How I Use Slack Without Losing My Damn Mind
Slack is my jam.
It's one of the most critical tools I use to do my job, and when it goes down, I don't even know how to work.
I'm an advocate for Slack as a replacement for internal work emails, and so much more.
And, I also realize that unmanaged Slack can feel super overwhelming and disruptive.
Here's how I manage my Slack for maximum comfort and joy at work:
Let Slack live in the browser
I keep Slack bookmarked in my favorite browser — the same way that I keep my Gmail and other SaaS apps that I use daily. I don't use the native Slack application on my Mac.
Download the mobile app
I do have the native Slack application downloaded on my iPhone.
Do not enable Desktop notifications
Ya know that little dropdown bar prompt that Slack shows you? The one strongly encouraging Desktop notifications? Ignore. Hide. Dismiss.
Do enable notifications for direct messages
Do you keep your mobile phone with you most of your workday? Me too.
So, I set my push notifications on my phone to alert me if anyone messages me directly, @'s me in a channel, or types one of the keywords that I'm actively listening for, like "onboarding" or "trials."
I've enabled a 'Plink' sound for push notifications, but in real life I hardly ever hear that 'Plink' because my phone is almost always on silent.
Treat your direct messages the same way that you'd make time for someone if they stopped by your desk at the office; never mute or snooze your DMs.
Star mission-critical channels
My "mission critical" channels pertain directly to my daily work. These are channels where I'd definitely get FOMO if I didn't see every message or webhook alert posted. I keep these Starred so they show up first in my sidebar, and I actively watch for updates to these channels.
I've also starred the Slackbots that I use most often. These are channels that act more like forms where I can Slack to log a bug or a feature enhancement.
I keep my Starred channels to a manageable minimum, so I can easily glance at all of them when I open Slack on my phone.
Channels renamed, but you get the general idea.
Star DMs that need responses
If someone Slacks something important and I can't reply right away, I star the message so that I can revisit it later and it won't get buried.
Step One: Star the item you want to save for later.
Step Two: Click the Star in the righthand corner of Slack to revisit the Starred items list.
Step Three: Work through Starred items like a to-do list, unstarring as you go.
A tip for extremely good Slack-etiquette
If someone Slacks you something important and you don't have time to respond completely right away, consider sending a quick courtesy reply to:
- Acknowledge you saw something,
- Set expectations about response time, or
- Ask that the conversation get moved to a more appropriate channel
Some ideas for easy quick replies:
- Saw this! Investigating now. Please stand by.
- In a meeting. Chat at 2:00 PM?
- Heard! Could you book a meeting for us to discuss?
- Love this idea. Could you file it in our ticketing system so it doesn't get lost?
Then, Star the message so you can come back to it when you get a free minute.
I learned that this little communication trick helps prevent naggy Slacks — e.g. "Hello? Did you see this?" — and the same trick works great with email, too. #inboxzero
Show everything, mute aggressively
I've got my Sidebar settings setup to show 'Everything' so that I can remember what channels are available and jump into the ones I like the visit the most often.
The key is to aggressively Mute channels. Mute any channel where you don't need to actively participate in the conversations every day. They'll still be there for you later when you need them.
Leave and archive
Practice the Marie Kondo method with your Slack channels. Leave all the channels that don't spark joy.
Remember: you've got your push notifications on for direct messages, so someone can always @ you and drag you back into the weeds if they need you.
Archive channels the way you clean out your closet for things to send to Goodwill. If you can't remember the last time you lived in it, let it go.
Use dedicated channels for PSAs
In a past life, I worked on a team that used Slack and email together for internal communication where daily conversations happened on Slack, but lots of important top-down messages would get sent to everyone via email.
Now, I still get important cross-company messages, but they come to me most often through dedicated channels setup only for PSAs. No discussions or chatter happen in the PSA channels. Everyone knows to take reactions and replies elsewhere.
Leverage Google Docs for longreads
If I've got something that I need to share that feels a little too long for a Slack message, I throw it in a Google Doc and share the Google Doc in a Slack channel. This works great for longform PSAs.
With these tricks combined, I stay pretty Slack-happy.
Granted, I know that settings and conventions alone cannot keep someone from losing their mind. I recognize that there are additional factors helping me thrive in Slack:
My work Gmail is for external communications only. One of the reasons that I'm able to focus in Slack is that I know that I don't have to check my work email very often. I use my email exclusively for communicating with clients and vendors, and I have all email notifications filtered to 'Skip the inbox' and organize into Labels. Because I know that most things in my inbox can wait at least an hour without needing a response, I don't have to actively monitor multiple channels throughout the day.
My calendar is relatively meeting-free. Because of the nature of my current job role, I average less than 4 hours each week in heads-down meetings where I wouldn't be able to passively monitor Slack. I recognize that if I was a people manager or someone who needed to engage in lots of discussions throughout the week, I might feel more "left out" or "behind" on Slack.
I really like to read and type. I got my first AOL Instant Messenger account in fifth grade, and I've been blissfully avoiding phone calls ever since. I love digesting written words and would rather read a transcript than plug in headphones to watch a video. Because I genuinely enjoy and feel energized by reading, I'm probably a lot more comfortable in Slack than someone who communicates best with a different medium. If the next generation of work collaboration tools ends up being something with a voice-user interface, I'll be up the creek without a paddle.
Still, I hope that some of the tips I've shared here will help someone feel more zen in Slack-land.