Reducing Slack Noise

With remote work, notifications from communication apps like Slack often provide the soundtrack of our work day. It’s not surprising that 87% of US-based Slack users said the app improved communication and collaboration inside their organization (Slack survey). However, the powerful Knock Brush can also badly impact your [team's] productivity [- triggering all sorts of emotions - from happiness to anxiety! ]

Here are some tips to cut out noise for better Slack efficiency (it helped me spend 30-50% less time on Slack)

Set yourself up for success

Notify me when it matters

I love this quote by Patrick Lencioni (CEO, executive coach, and author of The Advantage) "if everything is important, then nothing is." Prioritization is critical, and by muting unnecessary notifications, you may miss a few dopamine hits, but you can commit your attention to where your input is required.

Convinced? Go to Preferences → Notifications -> Notify me about... to Direct messages, mentions & keywords or Nothing.

The Mute button

Enjoying the sound of silence? This is for you. Introducing the Mute button: a powerful tool, especially for channels with lots of automated notifications. Muting these channels helps to spend time on messages from actual humans (aka your teammates).

You can easily do this by clicking on the little bell 🔔 in each channel:

Something chemical happens to your brain when you see unread messages 🔴. Unlike your WhatsApp, in Slack, not all those messages are for you. Actually, very similar to the last WhatsApp group you recently muted. In the same way, you choose your notifications type, setting up your sidebar to reduce noise is an excellent way to ensure that you only spend time on messages that need your attention.

Here are the steps to set up your sidebar:

Go to PreferencesSidebar, and choose the setting that works best for you.

☝️I'm currently on Direct messages, Mentions & Reactions, and Saved Items. I only see content that requires my response. However, you can also include Unread Messages, which is a little bit less extreme.

💡You can always use the search bar to find all the channels you had before.

How to Slack

Could this meeting have been an email? Could this Slack have been a meeting?

Well, if there are tons of efficiency gains from working asynchronously, we also notice that it leads to more Slacks, documents, and videos than most people are used to working with.

In addition, a distributed team also means these communications can come outside “normal working hours.” At Getro, we provide the following guidelines for choosing the right channel for your communication:

🚨 Have a system for urgent requests

  • Use Telegram for anything more pressing than EOD
  • DO NOT use Telegram for non-urgent communications

⏰ Respect the start & end of our days

  • Turn off notifications outside of your working hours to disconnect
  • Leave 1 comms channel (Telegram) - in case of emergencies
  • If something will need to be repeated in the future (AKA a process) & doesn’t require collaboration -  make it accessible in Guru (our knowledge management system).
  • If something will need to be commented on - use Gsuite (sheets, doc, slides, etc.)
  • If the thought you want to communicate would be more efficiently communicated in a different medium, consider sending a Loom or Grain video.
  • Non-urgent communication should be done within Slack, email, or shared documents/tools (usually good to let people know on Slack & email to look at those tools)
  • If something is urgent (<24h response required) - use Telegram.

Check this post if you are curious to know more about the tools we use as a distributed team.

Stick to a routine

Find a healthy routine that works for you. Here is mine as an example: start & end your days with a run-through of your communication channels (Slacks, Telegrams, Emails) to keep priorities timely:

  1. Make space and get clarity on urgent priority items
  2. Don’t leave teammates hanging on deliverables
  3. “Tag out” or relay items that need to be advanced in other time zones or by other team members when you’re closing shop for the day.
  4. Once priorities are updated and teammates are unblocked, then you can get some heads-down time away from Slack.

GTD, not just for email

Familiar with the get things done method? Here is how you can apply it to Slack:

  1. Step one: treat your slack like a to-do list (apply The Inbox Zero method to Slack)
  2. Step two: triage as you go through messages where you've been tagged
  3. < 2 minutes? Do it now!
  4. > 2 minutes - use the bookmark tool
  5. Ninja level 🥷: upgrade your triage experience by bookmarking items with reminders!

A message that's easy to understand

Think about writing in a way that will minimize the time it takes your teammate to read & understand your message:

  • Share needed context: include links to videos, loom, and documents (Slack lets you paste hyperlinks directly over text)
  • Avoid messy paragraphs: Use #ed lists over bullets over paragraphs (yuck)
  • Use titles
  • Think about how you might write your thoughts to minimize the future back-and-forth in the chat.
  • Use explicit deadlines for contributions & decisions
  • Make concrete asks which request emojis

Clear asks and next steps

Already onboard with the paragraph above? Here are a couple of tips to bring your Slack communication to the next level:

  1. Follow up in threads. Make it clear to whoever is working on the request that they should leave comments in a thread if the issue requires additional input, revision, or approval.
  2. Indicate priority, action plan, and read status with emoji. Here’s ours:
  3. urgent 🔴
  4. seen it 👀
  5. will get back to you later ⏰
  6. completion, fixed, approved ✅
  7. kudos 👏, 🙌, 🌮
  8. understanding, awareness 👌
  9. blocked ❌
  10. agreement 👍
  11. disagreement 👎

If you don't follow your own rules, they don't work

Last but not least, the ultimate advice might come from my father himself (yup!). I can hear him say:  “it's funny how when you don't follow your rules, they don't work.” From this, I would say:

  1. Discipline is critical when creating new habits: things only get done when you focus on them.
  2. Don't bite off more than you can chew - try one new habit per week.
  3. Reminders are critical - habits aren’t formed overnight; try something like the principle of the week to give gentle nudges:

You can do many things as an individual to help reduce the amount of noise you see on slack, but it will be a team effort to make Slack a better place to work.