Asana’s productivity expert wants you to ditch the 30-minute meeting

Professional organizer Joshua Zerkel says, sometimes you just need to stop working.

Joshua Zerkel

Joshua Zerkel is one of the first Certified Professional Organizers through the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals.

Photo: Asana

When he entered the workforce, Joshua Zerkel didn’t know that productivity consultants were a thing. He was always the organized kid, alphabetizing his comic books and grouping his toys by category (G.I. Joes could never mix with Transformers). But his connection to productivity really clicked when he started working in web design. He quickly became the go-to employee for tips on staying focused.

“There are a lot of great talents that designers have, but one of them is typically not project organization and time management,” Zerkel joked.

Zerkel eventually started his own consulting business, becoming one of the first Certified Professional Organizers through the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals. He grew the community at Evernote, even writing a book on it with fellow Evernote influencer Lindsey Holmes. Now, he’s the head of Global Engagement Marketing at Asana, encouraging users to keep using the project management tool through workshops and trainings.

He doesn’t claim to be the be-all and end-all voice on productivity. How you manage your time is personal and subjective! But as a certified productivity expert and an Asana expert, he’s picked up useful advice. Here are some of his favorite Asana tips as well as tips for organizing yourself more generally.

Organize your tasks by context

Asana’s “My Tasks” section often defaults to organizing sections by time, with headings like “Do today” or “Do next week.” It also automatically sorts tasks by due date. But Zerkel has found that grouping his tasks by context works better for him: for example, putting all tasks related to “email marketing” under one header, and tasks related to “upcoming events” under another.

“I can reduce the context-switching that I have to do by just concentrating on this block of tasks that is related to this topic,” Zerkel said.

Constantly switching between different types of work can be challenging, as you need a mind reset each time. Zerkel said moving through tasks based on their “broader body of work” helps him stay in the zone. This might not make sense for everyone; some people might thrive when they follow tasks by due date. You have to figure out what works best for you.

“In Asana, [‘My Tasks’] is where the work that is literally assigned to you lives,” Zerkel said. “If you can master how you manage your ‘My Tasks,’ you can become so much more productive.”

Set realistic due dates, and use your calendar

There are roughly eight hours every workday: You’re only going to get so much done. But it’s easy to be overly optimistic about how much you can squeeze in. Zerkel said he sees it all the time.

“Through all the years that I've been working in productivity, one thing has made itself abundantly clear,” Zerkel said. “People usually dramatically underestimate how long it will take them to complete something.”

Honesty is crucial in avoiding stress and burnout. Once you come to terms with how long a task will take you, make sure your productivity setup reflects that. At the start of each day, Zerkel looks at his calendar, Asana tasks and email inbox. Then he begins the process of reshuffling or eliminating meetings when possible, as well as blocking out time for specific tasks on his calendar.

“Most people just don't think about the things that live in their inbox as needing a schedule associated with them,” Zerkel said. “I personally think it's critical.”

Asana syncs with the major calendars (Google, Apple, Outlook). But even after you’ve downloaded the right integrations, your tasks will still show up as all-day events, so you have to manually block out time for tasks yourself. If you use Google Calendar, you can download the scheduling assistant Clockwise to organize tasks for you each day.

Don’t assume every meeting will take 30 minutes

Zerkel recommends saving time anywhere you can, even if it’s only a few minutes. One method he swears by is speeding up meetings. Instead of letting calendar events default to 30 minutes, he considers how long the meeting actually needs to take. If it’s supposed to be a quick chat, he’ll set it for 10 minutes. Even if a meeting is more substantial, he’ll try to shave it down by five or 10 minutes.

“Even these little, tiny, seems meaningless, five minutes here and there, it actually adds up,” Zerkel said. “Let me look away from my computer. For even a minute. Let me take a walk around my house.”

Meetings tend to fill up the space that you give them, Zerkel said. Letting people go early, rather than dragging a meeting out to fill the allotted time, can make a meaningful difference in your day.

Sometimes you just need to stop working

The enemy of productivity, Zerkel said, is the never-ending to-do list.

“There’s a productivity fantasy world that many of us have spent time in where we think that if we just make the list, it feels as if we're getting the thing done,” Zerkel said.

Some people might define productivity as completing the maximum amount of tasks in a certain amount of time. But the grim reality of work is that the tasks never end, no matter how fancy your productivity set-up is, with its streamlined automations and integrations. The key to productivity? Acknowledging that you’re not going to get to everything, and being OK with that. It’s a mindset shift.

“The list is never going to end, so when will I finally feel productive?” Zerkel said. “What can I complete that will make me feel like I did a good job today, rather than I have a million things to do?”

In other words, being productive is knowing when to call it a day. “We all need to find a way to feel good about ourselves in spite of the growing to-do list,” he said.

Six quick tips for using Asana

  1. Integrate your tools. Asana integrates with a whole slate of workplace tools. Some popular ones are Zoom, Slack, Gmail, Outlook and Microsoft Teams. With these integrations, you can easily turn emails or messages into tasks that you can then organize within Asana. Productivity is all about having a cohesive workspace.
  2. Automate your tasks with Rules. You can set up rules that automatically assign someone to a certain type of task, for example, or you can move a task to a certain section when the due date is imminent.
  3. Activate Do Not Disturb to avoid receiving pings from co-workers on Asana. You can set Do Not Disturb for specific periods of time.
  4. Use Goals to compile concrete mission statements for team projects. Sometimes we need a reminder of the purpose of our work. Asana also has a Goals API that connects goals with data from a CRM report, for example.
  5. Use video messaging in Asana if asynchronous communication is your thing. Asana has a Vimeo integration that lets users record short videos of themselves to provide updates to tasks.
  6. Put all your projects in one place with Portfolios. The “Favorites” tab allows easy access to your most frequently visited projects, but Portfolios help you collect and organize similar projects.

What the economic downturn means for pay packages

The war for talent rages on, but dynamics are shifting back to the employers.

Compensation packages could start to look different as companies reshuffle the balance of cash and equity.

Illustration: Nuthawut Somsuk/Getty Images

The market is turning. Tech stocks are slumping — which is bad news for employees — and even industry powerhouses are slowing hiring and laying people off. Tech talent is still in high demand, but compensation packages could start to look different as companies recruit.

“It’s a little bit like whiplash,” compensation consultant Ashish Raina said of the downturn. Raina, who mainly works with startups that have 200 to 800 employees, previously worked as the director of Talent at Index Ventures and head of Compensation and Talent Analytics at Box. “I do think there’s going to be an interesting reckoning in terms of pay increases going forward, how that pay is delivered.”

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Sponsored Content

Why the digital transformation of industries is creating a more sustainable future

Qualcomm’s chief sustainability officer Angela Baker on how companies can view going “digital” as a way not only toward growth, as laid out in a recent report, but also toward establishing and meeting environmental, social and governance goals.

Three letters dominate business practice at present: ESG, or environmental, social and governance goals. The number of mentions of the environment in financial earnings has doubled in the last five years, according to GlobalData: 600,000 companies mentioned the term in their annual or quarterly results last year.

But meeting those ESG goals can be a challenge — one that businesses can’t and shouldn’t take lightly. Ahead of an exclusive fireside chat at Davos, Angela Baker, chief sustainability officer at Qualcomm, sat down with Protocol to speak about how best to achieve those targets and how Qualcomm thinks about its own sustainability strategy, net zero commitment, other ESG targets and more.

Keep Reading Show less
Chris Stokel-Walker

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance technology and culture journalist and author of "YouTubers: How YouTube Shook Up TV and Created a New Generation of Stars." His work has been published in The New York Times, The Guardian and Wired.


How 'Zuck Bucks' saved the 2020 election — and fueled the Big Lie

The true story of how Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $419 million donation became the 2020 election’s most enduring conspiracy theory.

Mark Zuckerberg is smack in the center of one of the 2020 election’s multitudinous conspiracies.

Illustration: Mike McQuade; Photos: Getty Images

If Mark Zuckerberg could have imagined the worst possible outcome of his decision to insert himself into the 2020 election, it might have looked something like the scene that unfolded inside Mar-a-Lago on a steamy evening in early April.

There in a gilded ballroom-turned-theater, MAGA world icons including Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and former president Donald Trump himself were gathered for the premiere of “Rigged: The Zuckerberg Funded Plot to Defeat Donald Trump.”

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.


From frenzy to fear: Trading apps grapple with anxious investors

After riding the stock-trading wave last year, trading apps like Robinhood have disenchanted customers and jittery investors.

Retail stock trading is still an attractive business, as shown by the news that crypto exchange FTX is dipping its toes in the market by letting some U.S. customers trade stocks.

Photo: Lam Yik/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For a brief moment, last year’s GameStop craze made buying and selling stocks cool, even exciting, for a new generation of young investors. Now, that frenzy has turned to fear.

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev pointed to “a challenging macro environment” marked by rising prices and interest rates and a slumping market in a call with analysts explaining his company’s lackluster results. The downturn, he said, was something “most of our customers have never experienced in their lifetimes.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.


Broadcom is reportedly in talks to acquire VMware

It hasn't been long since it left the ownership of Dell Technologies.

Photo: Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Broadcom is said to be in discussions with VMware to buy the cloud computing company for as much as $50 billion.

Keep Reading Show less
Jamie Condliffe

Jamie Condliffe ( @jme_c) is the executive editor at Protocol, based in London. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, he worked on the business desk at The New York Times, where he edited the DealBook newsletter and wrote Bits, the weekly tech newsletter. He has previously worked at MIT Technology Review, Gizmodo, and New Scientist, and has held lectureships at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. He also holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Oxford.

Latest Stories