Using Slack as a Digital Notebook

Slack is not only a great team collaboration tool, but it also makes for a great digital notebook.

I have been experimenting with using Slack as a digital notebook, and I’ve been pleased with my results so far. Slack is marketed as a messaging solution for teams to collaborate on topics that are work related, and I think the app (and platform) deliver on this promise. Let me get this out of the way: IRC was a terrible, geeky user experience. In this modern era where design matters, Slack has the best user experience for collaboration, and people are voting with their wallets. People aren’t just using it for work, either: you can find many “teams” around areas of interest, like coffee or gaming. I’ve even seen people create slacks for conversations around a fantasy football league. Now, I’m going to share how I’ve made Slack a modern note taking and personal workspace: a Slack team for me and my thoughts.

Table for One, Please

It’s easy to have a private notebook: create a slack account and tell no one. Don’t invite anyone to the party! Yes, it is quite opposite for what most use Slack for, but that’s kind of the point: this is a private space to take notes and have things that matter you be collected in one space.

Slack integrations, a compelling feature that I’ll leverage for my notebook, require you to have accounts to integrate with, like Twitter and IFTTT. If you haven’t heard of IFTTT, go ahead and open up that link and browse around. It basically is a series of pipes for the internet. It doesn’t have too high of a learning curve but the benefits are massive. I’ll be liberally using the platform for the channels I’ll set up, and you’ll probably come up with more ideas I haven’t thought about.


I utilize channels like one would use different notebooks: each is a space for me to collect my thoughts on a topic. A channel is Slack’s term for the topic of focus for conversations that occur in the space. If you make a channel for #roasting, it is assumed conversations in there have something to do with roasting. Every slack team usually includes a #general channel and a #random channel, which are areas where collaboration or tomfoolery occur, respectively.

As you can see, I have several channels for various topics, and I typically create a new channel every week. I expect to have several channels as time goes on. Some of these are channels where I’m actually taking notes and collecting thoughts (#cognitiveplatform, #customers, #gaming), whereas others are using IFTTT integrations to post messages for my reference later (#dophotos, #weather, #ibmnews). Further still, some of these are planned to be a hybrid of bot-posted messages and my own personal thoughts (#finances). The point is that channels are an awesome way to keep my thoughts focused and collected around a space.

Note taking ++

The Slack channel conversation app itself is a great notebook because of the ease of bringing in content via drag and drop, timestamped notes, and fully indexed search of your ideas. These three things work better than in any other app I’ve ever used for note taking, and the implementation is so light weight that I barely have to think about it, which is the whole point while taking notes. I enjoy using channels for on-the-fly transcription of what I hear, since the timestamps allow me to cross reference my notes with what I heard. Think of it like a live blog you read when observing an event online, but instead for your every day activities. Many note taking apps include search, but I find Slack to have more robust indexing and a better UI for the job.

Slack search distinguishes between messages and files, and it also shows the time in which it was posted. This is well beyond other apps I’ve used in this space, and it will likely be the biggest benefit to having all my information on Slack vs. another provider.

Transforming your Notebook

Slack integrations are a great way to augment your workflow to collect other information for reference that you don’t generate yourself. I have a few channels in here that you can use as inspiration, but ultimately this is where your notebook will really be a mirror of how you choose think and work.

  • #dophotos utilizes the DO app on my phone to capture pictures I take and send them to the channel. This is great for when you are in a meeting and have a lot of scribbles on a whiteboard that you want to refer to later. I am exploring how to take this to another level and use OCR on the picture to extract text for the purposes of making the picture indexable, but simply adding a title description on the photo works.
  • #homealarm is a feed of anytime the alarm goes off in my house, tied to iSmartAlarm. So don’t try breaking in — I’ll have a full record of it!
  • #weather is pretty self explanatory.
  • #ibmnews brings in articles written on the New York Times that mention “IBM.”

I think the possibilities for this space are endless. Keep in mind that you can use integrations to program a slackbot, which means your notes could reference related ideas in real time. Or, the bots could do calculations for you.

The Big Idea

The workflow above establishes a notebook that provides a dialogue around what you are working on. At the base, Slack makes for a great note taking experience that is already way ahead of most competitors. But, the true potential in its use lies in the ability for it to act as a personal assistant and content recommendation engine. Several teams already use slack to change their habits, act as a sounding board, or as a rallying point. The same is definitely true for using it on yourself. I’m keen on looking for even more opportunities to streamline my productivity and content consumption by pushing to me only what matters.

Slack could take this seed and almost develop an entire new product around it, allowing people to create workflows that connect directly with their computer or device ecosystem. For example, it would be interesting if Slack pushed notifications to my computer when I first turn it on with a digest of the content I wanted it to provide. At the end of the day, Slack could provide a summary of my activity, progress I’ve made on some topics, and the weather for the next day. The best part is that the platform makes it easy to make these concepts a reality, but it would be even better if Slack made these integrations a little easier to implement.

Get started now!

If you thought this was helpful, send me a tweet and tell me what other ideas you have.

This was also posted on my personal blog.