Slack has become the go-to communication platform for businesses around the world, and for good reason. Generally speaking, it is less distracting than email, it allows quicker and easier communication, and it can help improve culture.
But just like email, Slack can hinder your team's productivity if used incorrectly. Most people know about the general tips, like do-not-disturb mode. Here are my lesser-known tips for setting up Slack and using it in a way that limits distractions and increases productivity.
1. Change your sidebar settings.
On the left side of Slack is the sidebar that contains all of your direct messages, channels, apps and notifications. It is most likely the first place you look when you open up Slack. The default setting leaves everything visible, which is a problem for a few reasons.
First, your sidebar will quickly become cluttered. You'll waste time scrolling through irrelevant direct messages and channels just to find what you're looking for.
Second, it's a distraction. Even if you have no notifications, looking at an enormous sidebar filled with direct messages is using up part of your precious--and limited--brain power for the day.
You want to go into preferences, go to the sidebar tab, and select "unreads and starred conversations." When you do this, the only thing you will see on the sidebar is unread notifications and starred conversations. It might be a little jarring at first, but the pure bliss of looking at a completely--or almost--empty sidebar is worth it. You can't get distracted if there's nothing there to distract you.
In order to not lose important things, just get in the habit of starring channels and direct messages that you absolutely must have quick access to at all times.
2. Use numbered naming conventions for your channels.
This is a simple strategy you can implement to organize your Slack team's channels. If you have a lot of channels, you know it can be a hassle to sort through them.
To organize them, put numbers in the beginning of each channel name, based on importance or priority. At my company, we use the format "#-department-topic" to easily organize all of our channels.
The number will determine what order it shows up in on the sidebar. So, the most important channels should have a zero in front of them--meaning they will always appear at the top. From there, you can use 1 through 9 to keep the rest of your channels organized.
As an example, one of our channels is titled "0-tasks-admin." This is a channel to discuss administrative tasks, and it is an extremely important channel--hence, the zero. This will always appear at the top of the sidebar (assuming you've starred it).
This simple system will keep your channels organized and cut down on time spent searching for information.
3. Use "mark unread" to keep track of your messages.
With the settings I've mentioned, if you receive a direct message from someone and you read it, then click away, the message will disappear from your sidebar and likely fall of your radar. This can be a problem.
Whenever you encounter a situation like this, just be sure to right click the message and select "mark unread" or hold down the option key and click it. This will keep the notification in your sidebar while you move on to other things, so that message will stay on your radar and you can deal with it when the time is right. Alternatively, you can also select to have Slack remind you (create a notification) in a certain number of hours.
4. Utilize Slack apps to their full potential.
If you haven't yet explored some of the apps that are available in Slack, you should do so. You can check out the entire list, but here are a few of my favorites...
AskSpoke: An extremely robust internal database program that uses a friendly AI chatbot to answers common questions like, "What's the WIFI password?" or "Where can I find the new client onboarding form?" that your managers would normally have to spend valuable time answering.
Standuply: An app that can run asynchronous standup meetings within your Slack team and allow you to quickly create video messages by typing /video.
Meekan: A useful app that allows you to quickly schedule group meetings with nothing more than a simple question.
Zoom: A simple integration that lets you start a zoom video meeting by typing /zoom.
Google Calendar: A simple integration that gives your team a shared Google calendar with reminders in Slack.