Slack vs Work

When I first discovered slack it was instant love. It is much better than hipchat in the interface and integrations and even better than Lync for easy search and retrieval of messages. I was such a big proponent of slack that I went to each team member and made them install and onboard them. I even persuaded my team to buy a premium membership. Our company eventually bought a corporate license and everybody was slacking.

It was an internet paradise, we were creating public groups, private gossip groups, intergrating everything from Jenkins to Jira to experimental bots. There were channels for an office location, fitness, ping pong, teams, events and so on. We installed native phone apps and now there is no escape. Whether we are at office, work, walk or sometimes in bed, we were constantly looking at slack. I justified all this usage because our teams are largely remote and slack seems the most logical way to keep in touch.

Oh yes, it was useful and its impact pretty clear. Things that would have taken hours to co-ordinate can now be done in few minutes. Some information that could have been lost and have to repeated was easily retrieved. It was much easier to organize events, ask for opinions and also have an async chat with a colleague. But lets not mistake slack’s benefits with how it tampers with our brains. Any benefit doesn’t mean we constantly keep using it.

Slack epitomizes the worst of the internet new, now and multi-tasking.

An unrelenting new: With my current slack profile, there is always something white(unread), notification counts(direct references) in channels and direct personal messages. Even if I can muster the willpower to ignore the white, it doesn’t seem professional to ignore DMs and @references. You want to be counted as useful so you respond back. There is no way to turn this constant stream, messages keep flooding down and you can just barely manage it by reading them every 5 minutes or so.

Right — write now: Many of the conversations are happening in real time. If you don’t respond in this moment, you will likely not get a chance to voice your opinion. When somebody asks a question with @here if you don’t answer now, somebody else will. If there is somebody wrong, you want to be the first person to correct them. Not only you have to be on top of the messages, you have to write your clever responses immediately. Several people are typing right now you better write the correct or the most clever response.

Inhuman multi-tasking: Multi-tasking is a computer aspect that entrenched humans. Having about 20 tabs open, 3 IDEs, Email client, slack client all running at the same time and attending a meeting has become a daily habit. I even loose my patience in a 15 min standup and keep conversing in slack. It has become an acceptable practice to listen-in to a meeting but actually keep slacking away.

Distraction at workplace is nothing new. Email has started it few years, Lync tried add instant messaging(now) to the mix but Slack adds a sadistic spin by utilizing the addictive elements of internet.

  1. You know who is online and who is offline at any moment.
  2. There is a constant stream of channels with some thing new.
  3. It is much more easier to respond than an email. And informal tone is not only acceptable but the norm.
  4. There is no shame of a reply all. Even in a channel with thousands of people you can respond with the most useless trivia

With Slack it is very difficult to draw lines between professional value add work vs gibberish. It might seem you are discussing a concrete code related topic with your peers, suddenly someone pings “Lunch time, choose a place!”.

Slack is a classical example for “busyness as a proxy for productivity”, there are days that the only thing I did were meeting and slack and somehow I felt productive. I am doing something right? I must be productive. We become lab rats yearning for the next hit of dopamine

The result: I am everywhere, all the time, doing several things at a time but all of them pretty shallow. Fear of missing out is so intense, that even at 8pm with kids that I keep looking at slack. Responding to some DM, looking at build failures.

There is not really a time spent in solving deep problems, it is just all about the most easiest thing to tackle.

Week over week my slack addiction has gone deep, these days there is not even a single hour that I don’t look at it. Oh I took steps to curtail my addiction

  1. Turned off notifications in Mac and phones for slack
  2. Kept my phone downstairs during sleep time
  3. Tried closing slack some times at work

But this is still not enough, my rescue time shows no signs of abatement. Even though I stopped facebook, twitter, I couldn’t stop slack

My slack usage for March 2018

If there is finger pointing at my colleagues for being shallow distractors, four of them are rightly pointed at me. I am one of the worst offenders and perpetuators that unleashed this time sink into our teams.

Slack’s is not a place “where work happens”, unless your only work is to keep talking to people and appear busy. It’s a tool that you have to close and avoid if you want get any real valuable deep work done.