A newbie review of Asana

Trying to make my workflow better without spending all day doing it.

A ghost in front of a timeline with many many tasks to be completed.
I got this view that almost meets my needs out of Asana by creating a portfolio. But that's not a Starter-level option, so I'm back to using the "My tasks" calendar view.
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Right, so this post isn't about Ghost CMS. It's about productivity software and my life as a freelancer/solo-preneur. We'll be back to talking about Ghost next week. Apologies for the diversion.

So, let's be brutally honest. Sometimes I get too many small jobs and quote requests, and too many balls in the air, and then I drop some balls. Sometimes this means I miss a deadline, or sometimes I accidentally ghost someone who is waiting for a quote. (Pun not intended. Ghosting also not intended.) I don't want to do this.

Any software I choose needs to let clients view their individual projects, comment on them, get and reply to email notifications, etc. Basecamp and Asana both did that, pretty much, but I really needed the multi-project timeline overview. I can't be opening 10 projects to figure out where my next availability is!

I used Basecamp for a while. It was OK, but there was no great way to see all the jobs I was working on at once, and no easy way to see when my schedule was next open for new work, something I need to know on a near-daily basis. It was easy for clients to use. But I really needed better options for timelines, so I switched over (partially) to using Asana, based on some experience with a former client's Asana setup.

There's lots of good stuff in Asana, but here are the big nits:

  • It's not possible to buy a single seat. I'd really like to buy a single seat, and when I realized I couldn't, that put me off signing up for most of a year. At this point, I've bitten the bullet and am paying for two seats. Bonus for the intern (maybe), who now gets to use Asana too. But that's a doubling of what looked like a reasonable monthly cost.
  • There are project start and end dates, and there are task start and end dates. But for the life of me, I can't figure out why the project start and end dates won't automatically set themselves to bracket the task dates. Asana has workflows (and there's Flowsana), but it doesn't seem obvious how to make that happen. (Yes, yes, I'm a full-stack web dev and could absolutely stand up a cloud function that catches Asana webhooks and adjusts dates as needed, but if I'm paying for a service, it'd be really nice if I didn't need to spend several hours making it work like I want it to work. I need to do work that pays the bills!) No obvious Zapier option to do this, either.
  • The view below is pretty neat, but it turns out to be only possible in a portfolio, which is $24.99/month/seat times two seats = good grief, no way. I got it all set up and then realized I had a free trial for features that won't persist past 30 days. ARGH. (It would be an even better view if I could collapse a project and just see a summary bar, but no.)
A portfolio view in Asana. Each project (client job) gets its own grouping.
  • The team calendar view (below) is not terrible, but it's not quite as nice as the portfolio view above. That at least appears to be included in the starter plan ($10.99 x two seats = ok I guess?) Notably, it uses color only to show which project (client job) each task belongs to, and the number of colors available is smaller than the number of projects I sometimes am tracking. So I'm perpetually recoloring things to keep adjacent projects distinguishable.
  • In the portfolio view, I can actually drag start and end dates around, to make a task longer or shorter. That's super neat. In the "my tasks" calendar view, I can only move the event as a block. I have to open it and edit it to change its length. This "My tasks" calendar view also doesn't show dependencies, although the 'timeline view' within each project does. There's also a "team" calendar view, but weirdly, there's no button to hide the complete tasks. So wait... I'm being forced to pay for two seats, but if I wanted to use it for collaborating, the team calendar is almost unusable because it's full of completed tasks?
  • Having new tasks automatically assigned to me requires a workflow automation. That starter plan includes only 250/month. I like making lots of little tasks, so just getting them auto-assigned is going to use up all my workflow allocation. Grr. There's an API, there are webhooks, and I'm a full-stack developer, so I can absolutely fix that problem with a little cloud function on Netlify. But it's sort of that old phrase "the cobbler's children go barefoot" all over again. I've got enough paid work that I'd rather not have to spend the time to fix something I'm paying to save me time!

I loooooove being able to plan work out ahead of time and to check things off as I finish them. But I'd really like to pay about $15-20/month (not $50) for a full set of features, and to buy only the single seat I need.

Your thoughts?

So, suggestions? What productivity software does it better? While I'd love to sit down and write my own, I don't think that'd be good for my productivity...

Final thought

One thing I want to do eventually is to add some client onboarding automation. I'd love to be able to enter a client's information once and have Stripe send them an invoice for a deposit, and once they deposit, Asana creates their project from a template and sends them an invite. And a welcome email. And then I want a "ready for payment" task in Asana that generates the final invoice. It'd probably save me 30 minutes per client, and that'd be a pretty big productivity gain...

Oops, one more final thought: Client responses

A small minority of my clients are pretty much ignoring Asana. Oh well. Some of my clients love it, and are adding website-adjacent tasks for themselves to the project I share with them, and checking off the tasks I assign them. Since I run a retainer plan that helps clients get their Ghost websites launched, this makes perfectly good sense. I'm getting pretty good mileage out of assigning clients tasks ("Make an Algolia account and invite Cathy as a developer") and questions ("Did you want posts sorted alphabetically or by year?"), and they'll happily check them off. That part's pretty great; I can give clients deadlines and show them where they're blocking my work (at least for the clients who can find that view). Tasks also function as tickets, and so we can have back and forth on specifications within a task – sooo much better than trying to find some bit of specification deep within a dozen email threads! I've only had to tell one client so far that the task comments are not for random digressions that have nothing to do with current job. 😂 I love the enthusiasm, but don't need 50 comments on all my to-dos!

ICYMI:

Some shorter (about Ghost!) posts that didn't merit their own newsletter:

Client story: The Straight
SSO and theme tweaks for The Straight, a Ghost site about horse racing.
Importing posts, and only posts, into Ghost.
If you’ve ever wanted to import a JSON file straight into Ghost, rather than using the Admin API, this post is for you.