- Slack is a workplace messaging app that can make collaboration and eliminating email easier than ever.
- But it can be wildly distracting, too. Slack can pull our attention away from our daily tasks, problem solving, and strategic planning.
- The best way to cut down on Slack messages is to talk to the people sending them – but not on Slack.
I thought Slack was incredible when I first encountered it in 2016. And then I didn’t.
Then I realised I could barely focus. I was constantly glancing at my Slack channels to see what was happening. Even if I tried to get some work done, a notification would eventually pop up and demand my attention.
But I couldn’t delete it either – it was how my bosses and coworkers communicated everything.
I couldn’t get out of the channels that pertained to my work, so it was time for me to remove the possibility of my work friends messaging me. Rather than directly asking my chattiest friends to withhold their gossip or errant observations until the end of the workday, I scoured the web for instructions on how to block or mute them.
But Slack doesn’t let you do that. “No, you can’t block or mute people in Slack,” reads a Tweet reply from Slack’s corporate account in August 2016. “As a tool for teams to work together, that could make it very hard!”
It was an interesting problem. Most technologies try to make real life cushier and cringe-worthy social interactions avoidable. Delivery apps ensure you never have to speak to a restaurant employee. Facebook allows you to hide friend requests without rejecting them. And rather than forcing you to leave irksome group messages, iMessage and Facebook Messenger allows you to mute individuals or groups.
Slack doesn’t have this same functionality. It’s up to you to figure out how to cut down on notifications or stop being so swayed by them.
I’m hardly the only one who has been vexed bySlack. RescueTime, a productivity company, published an ultra-helpful guide “to kill unnecessary noise and distractions” by changing the notification settings.
In a Quartz at Work article from March, Slack itself said the team halts chatroom noise with the “polite raccoon.” When a conversation has gotten off topic, you simply send a custom image of a raccoon.
“The raccoon is seen as a polite way of saying that, instead of saying ‘please shut up,’ or ‘you’re in the wrong,'” Slack co-founder Cal Henderson told Quartz At Work.
I still couldn’t quite feel satisfied by all this.
Not even the most streamlined notification settings can quiet bustling channels and verbose coworkers. And sending cute raccoons when you really mean “put a sock in it” feels passive-aggressive.
In the interest of our collective productivity, I asked workplace communication scholars to please, please help.
The best way to cut down on direct messages is to speak to the person sending them
“Going directly to the person is almost always the best thing to do,” Amy Colbert, professor at the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, told Business Insider.
“The norms around electronic communication are always shifting because of our increasing use of it,” Colbert said, so it’s better to address issues upfront and in the old-fashioned way.
Nope, you can’t get away with ghosting your boss or coworker. The best way to cut down on Slack messages is to leave your desk, walk over, and talk to them.
If it’s a boss or coworker who pings you with tasks throughout the day, you can propose a weekly or daily meeting, said assistant professor Atul Teckchandani, who teaches management at California State University, Fullerton’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics.
“You can pose an alternative approach that hopefully will nudge them away from sending you repeated direct messages all the time,” Teckchandani told Business Insider.
Send your Slack-obsessed boss or employee something like this: “I want to stay connected with what’s going on in the office, but I’m personally not able to keep up with a lot of direct messages while focusing on work. When would be a good time to check in for a few minutes each day to set the schedule?”
As for a work friend, you can bring up the topic the next time you grab coffee or lunch. “I love talking to you, but I’m not able to concentrate on my work when we’re chatting so much. Why don’t we schedule lunch or drinks after work one a day week to catch up?”
Check if there’s a company-wide policy on Slack
Teckchandani suggests a Slack policy to ensure the chat app is being used correctly, company-wide.
Ask your boss or HR team if there’s a Slack user guide for your company or how to help make one.
“I’ve learned that I have to set the expectations and give people a little bit of a primer on what Slack is and how to use it, so people use it correctly,” Teckchandani, who uses Slack when working with a group of researchers, told Business Insider.
Guidelines can also be made for a single channel. Teckchandani suggested that admins could write basic guidelines and pin it, so users can be aware of the channel rules.
“It would be good to have the organisation make sure the right expectations are being set,” Teckchandani said.
Try this list of guidelines to get you started:
- This channel, except for crucial information, can only be used between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time.
- Direct non-work-related chatter, gifs, and jokes to a different channel.
- Use @here, rather than @channel, which notifies everyone. Using the @handle of the specific few people you want to notify is even better.
- Per company guidelines, any abusive, or hurtful language is banned.
- Ask @insertadminhere for any questions, suggestions, or concerns.
Don’t be afraid to take an hour or two every day to unplug
You can set a Do Not Disturb schedule. Decide that, perhaps, 1-3 p.m. will be your time to deep work without the possibility of notifications.
“Everybody needs sometime during the day where they can unplug,” Colbert said.
Before you choose a time to be offline, make sure to clear it with your boss and settle on a time that works for you both
Tell your coworkers something like this (and you can just send it over your team’s channel): “Hey, team! I’m getting distracted by Slack, email, texts, etc. from my work, so I’ve decided to set a few hours a day for working uninterrupted. From 1-3 p.m. everyday, I’ll turn off all social media, email, Slack, and so on. If there’s something urgent you need help on, just come by my desk!”
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