Productivity enthusiasts love Asana—and for good reason. This online team collaboration tool specializes in workflow management, but it also handles the nitty-gritty of task management with aplomb. That said, Asana should not be confused with full-on project management software, despite its new Timeline feature. It includes neither native time tracking nor other advanced tools we expect to see for full-scale project management. But for managing tasks and workflows, it’s a flexible and elegant tool that you can bend to your will. Asana is one of the best collaboration and productivity apps for teams and an Editors’ Choice.
Pricing and Plans
Asana has four tiers of service: Basic (free), Premium ($13.49 per person per month), Business ($30.49 per person per month), and Enterprise (contact the company for a price quote). The prices increased slightly in 2019. For the paid plans, you get a discount for paying annually. Small teams of 15 people or fewer who want more than the Basic account can get a discount on the Premium plan.
The free Basic account comes with a few restrictions. You don’t get Asana’s Timeline view, which is essentially Gantt charts. You also don’t get start dates, task dependencies, milestones, forms, custom fields, progress view, advanced search and reporting, portfolios, and a few other features. We explain many of these features later. Free accounts do come with all the core task management features, including the ability to create tasks, assign people to them, add due dates, write comments, and attach files. There are no limits on the number of tasks or projects you can create. We recommend using the free account for at least a few weeks with a small test group before upgrading to a paid tier of service.
Asana Premium costs $13.49 per person per month or $131.88 per person if paying annually. The Premium account includes everything in the free account plus all the features we mentioned were missing. Premium accounts also come with administrative controls, priority support, and the ability to create private teams and projects. Private projects are only accessible to invited members, while projects that are not private are accessible to everyone on the team.
Asana Business costs $30.49 per person per month or $299.88 per person per year. This tier of service is billed as for groups that “need to manage work across initiatives.” Think large organizations. With this tier of service, you get everything in Premium plus Portfolios, Workload, Proofing, the ability to lock custom fields, an option to integrate with Adobe Creative Cloud, and a custom rules builder. The custom rules builder is another way of saying automations. One example of an automation is “when a due date changes, automatically add the team manager as a follower on the task.” Automations eliminate routine tasks so no one has to remember to do them.
When compared with other software for managing tasks and workflows, Asana’s prices are on the high end. Todoist charges $6 per person per month for its Business-grade tier of service. Trello costs $12.50 per person per month for a Business Class account, which is closer to what Asana charges for Premium, but is still less. Wrike starts at $9.80 per person per month but creeps up to $24.80 per person per month for a Business account. Those figures are still respectively less than Asana Premium and Business.
What Is Asana?
Asana is a workflow management tool that you primarily use to manage tasks. It differs from traditional project management apps namely due to its lack of structure. Asana is like a deck of cards, whereas project management software is like a board game. Board games are designed to be played with a series of preset rules. It’s unusual for players to stray too far from these set instructions, although everyone might agree to some modifications from time to time.
With a deck of cards, you have more options. For example, you could play a well-known game with established rules, such as five-card draw, or invent your own game. Let’s say you decide to play rummy. Everyone at the table must first agree on which version of rummy to play (straight rummy, 500 rummy, gin rummy, and so on). In other words, there’s a general understanding of how the game will go, but all the players must establish the exact rules before they start.
In the case of Asana, there are just as many predefined ways you can use it as there are custom ways. One more point of distinction is that Asana is better suited for ongoing work, whereas project management apps are typically better for projects with clear beginning and end dates, as well as a deliverable. Building and launching a news website is a project. Writing daily content for a news website is ongoing work. Asana is generally better at the latter.
In more specific terms, Asana keeps track of who is responsible for what task, the information related to each task, and all other information related to that task’s progress. If this still sounds confusing, know that setting Asana up for your needs is the hardest part. After that initial period, Asana’s open-ended nature is also one of its best aspects. Check out Asana’s Guide on how to get started with, and eventually master all its features.
What’s New in Asana?
Asana keeps its customers interested and happy by rolling out new major features at least once a year. Among the most recent is the custom rules builder (the same ones mentioned in the pricing section that let you build automations). Another is that the List View has changed to look more like a grid, making it easier to read information. The update also lets you add new columns more easily, view up to 20 custom fields on your main project view, and hide fields that you don’t want to see. Recent updates to the Admin Console make it easier to manage team accounts and get quick insights into which team members have been most active or influential on moving work along.
Workload and Portfolios, which are restricted to business accounts are also somewhat new features. Portfolios are similar to dashboards in that they provide quick stats and progress updates to people who need a bird’s eye view of some set of work. Workload is another view designed for high-level team members, namely managers. It helps them see the distribution of work to keep workloads balanced.
Before opening up Asana to everyone in the organization, a group of administrators needs to make a final decision on how Asana will be implemented and used. While some collaboration tools tout simplicity, that’s really not the case with Asana. Asana is intuitive, but once you get going, its complete lack of structure may make it difficult to dive in without a good amount of forethought. Asana does offer some help with structure with Project Templates, which we discuss later, but the prospect of translating an organizational structure in a way that makes sense could be intimidating.
As for the basic workflow hierarchy, each team is responsible for a series of projects with individual task lists. Each task can have subtasks, as well as an assignee, due date, attachments, comments, tags, and followers. You use these tasks and subtasks to track work. The comments and other data help you understand what’s happening with the task so that you don’t need to discuss matters over email or some other way. As tasks and subtasks are completed, all of their history and everything that occurred ends up being attached to the task itself. Thus, every work action has meaningful context.
In addition to its ability to keep track of minutia, Asana is also useful for getting a broader perspective on the responsibilities of each team member. Custom searches, which we discuss in more detail later, or even just looking at someone else’s task list is an effective way to figure out whether someone is overbooked or underperforming. You can use these insights to make effective changes.
Privacy and Security
Asana secures connections to its site using at least the TLS 1.1 protocol and hosts its data in “secure SSAE 16 audited data centers via Amazon in the US.” Asana also offers a bug bounty program for disclosing vulnerabilities with the service. Asana recently earned SOC 2 Type 1 certification. Soc 2 Audits are run by the American Institute of CPAs and according to that organization, concern “the controls at a service organization relevant to security, availability, and processing integrity of the systems the service organization uses to process users’ data and the confidentiality and privacy of the information processed by these systems.” As with Slack, you can also check the Asana’s status via an online dashboard.
At the usage level, Asana embraces collaboration among all team members. You can certainly keep projects and tasks private in Asana, but the nature of the tool is to allow all team members equal access to see, edit, and interact with information in the app. That said, Asana does allow you to mark projects as Comment-Only or assign this permission level to individual members.
For teams who do use Asana as an open platform, it’s very important to maintain dialogue about the rules of engagement to ensure everyone agrees to use the app in the same way, not overwrite one another’s work, and so forth. Recently, Asana added new enterprise security options, including the ability to control which apps are usable across the integration and restrict who can add guests.
Look and Feel
Asana is available on the web and via the App Store and Google Play Store, but it does not offer a desktop app. Some collaboration apps, such as Slack, offer desktop variants, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Asana’s web interface is efficient and responsive, with enough color and design flair to keep it interesting and useful without looking too cluttered. It has some surprises as well, like celebratory animations that appear on screen from time to time, although you can disable these extra effects if they don’t appeal to you. Asana also includes a series of keyboard shortcuts called Hacks in its settings section, which add various kinds of functionality and personality. For example, hit TAB+B for a bit of feline fun after enabling the related hack.
The web dashboard is divided into three main areas: a left rail; a main window that changes based on what you select from the left; and a right information box that drills down into whatever you’re viewing in the main window. The main window also includes a button for quickly adding items such as tasks or projects, a search bar, and a profile icon. In your profile settings, you can add basic account information, set notification preferences, adjust display preferences and the aforementioned visual effects, and configure integrations with other apps such as Harvest and Zapier. Asana maintains a full list of supported apps and integrations.
Per the latest design update, you navigate the interface via the left rail menu, which can also be completely hidden if you want to focus on the main page. From top to bottom, your main options are Home, My Tasks, Inbox, and Dashboard. These options might differ based on your organization’s global settings. Home is a new section that shows your favorite and recent projects, while My Tasks shows everything assigned to you or that you are following. If you see a New banner over any project in the Home tab, you can mouse over it to view the latest activity. Inbox is just a feed of Asana activities. You can add specific projects to the Dashboards section to keep track of updates and get an overview of task completion. A yellow dot appears next to Inbox when you have unread notifications.
Thoughtful design makes the main window in Asana bend to your needs. For example, when you click on a project on the left, the main window pops up a contextual menu under the project name, with Timeline, Calendar, Conversations, Progress, and Files. You can also sort items by Assignee or Due Date under any Task View, for example, or choose to only show either completed or incomplete tasks. Tasks glide across the screen when you click and drag them to change their order, which makes reprioritizing really simple. If you want, you can also organize tasks into Sections, but note that these sections don’t affect any task classifications elsewhere.
Additional Features and In Use
Asana doesn’t skimp on features. When you create a task, you can assign it to a team member, schedule a due date or add a recurring date, upload or link to associated documents, write comments, add tags, and even subscribe or unsubscribe yourself and others to receive notifications whenever changes occur on the task. The Comments section is particularly useful since it supports rich text formatting, comment editing, and direct mentions via the @ symbol among other things.
Tags help make tasks more searchable, and the advanced search function, which we dive into later, is quite good. Interactive checkboxes let you tick off tasks as you complete them—and just as easily untick them if you or another Asana member strikes something off in error. Asana also gives you the ability to create a custom field. You might add a field that indicates a task’s priority (low, medium, high), or you could use custom fields to indicate the state of a task (pending, in progress, awaiting final approval).
Asana also integrates a calendar that you can use to keep track of due dates. On a positive note, Asana seems to take user feedback seriously. After receiving overwhelmingly negative feedback about changes to the calendar, Asana reverted the update and is working on making sure that legacy features are maintained in addition to the performance improvements.
Asana does not offer chat features, which is disappointing, though it does integrate with Slack and Microsoft Teams. Asana does provide a space called Conversations, a message board on which team members can discuss issues with one another that aren’t directly related to any one particular task. For example, members could discuss the scope of future projects, creative ideas, or procedure. Still, this is not effective for direct messaging or casual conversations.
Asana isn’t the most adept tool for graphics-intensive projects either, but it has improved over the years. The kanban view, which we discuss later, is one such improvement. You can upload images to tasks, but you can’t mark them up in the app itself. You can preview attached images, however, form the app.
Templates and Views
If you aren’t sure how to set up a project, Asana provides a series of templates you can use. To get started, hit the Plus button > Project. Templates is the middle tab. Examples of predesigned templates include Meeting Agenda, Product Roadmap, and Employee Onboarding. Of course, you can create your own template as well aren’t stuck to these structures either. Think of them as a starting point.
Another useful feature is Asana’s ability to create dependencies between tasks. Let’s say we have task A, task B, and task C logged in Asana. If task C cannot get done until tasks A, and then B are complete, we can add dependencies between those three.
Naturally, then, you might expect Asana to have some sort of Gantt chart functionality. Enter the relatively recent Timeline View. Here, users can see every one of their tasks laid out in a Gantt style format. Dependencies are represented by lines between tasks and you can make changes at will. Gantt charts are particularly helpful for seeing how a delay in one task or an extended absence of a team member can affect target dates down the line. Asana also rolled out the ability to organize tasks in the view into sections. Teamwork Projects offers a Gantt chart view, but it’s not nearly as well-designed.
Kanban Boards in Asana
Asana now includes a Board view, designed to give teams a way to manage work using kanban. Kanban apps specialize in helping you visualizing all the work that needs to be done and all the work in progress, with an emphasis on making sure teams don’t get overloaded with so many tasks that they lose focus and become less productive. Kanban does this by limiting the number of tasks that can be assigned to a person or department at a given time.
Trello is another productivity app that uses the kanban style. One method is to set up several columns that correlate to a state of completion. It might make sense, to have columns for DEV, QA, and Production for example. To move a task from one stage to another, simply drag it over to the next one.
Note that using this Board View requires you to create projects specifically in this style. In other words, you can’t simply switch from the default task view to this style at the time of this review. To change your view, during the Project creation phase, just look under the layout section and select the Board option.
As previously mentioned, Board views can be more useful for teams who work with visual materials, since you can set cover images for each task in a column. Just as with Asana’s other views, you can create custom fields when in the Board view and flag comments directly to people with the @ symbol, a useful but less common feature among dedicated kanban apps. Asana doesn’t have every desirable kanban feature, however. It’s missing swim lanes and work-in-progress limits. KanbanFlow has all these features.
Advanced Search and Reports
Asana includes excellent advanced search functionality. At the top level, when querying for a term, you can specify if you are looking for a task or conversation. Other default fields include: Assigned to, In projects; and Followed By. Further, you can specify whether a task has an attachment, if it is completed, as well as its due date. To drill down even further, you can add Filters for custom fields, People, Tags, Dependencies, and even Subtasks. If you can’t find what you are looking for with these tools, it likely did not exist in the first place.
Asana makes it easy to save any of these complex searches as interactive Reports, which live in the left-hand menu for quick access. These reports update as new items match the terms and you can edit the terms of the search at any point. We appreciate this feature as it can be invaluable for managers who are looking to figure out who is being productive. Even for individuals, it’s a good way to track individual progress over time.
Asana’s Mobile Apps
Asana offers free mobile apps for Android and for iOS. For testing, we installed Asana on a Google Pixel running Android. We had no trouble downloading the app and singing into an account.
The app is set up slightly differently than on the web, but the interface retains its clean look. For example, most of the navigation links and structures are on the right-hand side of the screen, instead of the left. Once you sign in, Asana takes you directly to your Task List, which is likely where you will spend most of your time. Although all the core functionality, including the ability to create, track, and complete tasks, is in the app, Asana tends to work best on a big screen where you can see a lot of information at once, so the small screen size isn’t ideal.
That said, it is definitely possible to be productive from your phone and we appreciate that you can access Asana from anywhere you have an Internet connection. Notably, the apps have a good deal of offline capabilities, too. When you work offline in the mobile apps, you see gray clouds indicating that the content hasn’t synced yet, so none of your collaborators will be able to see it until your device reconnects and syncs.
A Deck of Cards
Asana’s thoughtful design, fluid interactive elements, and generous member allotment in its free version make it a powerful task-management app for personal projects and teamwork. Its flexibility, extensive feature set, and variety of workflow views are also commendable. For all those reasons, Asana earns an Editors’ Choice for collaboration apps. Although it’s not cheap and its lack of structure may initially cause some anxiety, we promise that it is a tool well worth using.