Easier and Better Project Management with Asana and Trello

Here’s one way to use Asana and Trello together for even more efficient project management.

One major benefit of using a project management tool is really to get everything “out of your head”. As a result, you’ll have more mental energy and processing power available for things like analysis, decision making, and creative problem solving. The tool is able to do what it’s intended to do well, which then allows you to do what clients look to you to do well.

I’ve used many project management tools, to different degrees of thoroughness and effectiveness. I’ve been forced on some projects, in what now thankfully feels like the distant path, to use behemoths like Microsoft Project, which I’d be pretty happy to never touch again in my lifetime. I’m guessing that since project management disciplines continue to distance themselves from a waterfall method and continue to align with Agile methods, Microsoft Project is becoming less and less popular, if it’s even used at all any more.

Anyway, back to the topic of the post. I was happy to have discovered Basecamp by 37Signals a number of years ago and was happy with that tool and the entire 37Signals suite of tools for a long time. However, over the past few years or so, I’ve found myself using Asana and Trello more and more.

After using both tools, I find that Trello works really well at the early stages of project creation and Asana excels at the ongoing management of a project that is already or about to be up-and-running.

Trello feels more free-form and less structured. At the same time, it does allows for some structure in the form of lists, which can be helpful. I find that Trello is a great resource to catch all the ideas you may have at the beginning of a project and that you need to dump out of your head and into a tool, so you don’t lose any of the ideas. Trello’s visual, card-based interface then lets you visually organize the idea dump in a way that logically makes sense to you.

One way to visualize organizing a process in Trello it to imagine taking a bunch of index cards on which you’ve jotted down a bunch of ideas, dumping them on your desk, aligning them in a neat grid, then arranging that grid in a way that makes sense to you.

Something that’s nice about Trello is that it’s an easy way to store all of your resources such as links, files, and images, in a single place. I usually do this in a list of cards I create called “Resources”. This is the virtual “pile” where I put anything and everything that I’ve collected or continue to collect that may be helpful as the project progresses.

This way, when I sit in front of my Trello screen, I feel like I have everything I need sitting in front of me, in a visually satisfying way, that can be organized just enough to provide a structure to make progress, while not being so restrictive as to surpress creative impulses that often arise for me during an initial brainstorming phase of a project.

Once I get a project up-and-running using Trello, I usually transfer the project to Asana for ongoing management. Asana’s list-based interface is very conducive toward ongoing management of a project. At first, I found the list-based view as a bit restrictive, however, over time, learned to use the headings in creative ways that made the task organization more flexible.

Without diminishing the functionality of Asana at all, I look at Asana as a powerful and very organized checklist. It’s admittedly much more than that, however that’s how I tend to use it most. I use Asana to mainly manage lists of tasks and find it particularly valuable in managing lists of tasks that I delegate, to a Virtual Assistant, for example.

Keeping the lists of tasks in Asana keeps the task-related conversations out of my email Inbox and centralizes all the communication for each task in a single place. I also find Asana very helpful for managing next steps in a project, for really any project that can be broken-down into discrete and actionable steps, which I guess means any project if you do it right 😉

One way to visualize using Asana is to think of it as similar to a library card catalog, where each card is a task. I open the drawer for the right project, see that project organized and separated logically into the right sections, with just enough flexibility to move the cards through each section, as they progress though their useful lifetime. When I’m done, I shut the drawer, allowing me to clear my head of the details, knowing exactly where to jump back into the project when I’m ready to get back to it.

So I guess what I’ve realized over time is that Trello works really well when you’re looking to organize a project at the project’s initiation phase, to get it up-and-running. Asana works really well to maintain a project when the project is up-and-running. Also, visualizing a spectrum where creativity is on one end and task management is on the other, I’d choose Trello for projects that lean heavier toward the creative side and Asana for projects that lean more toward task management.