September 21, 2015

Expat Tips: Task Management

Keeping track of details as you plan to move abroad

By Jacob in Planning 4-minute read

Every move is difficult, but moving abroad presents a host of additional challenges. A solid planning strategy sets you up for a smoother transition – saving you time, money, and stress.

This the first in a series of articles about how we’re dealing with the deluge. We’re “lifehackers” here, meaning we love finding the best way to Get Things Done (GTD) effectively and efficiently. So here’s what you’ll need!

  1. A task management tool – Build your plan and divvy up responsibilities
  2. A reminder tool – Capture your loose thoughts, wherever they may arise

Manage your tasks in one place

At first, we had our planning materials scattered across Evernote, Dropbox, Apple Notes, email, paper notes… you name it. We quickly realized that we needed to keep track of all our information in a single spot – where we both could access and update it. But we also needed to balance simplicity with power. If it were too basic, we wouldn’t consolidate our efforts. If it were too complex, we would get discouraged and stop using it.

Fortunately, there are a lot of tools on the market for managing your tasks – from simple to-do lists to complex project management systems – and so we identified a few key criteria in selecting ours:

  • Free account options
  • Group tasks
  • Add notes & links to tasks
  • Schedule tasks
  • Assign tasks
  • Create sub-tasks
  • iPhone app
  • Bonus: Navigate with keyboard shortcuts

In the end, we selected Asana for its speed and ease of use. If you’re the hands-on type and want to try more options for yourself, check out this great article from Lifehacker: Five Best Personal Project Management Tools.

Asana for Desktop & Mobile

Asana for Desktop & Mobile

How we use Asana

  1. Create a Workspace and title it with your destination. You can create more Workspaces if you’ve got other projects you’re working on, and then quickly switch between them at the top right of the screen (on desktop).
  2. Create Projects within that Workspace for different groups of tasks – like Savings, Documents, Housing, and Language Study.
  3. Add initial tasks to your Projects in large, stream-of-consciousness groups.
    1. Don’t stop to file them or add due dates! Just keep going to list out everything you can think of.
    2. Consider using the colon “:” to create another layer of task groups, if you crave more organization.
  4. Add detail to your tasks.
    1. Prioritize your tasks quickly by dragging them or using the keyboard shortcuts.
    2. Add notes – including any relevant links – to the task description.
    3. If you’re moving with a partner, assign tasks to each other. You’ll each get a personalized view of all your upcoming tasks in My Tasks.
  5. Schedule your tasks.
    1. Add due dates to each task to keep yourself on the path to completion.
    2. Consider using Subtasks to add more detail to your tasks. These can also have their own due dates.
    3. Consider using Recurring Tasks (in the due date settings) to automatically create new duplicate, scheduled tasks once you create a task. Daily language learning is the perfect example, but there are other great ways to use this – like selling stuff and searching for housing. Let us know how you use this feature!

If you find yourself using Asana as much as we do, click on the help tool (?) and learn how to navigate with keyboard shortcuts.


Capture all the loose ends

Now that you’ve set up your task management tool, it’s the perfect place to capture all those loose ends. And this is where a smartphone app can really help save you time. Just fire up Asana, click the (+) button to add a new task, and include as much – or as little – detail as you need to remind yourself what you were thinking about and needed to add to the list. This eliminates that nagging feeling that there’s something you’re forgetting, which frees up your mind to move on to the next thing that it may actually be forgetting.

The goal here is take all of those post-it notes, unfinished web searches, and miscellaneous text messages and save them into a single location where you can take action on them later.

If you’re on the go a lot and need something hands-free, you may also want to supplement this with a voice notes app. Of course, if you have an iPhone, then it’s easy to combine Siri’s voice commands with Apple’s Reminders app. Check out this article for more info on how to make Siri add reminders to specific lists.

How to get Siri to add reminders to specific lists

How to get Siri to add reminders to specific lists


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more planning tips for soon-to-be expats.

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure
Benjamin Franklin

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