Slack Survival Guide

Slack is a fantastic tool. It allows always-on group chat in this spirit of Hipchat or Campfire or your friends' group text thread that just won't end. You can create channels, public or private, to suit your purpose. You can gather communities together to talk about specific things. Slack can become an invaluable source of communication and information for you and your teams. Without a bit of management and care, however, it can become a burden that distracts you from the essence of your work.

If your job is to coordinate and communicate all day, every day, this article won't really apply. You should use Slack to the max and worry about little else. If, instead, Slack is a tool meant to empower your essential work, especially something that requires focused thinking, creative process, or anything that requires some cognitive flow time, the suggestions in this article are for you.

Don't Notify on Everything

There are doubtless channels that you love and are very interested in on Slack. You likely appreciate these places because they're often abuzz with chatter that interests you. Do not ask to be notified every time someone says something in these channels. You are asking for interruptions about things that interest you but might not be directed at you.

Notifications are valuable, but they are an active form of the tool getting your attention and should be used judiciously. Set a small number of keywords that would indicate to you that someone is trying to talk to you specifically.

limit notifications

Use Mentions

Assume that others are doing the above only listening for certain keywords, including their username. And then realize that once you mention their name, like @jaketrent, in the channel, the tool will actively engage them with a notification. Don't assume their just watching the channel for traffic. And don't be upset if they don't respond everything said in a channel. Don't mention unless you must. And mention when you want someone's specific attention.


Mute Channels

Normally, when chatter happens in a channel, the channel nav in the left of the UI will appear white and bold, indicating you have unread chats in the channel. If you mute a channel, this indicator doesn't happen. It always appears that there is nothing to read. The great exception is when someone mentions you particularly. In that case, you still get the red badge, indicating your number of unread mentions.

mute slack channel

Mention without Notifying

Sometimes you want to speak about someone in a message without notifying them. For instance, you could be explaining to another questioning team member what Jake's schedule is for that day. Jake doesn't necessarily need notified that you're talking about him, and he's probably being notified of mentions of his name. So, we can break up his name so it doesn't match his keywords. For instance:

@justin Yesterday Jak e said that he would test that after we merged our change.

Expect Involvement

If no one is involved on Slack, it has no value. So if you team or company wants to communicate over the tool, you must be in there typing and reading. We should also be understanding that people want to be involved at different levels. Some people are great information radiators. Some introverts would rather read and not type as much. Some would rather talk to few people indeed and just get other essential work completed. So expect involvement, and be willing to meet people where they're at in relation to this communication tool and don't expect equal involvement from everyone.

The Digest Version

Slack is always on, the clock is always ticking, and things are always being said. Were you to always be keeping up, you'd never leave the tool. So embrace "falling behind". Actually plan on catching up later and experiencing the past minutes, hours, or days in digest version. Take advantage of down time and catch up then, being careful not to get sucked in past the actual down time.

Leave Channels

If you find yourself not being interested or engaged by the unread chats in an channel, leave it. If the digest doesn't catch your attention, don't read it. If it provides no value, it's just taking up time. You probably joined that channel for a long-forgotten reason, and there's no present reason compelling you to be there. Leave. If someone wants you in there, she can invite you back, sharing relevant conversations at any time.

invite to slack

Bankruptcy is Ok

In the context of a chat tool, bankruptcy is ok. There is no great shame in declaring that you either don't care about what happened in slack the past while or that you aren't willing to take the time to experience the digest version. Mark all those messages as read and go on with life. If someone really wanted your attention, they'll mention you again.

Turn it off

There are many moments of creative thought where an idle comment that you notice will whisk your mind away from the problem at hand that series of abstract connections you had just made is now lost. Be willing to put boundaries around your most important, creative, or difficult work, and just turn Slack off for those periods. It'll be ok. Just do it.

Limit @channel Usage

Really think twice before you use the @channel or @group mentions. Everyone in the channel will receive a notification about what you're saying. Is it urgent -- as in, is it time-sensitive enough that everyone should read this as soon as you type it? Does it really apply to everyone? @channel should really not be a part of your daily Slack vocabulary. Your mind should not go there instinctively, and your fingers should not type it readily. It should really be for exceptional moments when you remember, "Oh yeah, I can get a hold of everyone right now if use @channel".

Everyone really needs to be responsible and limit themselves on this point because the situation in which there are bunch of at-channel police is not fun either. It tends to draw out people that think they're funny and use @channel mentions for their own entertainment.

Talk Face-to-Face

Slack is great for letting multiple people, across geography, know at once what you're talking about. It's also great a making a record of the conversation for later reference. But be willing to stand up, stop typing, and look someone in the eye. An important conversation prefers humans speaking directly to humans, where non-verbal cues are seen, conversation can flow more directly, and we are more aware that we're talking to a person and not a machine.

Trim the Channels

Just like unsubscribing to all that junk mail that you accumulate over months, it's a good idea to trim the fat on the Slack channels you've joined now and again. This will slim down the digest-version catchups that you have to consume. Ask yourself what value you've been able to receive and share in those channels lately. Ask yourself if the info shared there is really essential communication for you.

Well surely there are many, many other practices or thoughts that could encourage your better use of this group chat tool. What are some ideas that occur to you?