How to make Slack less annoying and more productive to work with

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Russell Handorf says: There’s one voice he won’t be surprised to hear in his nightmares: the clear brush from the workplace chat app Slack.

Handorf, who is an engineer at a San Francisco-based technology company, says he receives at least a thousand notifications a day across different Slack channels and workspaces. He’s so used to getting Slack notifications that when he rings his wife’s Slack app from home, he has a deep reaction.

“It’s like the sound of a smoke detector battery,” he says.

But Handorf admits he hasn’t done enough research on toggling Slack’s settings.

Handorff is not alone. During the pandemic, more people have relied on digital communication services like Slack to collaborate and connect with their colleagues. More than two years later, they have become common tools in the workplace. Slack is one of the top four workplace collaboration apps, along with apps from Microsoft, Google, and Zoom, according to data from research firm IDC. But many Slack users complain that the constant alerts, prompted by direct messages of comments in group chats to indicate their name, have created a sense of urgency and tension. Some say this leads to ‘risk stress’ as workers Try to monitor conversations across different channels and groups.

But people can find some relief with some modifications. And if all else fails, workplace experts say users can always count on a low-tech solution: turn off your device.

Here are some of the ways workers can make Slack less messy.

One of the easiest ways to keep track of conversations is to organize your sidebar, which appears on the left side of the screen and helps you navigate through channels, direct messages, mentions, and topics.

“We want more people to be in a happy place,” said Jaime DeLanghe, Slack’s senior director of product management. “But first we have to make sure they don’t… get pressured by co-workers all day long or have unmanageable channel lists.”

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You can sort channels (click the three dots next to “Channels”) alphabetically, by recent activity or priority, putting your most used channels at the top of the list. You can also right-click on a specific channel and select “Go to new section” to group related channels together. For example, users may want separate sections for channels related to fun, internal communications, or team projects.

Mute, pause, or adjust notifications

Muting channels and conversations as well as setting notification hours can also help reduce stress.

You can change your general notification settings in Preferences. Toggle the settings so that it only alerts for direct messages or when specific names or keywords are mentioned, or alternatively choose to not alert at all.

You can set the same settings – except for selecting keywords – for individual channels, which can also be muted. Muted channels will drop below those that receive some or all notifications. It will also remain gray versus dark when there are new messages.

Do Not Disturb hours allow users to specify days and hours during which they do not want notifications. During that time, Slack will display little “z” near usernames to indicate to others that they are unavailable. Users also have the option to “pause notifications” or update their statuses for specific periods of time at any given moment.

Finally, you can change the brush sound to other options, including a “ding”, “plink” sound, or a “hummus” sound in the notification preferences. You can also set specific sounds to distinguish between different types of notifications.

Combine apps so they are synced

Slack offers a list of apps that can be integrated into its service such as Zoom, Webex, HubSpot marketing and sales software, and calendars from Google and Microsoft. Integrations can help users manage multiple services and keep co-workers up to date with what’s happening.

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You can start a Zoom meeting from Slack or see who’s on a Zoom call in Slack before joining. Integrating your work calendar into Slack will automatically update your status to appear when you are in scheduled meetings.

Users can also automate some tasks.

Workers who regularly need specific information can create automated requests or messages to educate colleagues about what is needed. For example, IT professionals may want to know what the problem is, its level of urgency, and other technical details. In this case, they can create a workflow, represented by a lightning bolt, to guide people to an IT request form within Slack.

“If… people are posting a lot of comments… and they never have all the right information, that creates a lot of hype,” DeLanghe said. “With the workflow builder, you can turn it into a single framework.”

You can set up custom messages that colleagues will receive when they join a channel and set automated daily reminders for regular meetings.

Use shortcuts to navigate faster

Slack provides several keyboard shortcuts that can make navigation faster when it informs you about different workspaces and conversations.

To quickly switch between conversations, type command + K on Mac or control + K on Windows and type the name of the person or channel. And you can switch between workspaces with some shortcuts.

  • On a Mac, to go to a previous workspace in a list, press command + shift + [. On Windows, hit Control + shift + tab.
  • To go to the next workspace on a Mac, press command + shift + ]. For Windows, press control + tab.
  • To go to a specific workspace on a Mac, press Command + numbers one through nine, which will be linked in the order in which the workspaces are listed. Typing the first number will move to the first workspace. To do the same on Windows, type control + workspace number.
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Check how much time you spend

Workers need to understand how they use their technology to get the best results, say experts who study workplace stress and technology.

Mindy Shoss, associate professor of psychology at the University of Central Florida, recommends checking your time over the course of a week or two to see where you’re spending your time. Adjust if necessary.

How do you use Slack? When these messages arrive, do they give you a break, help you, or do they cause you a stomach ache? This may mean that you need to make a change,” she said.

That could mean addressing team standards — perhaps only certain messages are urgent — or only making yourself available at certain times, Schuss said. She also said workers should be aware when they check Slack – is it the last thing you look at before bed – and what effect that has on stress levels. She said: Establish rules for yourself that will help you better manage your technology and your business.

Keep in mind that you also need time to recover and separate from work—something some workers find more difficult in hybrid and remote work environments.

Workers who don’t give themselves enough time to detach may experience something called “technical stress,” which can actually make them less reactive and productive, said Adam Chatty, visiting fellow at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. To prevent this, he suggests setting time periods for complete disconnection from workplace and work technologies. Take time to relax, which can increase your energy.

“If we were always in touch, we would get very nervous,” he said. Workers should make an effort to “stop working and relax.”

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