I’m a contract grant writer with a half a dozen regular clients at any given time and about that many more for shorter assignments over the course of a year. Each of those clients has grant applications, letters of inquiry, reports, and special projects running all the time. Over time, I learned how to set up an Asana structure that is both simple and flexible.
Here’s what works for me:
(1) A team for every client
(2) A project for the main topics: deadlines, pending, client meeting agenda, and “general.”
(3) A task for each of the grant or report deadlines, pending/submitted applications, agenda items, etc.
(4) I use three tags for a quick view across clients: deadline, pending, and research. I review upcoming deadlines daily. The research tag is to watch funders’ websites for updated deadlines and guidelines. Those are often set up as recurring tasks.
For the meeting agendas, I use the free Asana2Go extension and paste the results into Word for editing. During the meeting, I have a client notes document, but I also edit or complete tasks right in Asana.
To make my task list easier to read, I added a client acronym to major tasks. For example, the Helping The World nonprofit is applying to XYZ Foundation. I’ll add a task named XYZ Application – HTW.
It’s essentially that simple.
When I started, I added a project for every application and every report. So under each client (each team) I might have up to 50 application and report projects listed for the year. With a small business (two people) and standardized workflows, I realized I could simply create one project for each client called Deadlines and then put all the applications, letters of inquiry, reports, etc. in there.
What about more complex projects? That’s the flexible part. Let’s say we’re applying to the Federal Department of Education (ED) on behalf of a consortium of nonprofit and education organizations. It will take months to develop with lots of moving parts. For those, I will create a separate project and then have tasks like: Review RFP, Assign roles for data collection, Initial team meeting, etc. One task will be the Application task with the deadline. This is where Asana’s flexibility is outstanding because it lets me easily assign ED Application with the deadline tag to both the ED project and the Deadlines project.
Sharing Asana with clients is hard. I keep a separate grants calendar as a Google sheet to share with the client. I do this for two reasons:
(1) Asana is not a database to store historical records: it’s a forward-facing project management system.
(2) If the client doesn’t use Asana, the last thing they want is another system (this may be different for fields like software development, but in nonprofits, they don’t want to know about it). For clients who do use Asana, there is still no unified task list across organizations, so they have to manually check our team—and that doesn’t happen.
What else do I not do in Asana? I don’t use subtasks. I have tried many times, but I always end up with stray subtasks that are hard to identify or hard to find.
Here’s the structure for teams (my clients), projects (general categories), and task (grant applications, reports, etc.):
A task with a deadline and a note to follow up on in the client meeting. This will appear in both the Deadlines and Meeting Agenda:
Adding a complex project with multiple steps:
For me, the keys are to have a standardized system and to keep it simple but flexible. As a one-time database manager, it didn’t feel “right” to set up a separate project for some applications but not other. It seemed like the data format should be standardized. Being able to place tasks within multiple projects took care of that.
I couldn’t run my business without Asana. I’d have to hire a secretary which I can’t afford. I could probably use a grants management program, but they’re not really set up for freelancers, and they tend to be far less dynamic, requiring challenging data entry, exporting, etc. Years ago, I used deeply layered Word and Excel outlines, but that wouldn’t work with the complexity I’m handling now.