Asana’s answer to email puts ‘inbox zero’ within easy reach

asana inboxFacebook wasn’t the only one to declare war on email this week. Productivity client Asana (created by some of the early Facebook team, including Dustin Moskowitz) announced its new product called Inbox, yet another stab at sending email packing. “Up to now, even Asana users have had to face the biggest ‘work about work’ time-sink of all: sing email to stay on top of everything that has changed,” Dan Kaplan writes via the Asana blog. “But starting today, we’re rolling out Inbox, a better way to communicate about work with your team.”

Kaplan hits the nail on the head with his synopsis of the current state of email. “Not long ago, people shared photos and planned events over email. Products like Facebook upgraded that social communication by creating a better medium, custom-built for those purposes. A similar transition is happening for communication about work.”

And Asana wants to be the product at the end of that transition. Basically, that “work about work” thing Kaplan is talking about is the foe of productivity that we all deal with far too much. That daily or weekly game of catch up where we all try to decipher what team members are working on, what jobs they’ve claimed, what jobs have yet to be claimed and are sitting idle, who needs help, or who needs something to do. And a few email chains, a handful of phone calls, one to two hours of meetings, and a dozen text messages later, you have a better but painful idea of what’s happening. The evolving state of the office and the increasing popularity of remote workers as well as the many, disparate pieces of technology we all use has complicated the matter intensely.

What Asana has done with Inbox is combined the elements of email and checklist into a one-stop-shop. Email and tasks become one, and the various details you can assign to these – dates, project types, priority, tags – mean you’re in and out quickly, instead of pouring through a CCed from here to oblivion email shout out. Organizational junkies will love the simplification of the Asana Inbox, but it’s not devoid of personality: you can add notes and comments to every assignment. You can also take yourself off any irrelevant messages (you know those chains you just can’t get off of? Kiss those goodbye), mark them complete, assign deadlines, and see a feed of activity for any certain message.

sample asana inbox

Asana’s Inbox makes getting to “inbox zero” a possibility. This should be easier to attain than it currently is; think of everything in your current work email client. Some of if you keep because it has notes about a project, some because it has contact information you’ll eventually extract, some because it CCed a group with tasks and you’ll eventually need to see again. But a certain – large – percentage of all that could be translated into single, quantifiable projects instead of just a list of endless and difficult to reference data.

So is this the death of email? No, email is still the killer app and we’ll all still far too ingrained in our Gmails and Yahoos and Hotmails and Outlooks to quite let go. And for many of us, it’s perhaps too sophisticated (an odd critique, I know). But it’s a step in the right direction; this is the type of application the digital workspace has been crying for since inception.