Asana tips: When and how to use subtasks
November 17th, 2020
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In order to help teams gain as much clarity as possible, you may have noticed that tasks in Asana can only have one assignee. That way, you always know exactly who is driving the work—or as we like to say, who’s doing what by when.
But sometimes, a task has multiple components, or multiple contributors. You can’t add another assignee to the same task—but you can create subtasks. Subtasks can be a powerful way to distribute work and split tasks into individual components—while staying connected to the overarching context of the parent task.
So whether you’re just getting started with subtasks or you’re a subtask super fan, check out these five tips for when and how to use subtasks.
Do: Use subtasks to break tasks into individual components…
… particularly if there are multiple contributors, due dates, or stages involved. Subtasks are a great way to capture the individual components of a multi-step process. At Asana, we often use subtasks to capture simple, repeatable, multi-step processes.
For example, when we write a new Asana Tips blog, we create a task to represent the blog post. This task is assigned to a writer, and the due date is the day the blog will go live. But it takes several stakeholders—and several days—to make the blog actually come to life. We might have subtasks for drafting the blog copy, reviewing it, creating the blog header image, and staging the blog on WordPress. Each subtask is assigned to an owner with its own due date—but they all contribute to the larger process: writing a new Asana Tips blog.
Tip: Make subtasks dependent on one another to keep processes running smoothly. Subtasks are connected to the parent task, but aren’t inherently dependent or connected to one another. Creating dependencies allows collaborators to see exactly when their piece of work can be kicked off.
Don’t: Create too many layers of subtasks…
… because it may impact the visibility of your work. It can be tempting to nest subtasks, but we recommend not going more than a single “layer” deep (think: parent task → subtask). This can help you ensure the scope of your task isn’t getting out of hand. Always stop to ask if the work would be better represented as a task—or a project—instead of a subtask.
If this is something you run into frequently, create conventions with your team to define what is a task and what’s bigger than a task. For example, you could agree that a task shouldn’t take more than a week to complete—any longer than that and it should be split into several tasks. Or you could say that a subtask shouldn’t be able to live on its own—if the work is independent enough from the parent task, consider making that work its own task. To do so, simply drag and drop the subtask in List View.
Tip: You can always turn your task into a project if the work is large in scope.
Do: Run meetings with subtasks…
… to make them more actionable. The best meetings are the ones with a clear meeting agenda and prepared attendees—so you can jump right in and have an actionable working session. Ensure everyone is coming to the meeting with the relevant context by assigning prep work, like any pre-reading or videos, to all relevant meeting attendees. Share the meeting agenda, @-mention relevant collaborators or projects, and surface any documents attendees should read before the meeting.
Then, during the meeting, capture actionable next steps with subtasks. Each subtask will be connected to the meeting agenda in the main task. And with an assignee and a due date, you’ll be able to track action items and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks.
Tip: With the Zoom + Asana integration, you can create a new Zoom meeting from within Asana. And coming soon, download the Asana Zapp for Zoom to create Asana tasks from within your Zoom meeting.
Don’t: Expect to see subtasks in all project views…
… or in other Asana features like Workload or Rules. Subtasks are designed to supplement and support the parent task—as such, the main body of work should be captured in the parent task. Unlike tasks, subtasks don’t show up on Timeline or Calendar View. And while you can select a drop-down to show subtasks in List and Board View—subtasks don’t show up by default in those project views, either.
If you find that you need to be able to see the work represented in subtasks in Timeline or Calendar View, or if you want to use Workload and Rules based on subtasks, consider converting the task into a project so the subtasks become tasks.
Tip: Subtasks do show up in Inbox, Advanced Search, and My Tasks.
Do: Use subtasks to gather feedback…
… from a stakeholder or group of stakeholders. A great way to use subtasks is to ask the assignee to Please read and give feedback on the parent task. You can include any attachments, information, or context in the main task, but make feedback more actionable by assigning individual subtasks to every reviewer or stakeholder. Just make sure the subtask owners have permission to see and edit the parent task.
For example, say you’re working on a new virtual meeting manifesto PDF with your HR & people operations team. You just got the final files back from the design team, but you need to approve the PDF before it’s shared company-wide. The HR, workplace, and design teams need to take a look for final approval. Instead of creating three individual tasks, share the PDF in the main parent task, then create three subtasks for each of the stakeholders—that way, they can see the feedback the other people are sharing and you can see which of your reviewers is still working on their feedback.
Tip: You can also assign duplicate tasks with one click. Hover over the assignee field, then click Assign duplicate tasks. Select as many stakeholders as you want—each stakeholder will be assigned an identical subtask with the same task title, due date, and description.
To subtask or not to subtask
Remember the five dos and don’ts of subtasks to guide you on when to create a project, task, or subtask. When in doubt, remember that subtasks are designed to supplement and support—not replace—the main work in the parent task. Subtasks are a great way to break work into individual components, clarify who’s working on what, and move work forward.
For more Asana tips, check out the Asana Academy.