What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of productivity? Probably not “flexible“. Most tools, systems and methods require you to follow a rigid procedure. This can be good in some cases, but it can also cause you a lot of “admin” work in order to maintain the system.
When it comes to digital todo lists, this might mean you have to assign a due date to every single task. And then every time you didn’t manage to finish what you planned, you have to redo all the due dates. This is where Asana comes in: it gives you the option to add a fixed deadline, but there’s another way as well. A way that keeps you flexible, while making sure things don’t slip through the cracks.
Let’s start with the bad part though: Asana was forced upon me by the CEO of a company I was working for. He loved it, I hated it. It felt messy, unclear and their help section was huge but overwhelming at the time. I was using Todoist and reasonably happy. But if the boss wants to use Asana, what can you do?
Well, at first I kept using both at the same time: Todoist for my individual tasks and Asana for my team. This quickly led to doing things twice and even more admin, so this was not a workable situation. Luckily something else happened as well: I started to actually like Asana.
Once someone explains you some of the powerful features of Asana and how to properly use them, it suddenly becomes clear why some people swear by it. Today we’ll look at my favorite one: Today, Upcoming and Later.
In case you’re new to Asana, Lifehack.org has an excellent article called “30 Days With: Asana” by Mike Vardy, to run you through the basics.
The tyranny of the Due Date
What is more depressing than ending your day rescheduling a bunch of red-colured tasks you didn’t manage to finish?
Having to do it again the next day.
In an ideal world, you never have to work close to a deadline. You do all your important tasks well ahead of time and there are never any emergencies to deal with. A productivity paradise where you pick your todo’s based on the project you feel like working on, your mood and maybe your energy levels.
Back to reality.
Few of us ever reach this place, even for a day. Instead, we schedule our tasks based on time. More specifically, the time when it needs to be done: the due date.
Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.” – Spanish proverb
No matter what guru’s and coaches might tell you, working based on time, as opposed to importance, will remain part of the default operating mode for most of us. It’s a reality to accept and deal with. Unfortunately, there’s another human flaw we need to come to terms with as well.
Not only do we suck at working ahead of schedule, we also greatly overestimate what we can get done in a single day. Time and time again we will overestimate in the morning what we will have done when we shut down our computer by the end of the day (yes, you’re not the only one). This is why we end up finishing our days rescheduling tasks, just to do the same depressing thing again the next day.
Today, Upcoming and Later keep you flexible
This is where my favorite Asana feature comes in. Of course you can give your tasks a due date in Asana, but you should only do this when they really have a fixed deadline. Everything else you can mark with Today, Upcoming or Later.
Why is this great? Let’s say my todo list for today looks like this:
First of all, I always spend a few minutes in the morning to organise my tasks in the way I’m planning to execute them, with my frog at the top. Asana allows me to easily drag and drop them around to rearrange priority.
As my day progresses, shit inevitably happens and so I can easily adjust priorities by moving something from Upcoming to Today and vice versa.
Tasks which do have a due date will automatically show up in this overview. New tasks will be displayed at the top, for you to indicate whether they should be for Today, Upcoming or Later:
Don’t worry, be happy
Besides keeping you flexible, the Today, Upcoming and Later overview also makes you happy. I know that’s a big promise, but it’s true.
Let’s say my day unexpectedly changes, because in the afternoon my girlfriend gets hit by a car and we need to go to the hospital to check if everything is ok*. The next day I open my laptop and my todo list will still look like this:
That’s a lot better than starting the day with a list of red, overdue tasks, which then also need to be rescheduled (again). Of course you might need to make some adjustments for that specific day (adding some tasks, changing priority, etc.), but chances are, you still need to finish most of the things you couldn’t get done the day before.
The devil is in the details
This might seem like just a minor feature, but it has had quite an impact on the way I manage my tasks. It ensures I get the most important things done and I’m not constantly doing mundane admin work rescheduling undone tasks from yesterday. It walks the fine line between giving you structure and being organized, while at the same time keeping you flexible.
There are a few essential elements required to use this feature the right way and make it all work:
- Regular review: you need to have a regular review in place, in order to schedule tasks which you have marked for Later, else you will never do them. I do this on a weekly basis, where at the start of the week, I mark all essential tasks for that week with Upcoming (depending on your workload, you could do this review more or less frequently).
- Remind yourself: for me this reviewing process has become a habit. But when you’re just getting started, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a helping hand by setting a reminder. This can either be a repeating reminder on your phone, or a recurring task in Asana.
- Daily priorities: in addition to the weekly review, try to make it a habit to organize and prioritize your tasks in the morning. Basically this means picking which tasks from your Upcoming list you’re going to mark for Today. You can put your frog at the top and then work downwards in priority from there.
How to implement and use this?
Your curiosity might have been sparked to start using this great feature, but how? Just follow the below steps:
- If you’re not yet using Asana, first go through “30 Days With: Asana” by Mike Vardy to get you up to speed on the basics.
- In Asana, click “My Tasks” in the top left (above “My Inbox“).
- In the “My Tasks” overview, you have two ways to manage Today, Upcoming and Later:
- Simply drag and drop tasks from one section to the other;
- Press the icon between the checkbox and the task description. There you can also assign a task to one of the three sections.
- New tasks you’ve created will automatically show up at the top of the “My Tasks” list and can then be assigned a category.
- Once you’ve created a new task and assigned it to someone, you can also click on the assignee’s name. This will bring up a dropdown menu that has the icons for Today, Upcoming and Later.
Be happy, feel good and enjoy your newfound flexibility!
* I’m picking this example not because I have a sick and cruel mind, but because it actually happened while I was writing this. Don’t worry, she is OK. Thanks for asking 😉