to do. This column is, in many ways, a second “P1”, as you should be getting these items out as soon as possible.
- Delegated (Internal): Once you’ve delegated, put things here if they’re internal (i.e within your organization/team).
- Delegated (External): Move cards here if you’ve delegated them to someone outside of your organization or team.
- Waiting on Delegated: Use Asana dependencies here to link tasks and automatically notify the relevant person when a task is unblocked. This also gives you a sense of where work is being bottlenecked, and gives you the tools you need to evaluate your workflow.
- Week II: At Ladder, we work in monthly sprints. Use this column at the beginning of the month to plan out when you want to complete certain tasks during the second week of the month. By doing this, you can increase your bandwidth to manage and prioritize tasks in your P1 and P2 columns.
- Week III: Use this column at the beginning of the month to plan out when you want to complete certain tasks during the third week of the month.
- Shipped!: Put completed tasks here for reference and to remind yourself of how much you’ve accomplished thus far.
- Notes (Mark Complete): Use this column as a convenient place for notes on your monthly process. Make sure to check these tasks off, so they don’t interfere with your completion rates.
There are a lot of columns here, and there’s a chance this may feel overwhelming. The point, however, is exactly the opposite. By creating so many columns (most of which are hidden out of sight on a standard monitor), you can have a clear view of everything you need to do, without needing to hold all that information in your brain. Once you have a full picture, you can move tasks around and have high-level visibility without worrying about tasks slipping through the cracks.
Setting a Daily Plan
This is an added level of organization which is a great tool if you’re managing multiple projects at once. This isn’t a tool you’ll need all the time, but it can be a life-saver if you’re overwhelmed. Learn it now and hold on to it for later. It will help.
Tasks in this board can be new ones if they’re not connected to other projects, but most likely should be cards from other boards. In Asana, you can add the same card to multiple boards. Use this to manage your P1 and P2 columns every day.
1. Create another board project in Asana.
2. Create the following columns (explanations below):
- P1 – Must Complete: You’re not leaving the office until this is empty.
- P2 – Shoot to Complete: These things need to be done, but can be pushed back if needed.
- Stretch Goals: This is your overflow valve, meant to appease (and quiet down) that voice in your head which always tells you to do more. The goal here is to actually use this less over time, as you get better and better at predcting your own output, and more compassionate in the expectations you set for yourself.
- Shipped (Clear Daily): Put completed tasks here, and remove (don’t delete) them daily. At the end of each day, look back at this to remind yourself just how much you got done. It can be hard to go home with so much more to do; this reminds you that you’ve done a lot and deserve a good night’s sleep. If, at the end of the day you feel you haven’t done enough, this is a great way to evaluate your output and get a better sense of what is and isn’t feasable to set as an expectation.
UPDATE: Asana Timeline
Over the last few weeks, I’ve experimented with adapting my workflow to use Asana’s new timeline feature.
For those unfamiliar, Asana now offers the ability to see all tasks/dependencies laid out over a timeline view, which is both more functional and versatile than a standard calendar view. Tasks can be dragged and dropped (or added directly) anywhere on a large board, and dependencies can be clearly illustrated and bulk moved to manage projects and timelines holistically.
This new view is wonderful for planning out complex projects with lots of moving parts and the need for advanced strategy. The key benefit here is the way timeline forces project managers to think through every aspect of a plan in advance, and allows for flexibility when re-arranging due dates and allocating resource (it’s also pretty).
Despite this, we’ve found that timeline is not viable as a solution for managing complex client accounts; timeline shines when managing one project, but as soon as that number increases (each client account at Ladder has at least ten simultaneous projects per month), things can get extremely muddled and over-complicated.
For planning, this tool is phenomenal, but for execution and project management at a large scale, it is severely limited. There are a small number of rows provided, with no way to bulk add; additionally, dependencies (arguably the strongest aspect of this view) are no easier to add, necessitating upwards of 5 clicks to add one dependency.
Even when fully built out, to manage a large number of responsibilities and moving pieces with timeline is more trouble than it is worth.
In summary, take it easy and be kind to yourself. You’ll get more done and be happier about it. If you’ve got any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you – drop me a line at [email protected].