Trello or Asana? A Skeptic’s Take on Two Productivity Tools

Trello & Asana are popular picks for the nonprofit worker who wants to be productive. So which one is better?

For a blog that’s about nonprofit productivity, I have a bit of a confession. And if you read my last post, you probably caught it – in the section where I talk about how I manage my work tasks.

Or more specifically, the fact that I dont. 😞 I know. Don’t judge me, gang.

It’s not for lack of trying! I’ve stopped and started many a system – spreadsheets, Salesforce, even written planners. Once I reach a point where using the system feels like more work than help, I cut it out of my life.

But now that the demands on my job are increasing, my current “system” of inbox to calendar to memory isn’t cutting it. It’s time for this gal to change her ways.

This post is different from what I normally share. Keep reading for a review/comparison on two popular productivity tools on the scene – Trello & Asana.

But first. What are Trello and Asana?

In case you’re not familiar,Trello & Asana are online tools for managing projects and tasks. Both offer a free & paid version, which means you can experiment with each at no cost!

About Trello

The Trello website says it’s “the easy, free, flexible, and visual way to manage your projects and organize anything.” They do this using the Kanban method of organization, where users drop cards onto lists that live on boards. Cards can have different info – checklists, attachments, labels, etc.. – and users are free to create multiple boards for different projects.

This GIF taken from the Trello blog post Beginner Tips for Using Trello by Lauren Moon .

About Asana

The Asana website says it’s “the work management platform teams use to stay focused on the goals, projects, and daily tasks that grow business.” Asana’s functionality is more centered around tasks – which you can organize multiple ways, including Kanban and list views. On the paid version, you can also unlock a timeline view.

This GIF taken from the Asana blog post Collaboration is beautiful: Introducing Boards in Asana by Devon Watts

Key Features They Share

Collaboration. You can assign cards to members of your team, add comments, tag co-workers in comments, add due dates, and attach files/links/documents to cards.

(Seemingly) endless integrations. Now, just because an integration exists doesn’t mean you need it. 😇 But if you do, there are lots of possibilities – like Outlook, Salesforce, Slack, and even each other! Here’s the full list of options for Trello & Asana.

Extensive knowledge base. Both offer a wealth of general productivity tips on their blogs. Here’s Trello‘s and Asana’s. But they’re also happy to showcase new features and use cases for their products. Check out Trello Inspiration and the Asana guide to get your gears turning.

For me, this is where the similarities largely end. Despite their shared functionality, Trello and Asana work differently – and there’s definitely one that’s better, depending on your needs!

How I Use Trello

This blog may be my passion project gang, but it is also work.  Between organizing posts and my ideas, it can be overwhelming. Enter Trello.

My colleagues swear by it. I may be the only person at my org who doesn’t use it for work (more on why later).  But I decided to use it to manage my site’s content for 2 key reasons:

  • I knew it was simple
  • It came with a mobile app that was easy to use – essential for working on the go!

What I Love 💖

When they say it’s “easy”, this isn’t just a sell. Trello is impressively intuitive from the jump, so the ramp up time is fairly short.

Specifically though, Trello stands out for me because:

  • It’s very slap-able. I’m sure that sounds bizarre, but it goes back to ease of use: I love that I can quickly slap just about anything – a photo, URL, Google Doc – onto a card. It makes the card a true home for tons of random info that I wouldn’t know where to put otherwise.
  • Highly visible cards – in the form of photos or labels. Color-coded labels make it easy to call out a card on your board. Same goes with photos, which can be used as the “face” of your cards. Check out my board below to see what I mean!
  • Adding checklist to cards. Asana offers checklists too, but the Trello checklists are super easy to create, edit, delete and duplicate.
Here’s my content board! Super helpful when I need to share links or remember what the heck I’ve posted so far.

What Could Be Better 😐

Trello has served me well. Between my articles board and my ideas board, I truly am more productive. So…mission accomplished!

But like I mentioned, I don’t really use Trello for my job. And that’s mainly because:

  • Cards don’t do enough to manage tasks. For the work I do, I need to have tons of subtasks. And unfortunately, Trello card checklists don’t let you assign due dates.
  • Sometimes I need a list. The Kanban method is fantastic for organizing, but I like skimming a to-do list sometimes. This isn’t currently possible in Trello (though it appears to be in the works) and depending on how large your boards are, the scrolling gets cumbersome. .
  • Boards get easily distracting. If your board has lots of labels or information, there’s something off-putting about the way Trello organizes this on screen. Of course, this comes down to personal preference…but I’m on a few group boards at work, and I can get lost trying to find info because of the sensory overload.

The Bottom Line with Trello

Trello is a simple, visual way of organizing pretty much anything. Think of it as a digital pin board that isn’t limited to work – you can plan trips, home projects, even weddings! I recommend it if you need a way to easily visualize projects, love the Kanban style, and don’t need a sophisticated task monitoring/reminder system.

How I Use Asana

Going back to my day job…I needed a better way to organize tasks. I also needed a simple way to plan for 1) my long-term database projects and 2) one-off tasks from my boss.

Despite Trello being the popular pick, it never stuck with me. I wanted something as straight-forward as a spreadsheet, but still robust enough to handle lots of different info. Enter Asana.

I knew from using Asana years ago that it was great for collaboration. But I’d never used it personally, so I decided to give it a shot a few weeks ago when my boss asked me to find a system she could reference. Ever since, I haven’t looked back.

All of my big projects live as boards in Asana. But I also have a “board” specifically for those random to-dos. Once I got past the learning curve, it became really easily to manage those two different workstreams all in one place.

What I Love 💖

Asana is a beast of a tool, a true “workplace productivity” system. There’s tons of paid functionality I’ve yet to take advantage of – like timeline and project plan views – but even the free version is powerfully robust.

What I absolutely love though is:

  • I can view tasks in Kanban or list views. Enough said: I get to have my drag-and-drop Kanban cake, and eat my list view cake too! Those views just cater to different parts of my brain, so it’s nice having the option to toggle.
  • I can assign due dates to tasks and subtasks. That means Asana can order my to-do list and send me reminders based on all my deliverables…not just the high-level ones on my cards. (You can also assign individuals to subtasks, which is nice!).
  • One card can live on multiple projects/boards. As far as I can tell, Trello only lets you copy cards to different boards. But in Asana, you can link a single card to multiple boards – meaning that if you update a card, you only need to do it once. That’s what makes my project boards and “to do list” board so feasible, because I’m not duplicating any effort!
  • Easy task filtering. If you’re on a board or list, you can toggle the filters to show all tasks, or just the complete or incomplete ones. I know that sounds obvious, but this isn’t something you can do in Trello (that I know of anyway).
Here’s what my “My Tasks” project looks like in an Asana ….
…and here’s the same project in Kanban. Two different worlds, same data! Note how projects appear on the bottom, left-hand side.

What Could Be Better 😐

If it sounds like I’m putting Trello down, that’s not my goal! As much as I’m loving Asana for work, I wouldn’t use it for my blog. Here’s why:

  • The data entry is a bit cumbersome. Yes, it’s easy to add cards to Asana. But you have to perform more clicks just to add or delete subtasks. (And if you’re only using it personally, you need to assign yourself to every task you create. Otherwise, Asana won’t show it in your task list.)
  • Tags aren’t as easily visible. Tags in Asana are probably the closest thing to “labels” you can get. But if you add tags with colors to your cards, they easily blend in with your “project” labels. So instead of adding a bunch of tags, I just get creative with card titles by using emojis! 🤷🏻
  • It’s a cleaner interface, but there’s alot going on. When I first started using Asana, I had to look up how to do a few simple things. Even after a few weeks, I still don’t know how to find everything quickly. It definitely takes some getting used to, which makes it more complicated than I need it to be for my site.

Asana: The Bottom Line

Asana is a straight-forward way of organizing projects, tasks and teams. For me, it’s the perfect storm of brain-storming (via Kanban) and task management. I recommend it if you need an effective way to organize projects and tasks, and a way to hold yourself or others accountable to deadlines.

So, who wins?

I never meant to start a war. Both are great products.

But it ultimately depends on your needs! Trello is a great pinboarding tool if you don’t need extensive task management/reminder functionality. Asana is a powerful task management tool with a steeper learning curve, but it’s justified if you need those extras.

The only way to know for sure is to try them out yourself. Sign up for a free version of either tool. And if you end up really loving one, both offer nonprofit pricing!

p.s. I had a hard time finding the free version of Asana at first (not the same thing as the trial). If you have issues, be sure to use their chat support to have someone point you to the right place.

Share your thoughts!