Reducing Slack's negative impact on productivityApril 14, 2019

Anyone who's used Slack for a long time knows exactly what I'm going to talk about here. Constant notifications, distraction and loss of context are issues that are annoying me the most. Slack is a very well executed product, but for me it doesn't work out-of-the-box the way I want it to. I want to be productive, while staying up-to-date to what's happening and important conversations. I don't want to know everything immediately, I want to catch up when I have the time for it.

Here are things that worked for me to some degree in reducing Slack's negative impact on my productivity every day.

1. Offline by default

Just don't keep Slack open all the time. Simple as that. Since Slack sends notifications, you can open it only when you really need to talk to someone. Otherwise, why keep it open at all times? Do you really have to be in the loop of everything that's going on in 20+ channels you're in? No.

Close it and I guarantee this change alone will make you happier, less distracted and more productive.

2. Turn off notifications

Except mentions and DMs. You don't need to know everything else right away. As an extra measure, I don't have any notifications on my laptop, even mentions and DMs. I have my phone with me at work anyway, so when notification arrives, I will notice it there.

What's the point of having mention notifications on the phone, but not on laptop? Good question. I don't see them the second they arrive on the phone, while they would be impossible to ignore on the laptop screen.

There's no science behind it, it's just something I came up with.

3. Set up "Do Not Disturb" schedule

This should really be turned on by default in Slack. You should turn on "Do Not Disturb" and configure the schedule to disable all notifications outside of your work hours. Also, resist the urge to open Slack in the evening/morning to catch up. You don't need to, there will always be tomorrow for that and you can do it when you've started your work day.

Where to find Do Not DisturbWhere to find Do Not Disturb

4. Don't use desktop app

Slack offers exactly the same app on the web, which also probably eats less memory and improves battery time (another unscientific guess, get used to it in this post). Not having Slack in my Dock also reduces the chance of accidentally opening it.

If you're already using Slack in a browser or just started after reading the last paragraph, you'll quickly notice Slack has prepared another way to suck you into the chat. Whenever there's an unread message (not even a mention), favicon will change from gray to white color. This is really annoying, when you're doing all this hard work to reduce distraction.

Thankfully, there's a Chrome extension called Tab Modifier, which allows you to replace a favicon of any tab permanently. As a bonus, you can replace it with an old Slack logo 😀

5. Use reminders

Slack has a handy feature called "Remind me about this" or simply reminders. When someone messages me about something not urgent, or I want to check out that conversation later, or really anything that can wait - I set up a reminder for it.

Postpone all the thingsPostpone all the things

When I'm ready to catch up on everything I stashed, I go to @Slackbot and there I can view all the reminders I've added before and "Mark as Completed" each of them or postpone them even further.

6. Leave unimportant channels

This is an obvious one, but I notice people just tend to hang around in channels they don't actually participate in forever. Or they joined just to ask something and feel it would be rude to leave right away.

Either way, leave channels where you're just lurking and not actively participating. Nobody will get upset.

7. Note important messages

If there are messages you have to follow up on or just remember about, note them somewhere outside Slack. Otherwise they'll be lost in about 7 minutes, because someone noticed a funny gif on the internet. I use Things, because it looks and feels fantastic, but of course feel free to use whatever you want.

8. Star current conversations

Whenever someone DMs me or there's a discussion going in a channel I'm interested in, I star it right away. I do it, so that I don't have to scroll through the whole sidebar to find the channel with unread messages. After I'm done talking with that person, I "unstar" them. That way people I'm talking with are always at the top of my sidebar.

9. Be a good Slack citizen

Last but not least, remember that there are people like you who don't want to get distracted for nothing.

  • Avoid @mentioning people if you don't require an immediate response.
  • Don't use @here or @channel unless it's an emergency.
  • Don't DM people after work hours if you see they don't have "Do Not Disturb" set up (people who do will have a 💤 icon).
  • If you can find information you need yourself, don't be lazy and do it, instead of pinging your colleagues on Slack.

Generally just use your best judgement and adjust your communication style around respecting people's productivity and focus.

These things have worked well for me for some time and I find myself spending more time working and less time marking my notifications as unread. If you want to break free from distraction and unimportant realtime disruptions, I encourage you to try these out.

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