10.19 Productivity tip of the day: Getting the best from Slack

Hey team. I had my one-one-ones for the day and found a recurrent topic: focus time and productivity, specifically on a frequent challenge: Slack being a distractor rather than an enabler. For that reason, I wrote a quick list of things that you can try to get a bit more productive with it.

Time reply. The expectation is to reply within 24 hours. Ideally, the same business day. It’s wrong to think that Slack is a “get-back-to-me-now” type of communication.

Boxing time. Block time in your calendar to address Slack messages. You don’t need to have it open all day. As an example, Finances is not in Slack during the morning and only opens it after lunch. If people need something urgent from Finance, they’ll find a way to communicate with them. Find a cadence that works for your team.

Write paragraphs. Don’t chat. Paragraphs work better. They let you express more precise ideas compared to a one-word-type form of chatting (like we most do in WhatsApp). See below: Maika always reminds me about it.

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Label conversations. If sharing ideas on one topic, label the paragraph. Use the first sentence as a title and mark it as bold (markdown = * *). It’ll help you navigate channels much easier and keep conversations moving forward through days. See below:

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Reply in threads. If someone labels a conversation (as explained before), keep the conversation as a thread. That will keep everything organized, and it’ll be easy to go back to it.

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Use ✅ . For conversations that you’ve read and feel comfortable moving forward, add a ✅. In my case, I revise the channels I am part of every week and aim to avoid leaving open topics. When I close them, I add a ✅ . The next time that I scroll through conversations, and I can visually disregard them.

Talk. Some times you get into a speedy back and forth with someone about a topic, and it might lead you to get lost in translation. If that happens, most likely the other person is also available to talk. Trigger a call and chat for a few minutes. Before leaving the call, write your conclusions in the Slack thread that you had. It’ll help you remember agreements over time and other people will be able to read about them later. By the way, we are building a cool tool at Emma for this. We’ll deploy a beta soon.

Mute channels. Mute non-important channels. Among others, I have the watercolor (#wc-all-company), and the feed for new projects (#co-feed-projects) muted all day. Every once in awhile, I look at them.

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Don’t star all channels. Only the important ones for you. For example, this quarter I need to be working with marketing more often. For that reason, besides my two usual starred channels (#co-important-all & #co-inner-circle), I’ve starred all channels related to marketing. I reply to them before I respond to anyone else. Furthermore, I don’t star people.

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Pin standups. While every team can manage standups on different formats (verbal, written, mixed), I prefer written form and then a 15 minutes call in the morning to discuss them. The reason to keep them written is that I can quickly revise the work from a specific team member and avoid forgetting over the following days. Moreover, I can easily “ping” another team member and remove blockers faster. You can either have a dedicated channel for running dailies or, pin the standup thread. I’ve tried both formats, and I prefer the second route. Every week, we unpin the previous standup and pin the new one. (Thanks for the idea Shey, Kitty and Vane!).I don’t use bots. I find them to be expensive and robust for something that you can solve with a normal message, a thread and a pin.

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Don’t use it to remember meeting topics.

Track topics for your 1–1s in a separate document or tool. It’s easy to trigger a Slack a message like: “Let’s talk in our next 1–1 about our recent recruitment successes with torre.co.” The reason I don’t like those messages is that I can’t easily track them. Either I pin them (but I don’t want the clutter), or I will forget. That message could’ve arrived on a Monday morning, and my 1–1 will happen on a Thursday afternoon. We’ll have many more conversations during those days, and I’ll lose track. The approach I’ve taken is to build a Google Doc where I track 1–1 topics, and I ask the person that I am working with to add their weekly topics to it. The only rule is that topics can’t be urgent. If they are, they should go to Slack for faster resolution.

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Give purpose to channels.

Use watercolors as watercolors and work-related channels for work-related conversations. What I mean by this, is that you make sure you group all your “hi”“brb”“lunch”“running an errand”“fun-giphy-on-its-way”“Foo-Figthers-favorite-song”, under one channel. Label them as #wc-. The other channels are for the remaining part of communicating, which is mainly: GETTING WORK DONE. 😁

Improve your settings.

Slack has deployed new features over the years, and the chances are that you haven’t checked them since … ever? For example, as I am writing this post, I found out that Slack deployed a Dark Theme. How cool is that?!

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Personalize your Sidebar Settings. Below you can find my “Sidebar Settings.” In short, I only see “Unread and starred conversations;” I let Slack sort-out the “Priority” on how it lists them; and work with the “Show All Unreads” view.

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Block notifications. You don’t need them. By doing that, you can keep Slack in the background, get work done, and avoid being distracted by people talking to you. When it’s time to reply, go back to it. This is especially useful if you move between Zoom meetings (like I do), and you don’t want to be constantly enabling the “don’t disturb” feature, or opening and closing Slack a hundred times during the day. Needless to say, it is very useful for deep work sessions.

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Learn Slack’s shortcuts.

If you spend a lot of time in your computer (as I do), you might have noticed that you spend an enormous amount of time moving “ the mouse”. If you learn the shortcuts from a tool, you’ll increase productivity. In Slack, these are my top five shortcuts.

  • ⌘+K -> Allows me to quickly switch between channels and people.
  • ⌘+Shift+A -> Shows me all unread messages in one view .
  • ⌘+Shift+T -> Shows me all unread threads.
  • ⌘+F -> Searches your conversations.
  • ⌘+? -> Shows me all Slack keyboards shortcuts.

BTW, back in the day, when mouses had a cord, they said that private equity firms would cut the cord to new interns who were using the mouse too much and didn’t know excel’s shortcuts. They’d tell them: “You have the same deadline to deliver. Please continue”. I wonder what they do now, turn off their Bluetooth?

Enable channel-specific notifications for specific cases.

Salun made me realize that there are teams that need to reply ASAP to specific channels. Such as the Engineering team to the “911” channel. They use this channel to receive notifications from anyone in the company that finds a blocker (aka, a bug) to the main workflow of the platform. The SLA to reply to these reports is a couple of minutes, and if it is accepted, the SLA to resolve it is a couple of hours. Therefore, they need to receive all the notifications from new messages (in that channel), both on desktop and mobile. As redundant as it could be, this is a no-chatting channel. Thanks for the reminder Salun!

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That’s it. Slack is your friend. Not your enemy. Like any other tool, learn to use it. By being part of a remote company, Slack is your principal window to communicate with the team. Get the best out of it.

What “hacks” do you use to get the best out of Slack? Share them.

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Following the trend of thanking collaborators, allow me to thank my neighbor’s cat, who was very supportive during the writing of this post.