Academic Project Management Strategies - Part Three

Part three of this blog series focuses on how I use Asana in my team to organize the sharing of information. This includes information that might be of interest to my group like research related news articles, job postings, mentoring resources, and lab meeting ideas. Everyone in our team (including myself) have a “project” within our Asana group. If you have not read the earlier posts about how we use Asana for academic project management you can go back to read about Projects here.

In a large research group there are lots of items that require communication between several (or all) members of my team. Before Asana, these tasks were all accomplished using group emails with multiple recipients. My email box was overflowing and it was hard to keep track of them all. We have moved almost all of these items to Asana which makes it easy to find the information, stay up to date on what is going on, and also to coordinate things with due dates without having long email chains. Interested in how we make this work? Read on!

This screenshot shows our “Team” project. For this project, all of my graduate students are “followers”.

This screenshot shows our “Team” project. For this project, all of my graduate students are “followers”.

Individuals can set their notifications according to their preferences but I personally get a notification when someone posts to a project that I am a follower on. Alternatively, I receive a notification if someone “tags” me on a post to specifically draw my attention to an item. My notifications go to my email.

This probably seems ridiculous since I just told you that this strategy cuts down on emails and it does. It works because I see the notification and then immediately delete it with no need to reply or file the information. I could have my computer send me a notification but I have those turned off so that my writing does not continually get interrupted. In our Team project we have a number of items that you can see along the top of the list. If someone thinks of a great idea for a lab meeting they post it here, if they come across an interesting news article or job posting, it goes here. No emails permitted!

Here you can see on the right hand side, the posts that fall under the Technical Resources item. There is a link to a website to obtain updated population denominators, and also a link to a new R package that applies to some of the projects we have underway. No need to save an email. Anyone can come here and find what they need. Everyone has immediate access regardless of when they joined the group. Also, it is fully searchable from the search bar.

Here you can see on the right hand side, the posts that fall under the Technical Resources item. There is a link to a website to obtain updated population denominators, and also a link to a new R package that applies to some of the projects we have underway. No need to save an email. Anyone can come here and find what they need. Everyone has immediate access regardless of when they joined the group. Also, it is fully searchable from the search bar.

Finally, we now use Asana to organize and plan all of our monthly lab meetings. I currently meet with my individual graduate students biweekly and we have a monthly lab meeting. When a new semester starts, we pick all of the lab meeting dates for the semester (using whenisgood), book the room, and enter the monthly meetings into Asana as tasks. Students can easily assign specific meetings to themselves based on their availability or requirements (I have a student going to an international conference in February and she has already scooped up that meeting to do a practice run of her presentation).

If you look at the screenshot above closely you will see that the September lab meeting is assigned to me. I am leading our first lab meeting this month and we have 2 new graduate students joining us. We always talk about mentoring and getting the most out of your graduate school experience in September. It’s great for everyone regardless of career stage. This time around I have assigned a reading to be completed in advance. I have also made a note that our VP Research will be joining us for lab meeting in October so we will also discuss that during our meeting.

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Every year in September we also go over our team mentoring document to discuss and update any items that need updating.

Do you have a mentoring statement for your team? Are you interested in hearing more about my mentoring document, what it says, and how we use it as a tool for collaboration? For me the goal is to make expectations clear and transparent both so my students know what they can expect from me, and what I expect of them. Should that be my next blog post?

Just a reminder that this is not a sponsored post and I have no conflict of interest to declare. I use the free version of Asana to manage my team.

Is the Panda Planner for you?

I think I must have been living under a rock! I had never heard about the Panda Planner until one of my PhD students arrived in my office for a meeting with her planner under her arm and raving about how much she loved it! After some google searching and reading online reviews it seemed that she was not the only one. People love these things! So I decided that I would get one and try it out for my fall semester ( I purchased my Panda Planner Classic from Amazon but there are other online sites that also sell the planner).

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Now if you have followed my blog in the past, you will know that my team has moved much of our research workflow and communication to the online project management tool Asana. So I was not sure about incorporating a paper planner back into my work routine. I have been using the planner for a couple of weeks now and wanted to let people know how it was going in case you are considering trying the planner out.

1) there are different types of planners with somewhat different layouts and that cover different time periods (more on this later). They all look the same on the outside but make sure you do some research to see which style will best fit your needs. I picked the Classic planner because it is smaller than the pro but to be honest I made my purchase without really doing much research.

2j it turns out that the Pro is a quarterly planner and so if you use it every day it will last 3 months. I was willing to compromise a smaller size planner for the 3 month time period since my use of most planners changes over time. I figured that the planner would last the entire fall semester (Sept to December break) since there are days that I don’t use the planner (like weekends). This works because the planner is undated which is something I really liked. You won’t waste pages if you skip a day.

3) the layout is a bit unusual and it takes some getting use to. It has monthly, weekly, and daily sections that are all separate. I don’t mind the layout and the planner comes with 3 ribbon page markers so you can always easily access the section you need. If you are wondering if this layout is going to be a good fit for you, you might want to join the Panda Lab Facebook group. In the files section of the group you can find some printable examples of the different layouts (they also have great videos on their website) so you can dig a bit deeper and see if you think it might work for you,

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4) lastly, I am surprised by how the pando planner has brought some mindfulness practice into my daily routine that had never really “stuck” before. You can’t read the news these days without hearing about how journaling, setting a daily intention, expressing gratitude etc. is a great mindfulness practice to get into but Ihave never really been able to get into the habit. The Panda Planner layout actually has space for you to identify what you are grateful for that day, what your intention for the day is etc. By integrating it into my planner, and not having it be a separate book or journal in which to write, I have found that I have been consistently doing this. Spending a few minutes to appreciate what is going well in life seems like a given but taking the time to intentionally do so using a prompt in the planner seems to have made it more a part of my routine.

The fall semester is upon us and I am feeling like the Panda Planner will be a good fit for keeping things organized this fall both at work and at home. The true test will be if I become so attached to the process that I purchase another one for the winter semester. I will keep you posted as the semester progresses.