How to Make Slack Work for You
Slack has been optimized out of the box to do one thing: hijack your attention as often and as comprehensively as possible.
Common misconception: Slack is a work utility.
Actual purpose: Slack is an app that is designed to get as much user engagement as possible just like any other social media platform.
This doesn’t mean Slack is useless or even to be fully avoided - by applying a number of custom settings to Slack, it can be wrangled into something that resembles a useful knowledge sharing and communication tool. This post contains some of my essential Slack tips.
If you’re relying heavily on Slack, it’s likely you work across timezones. I am on Arizona time but often have to communicate with my west coast colleagues that are one hour behind for part of the year and keep a later schedule than me. If I need some info on a problem I’m working on at 7AM my time, I’ll schedule a send for 3ish hours later or whenever I think they’ll be getting into the office. Use scheduled send to catch people when they’re working. By sending pings outside of work hours you’re reinforcing a poor WLB even if the onus is on the recipient to not look at Slack.
Slack is Asynchronous
I think this one is a generational issue primarily - I haven’t noticed a discrepancy with people that are in my age range. Slack is somewhere between a phone call and email in terms of response urgency. I try to respond to work hour messages within an hour or two but I won’t drop everything I’m doing to context switch to Slack.
Video Fatigue is Real - Embrace Huddles
Use huddles instead of video calls as often as possible. Video fatigue is a real thing and nobody wants to video chat all day. Remote workers got along fine via conference calls before Zoom and Google Meet. I have long-running friendships that I’ve maintained for years primarily via phone calls. Slack Huddles add the benefit of higher fidelity audio (than telephone at least) - use them in instances that don’t require screen share.
Ruthlessly Prune Your Sidebar
A messy sidebar is an incomprehensible sidebar - it doesn’t convey meaningful information. Clean it in two steps.
First, create groups to taste. I like to have a “Team” group that’s my immediate team and any other teams I may be working very closely with. I try to avoid channels with 10+ active users in this section. I also like “Personal Interest”, “Corp”, “HR”, and “Archive”. “Archive” is where channels go for a week or so before possible deletion, it’s a soft delete. Don’t make a “Misc” you’ll just put everything there.
Hide in sidebar. Turn this on and mute all channels that aren’t mission critical. They’ll disappear from your sidebar if there’s no new content there. Keeps things nice and tidy and prevents distraction.
Notifications and Phone
No thank you. Notifications are a buzzkill when you’re in flow and way overused on Slack. I allow notifications on desktop during work hours for DMs and @’s. This way I stay focused.
I don’t allow any badging or notifications on my phone point blank. It’s a slippery slope between that and reading Slack at 10PM. Slack is on my phone if I need to send a message in an emergency but it is for backup comms only. What I do instead - place my phone number in my Slack profile. If there’s an emergency my phone will ring. This creates the expectation of “what constitutes an emergency” in the minds of your coworkers as well. If I’m getting a ping outside of business hours it should be something important enough to ring me on my phone.
Barring all above tips - if I do get pulled out of flow for something that’s not critical - I click the three-dot-menu by the message and have Slack remind me in a few hours. I also use this for followups on a longer timescale (days and weeks) so I don’t have to write todos.
I hope these tips are helpful - if you have any more, shoot me a line.