Are you using Slack, or a similar tool, to keep in touch with teammates and other people you work with? These tools are implemented to improve communication and productivity in the workplace. So how come we often find ourselves spending more time slacking than working, and still can’t find what we are looking for? Rather than point the finger at the technology, we can look at our own behaviours and turn Slack from something that distracts us into a tool that supports our workday.
Choose your Notifications
Slack notifications are enabled by default on both the desktop and mobile. You will be notified when you receive a direct message (DM), when someone mentions you or notifies a channel you are in, when someone uses one of your keywords, and when someone replies to a thread you are following. Slack will also notify you of any reminders you have set in Slackbot.
While intended to “keep you informed about things that need your attention” (Slack), it doesn’t always seem that way. To get the most out of this feature you must decide what needs your attention and then tailor the notifications to support you.
You can set a notification schedule and choose which hours each day you want to receive notifications. For example, you may decide to begin receiving notifications 1 hour after your usual start time. Setting an end time for notifications is especially important if you have Slack installed on your personal mobile device.
Notifications can be paused for 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours etc. under your profile which is very helpful if you need to focus on deep work for a period of time.
You can mute a specific channel or DM at any time by right clicking on it and selecting mute channel / mute conversation.
Finally, you can change your overall notification settings in the Preferences section under your Profile.
Further instructions on how to update your notifications settings are available in the Slack help centre.
Limit your Star Channels
How many favourite (starred) channels do you have? A bad answer is more than five, and a worse answer is none.
When you “star” a channel, you move it to a new section within the Slack navigation bar, separating it from all the other channels. Not only does this provide a filter for your attention, it allows you to collapse the view of all the channels which are not starred. Out of sight is out of mind until you choose to look at them.
You can “star” a channel by right clicking on it and simply selecting “Star channel”.
Do this for the most important channels which you are currently and actively involved in.
Review this list regularly and “unstar” channels as they become less relevant to your current work.
Keep a clean DM list
Slack is a great way to keep in touch with people when you are not sitting close by. But sometimes the list of people is so long in your Direct Messages section that you have to think twice, or even three times, about who you were actually talking to.
Close a direct message (DM) conversation if there is no follow up needed. The conversation thread will still be there when you message them again in the future.
The only people in your DM list should be the people you speak with daily and anyone you have an open conversation with – that means either you must do something for them, or they must do something for you.
Use your shorter DM list as a daily check to ensure you are following up with everyone you need to.
Schedule Slack catch-up time
If you have reduced notifications and are focusing only on “star” channels, then won’t you be missing out on all the other stuff? The conversations that are not necessarily about work but are just as important to stay connected to your colleagues? The projects that you are not directly involved in anymore but you are still interested in? The short answer is yes. There is a balance between reducing distractions and working in a bubble. The latter would be the equivalent to wearing earplugs in the office all day.
A great way to do this is to allow time each day to catch up on Slack. It might be 15 minutes before your morning coffee and again in the afternoon, perhaps straight after lunch, or at another time that suits you. Scheduling this time means you are still able to catch up on those less important channels and threads, while still prioritising your work. If you are looking for more guidance on how to plan your time, check out Plan your week and reclaim your time.
The steps outlined above apply to Slack, however the principals are the same even if you are using an alternative like Microsoft Teams, Workplace by Facebook or another tool. The most important thing to remember is the function of a tool is to support you, not burden you and it is up to you – the user – to decide how you will gain the most benefit from it.