A Minimalist’s Guide to Distraction-free Slack

Let’s be real. Killing email is a false promise. Some of our teams report a dramatic decline in email, others don’t. But: Slack kills the org chart. Org charts manifest into LDAP groups, weekly meetings, mailing lists, even desk placement. Slack makes it easy to drop into another team’s channel — to break the org chart to get things done.

Drop into #marketing to ask if someone remembers a certain article you want to use for a sales follow-up. Drop into #visualization for feedback on how you’re setting up a dashboard. DM the CEO about an opportunity you can’t get out of your mind. But wait, you cry! All this transparency can feel like an open office layout placed right inside your skull!

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to distractions, so here’s how I set up Slack for maximum zen. This setup has served me well for the past several months in a company with 230+ people, 9,600+ daily messages, and 134 channels. Maybe it will work for you.

The key changes are in 3 places: Notifications, Mobile, and the Sidebar.

Notifications

The distraction caused by a simple notification — whether it is a sound or a vibration — is comparable to the effects seen when users actively use their cell phones to make calls or send text messages, the researchers found.
http://www.claimsjournal.com/news/national/2015/07/10/264467.htm

Yikes! That’s a lot of distraction. Try this instead:

Here’s what my Preferences > Notifications looks like.
  1. Sound off. The default “Knock Brush” sound is worse than my 7-year-old nephew on a kazoo. Turn off sounds altogether under Preferences › Notifications.
  2. @mentions only. Let the party rock without you, and catch up on general messages when you choose. People can still get your attention on anything direct or urgent. Conversely, you can help reduce noise by using @ mentions thoughtfully, and always alongside a direct ask of what you’d like that person to do — whether it’s to answer a question, point you to a resource, take on a task, or just an FYI.
  3. Do not disturb hours. The default of disabling notifications from 10PM to 8AM local time works for me. A couple times a week I’ll see an after-hours DM, but it usually comes with a note to check something out in the morning or it’s a rumination I enjoy.
  4. Mute this channel (as needed). Let’s say you want to lurk a channel, but aren’t expected to participate in the daily standup. Turn off @here and @channel notifications via “Mute this channel.”
To find “Mute this channel”, click the channel name and choose “Channel notification preferences”.

Mobile

Stopping a bit shy of going whole hog into Jake Knapp’s distraction-free iPhone, I’ve nonetheless drank some of Jake’s kool-aid and disabled notifications on almost every app.

Grabbing a screenshot from my iPhone, I was surprised to see that Slack is one of my few apps with notifications set to an unholy maximum. Turns out, with (1) highly groomed overall notifications and (2) my phone’s Do Not Disturb turned on nightly 11pm–6am, I’m only getting the notifications that actually matter.

Sure, show me everything you’ve got. Find this via Settings > Notifications > Slack.

Sidebar Sweep

  1. Star your most important channels and DMs. I have 6 of these channels and treat them as my actual inbox.
  2. Hide channels unless unread or starred. This is powerful magic. Go to Preferences > Advanced Options, and you’ll find a pulldown. Select the option for Hiding all channels, groups and DMs with no unread activity unless they are starred. Starred channels stay in place. Other channels just pop up when someone speaks. Instant peace.
Choose the LAST option here for maximum peace.
[image via slackhq.com]

Bonus #1: Turn off Mac dock icon notifications

Boing boing boing.

I’m already addicted to frequent doses of brightly colored plaid, and I’ve set things up to get notifications for urgent messages, so there’s no need for a blaring dock icon. How to vaccinate your dock icon against the measles:

  1. Click your team name to open the Team Menu.
  2. Select Preferences.
  3. Click the Notifications tab.
  4. Under Dock App Icon, uncheck Show (•) symbol on icon to indicate unread activity. No more red dot.

Bonus #2: Move conversations to voice

Some conversations are long, agonizing, and wandering in both topic in participants: day-long Franken-meetings, if you will. This may be an artifact of your company’s Slack culture. More likely, though, it’s a symptom that this team or this problem lacks clear direction.

There are some conversations that just work better by voice (or video) — especially frustrations and ambiguities that need to be resolved. Don’t be shy about picking up the phone or using the coming Screenhero integration. Everyone will hang up a little friendlier and less grouchy for it.

Tell me if you try it

Thanks for reading. If you do this, I’d love to hear about it. Take a screenshot and drop me a tweet: @mishmosh.