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How to Stop Slack From Taking Over Your Life

Slack promises an escape from email. But once you start using it, the excitement of replacing email quickly fades. At home, Slack’s notifications tempt you to work on the weekend. At work, the app is always there, pulling your focus away from real work with water cooler chatter. Wasn’t this supposed to be better?

It can be, but you’ll need to configure Slack’s options first.

Set boundaries with Do Not Disturb

Do Not Disturb is crucial to healthy Slacking. When you’re in Do Not Disturb mode, Slack won’t send you any notifications. People can send you messages all they want — but you won’t have Slack constantly pinging your phone (or popping up on your desktop) with notifications. Your status icon will have a snooze symbol.

Don’t worry — if there’s an emergency, people can choose to override your Do Not Disturb preference and have Slack send you a notification, anyway.

There are two ways to use Do Not Disturb: manually and automatically. To use it manually, click the bell icon (in the desktop version of Slack) or open the menu and tap “Do Not Disturb” (on your phone.) Tell Slack how long you want to pause notifications. Select “Until Tomorrow” and Slack won’t bug you until 9 a.m. the next day. You could click this option whenever you’re done for the day to stop work from taking over your evening hours. Or, if you’re a keyboard ninja, use the “/dnd” command and specify a time period.

Automatic mode is more powerful. Click the bell and select “Do Not Disturb schedule” to automatically enable Do Not Disturb mode at designated times. Do you work from 9 to 5? Tell Slack to automatically disable notifications from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. Now you’ll getting notifications only during working hours.

Slack is working on an automatic weekend Do Not Disturb feature, but that’s not available yet. If you work Monday to Friday and have the weekends off, you can tell Slack to pause notifications “Until Next Week” when the workday is done on Friday. Or, use the “Custom” option to tell the app exactly how long you’ll be away from work.

I manage a team of employees and freelancers all over the world, and Do Not Disturb is critical. No one has to worry about time zones before sending a message.

Tell Slack which channels matter (and which don’t)

Slack channels keep proliferating. Every Slack starts with a #random channel for off-topic chatter, and people tend to create more off-topic channels from there. That’s fine, but do you really need Slack notifying you about all those conversations?

To really focus on what’s important, star your most important channels by clicking the star icon under each channel’s name. Starred channels will appear at the top of the list in Slack’s sidebar. You won’t have to dig past #random to find them.

Mute channels you don’t need notifications from. When you mute a channel, it turns gray in the sidebar. It won’t turn bold and encourage you to click it when a new message arrives. To mute a channel, click the gear icon in a channel and select the “Mute” option.

Slack recommends leaving channels you don’t care about, but muting is a good compromise for channels you kind of care about — or if you just don’t want your co-workers to see a message saying you’ve left the channel. This helps lessen the temptation of #random and other channels that aren’t critical. You can join the conversation on your own schedule.

Stop Slack from turning deep work into slacking

Slack can easily turn productive work hours into — well — slacking. If a message isn’t urgent, it probably shouldn’t interrupt your deep work.

To focus without distractions, turn on Do Not Disturb mode for a while. You can put up a status message telling your co-workers you’re working on something important, too. Consider blocking off time for deep work and making it a regular part of your schedule, preventing Slack from becoming a sort of always-on electronic meeting that takes over your entire workday.

Even when you’re active, Slack can be pretty noisy by default. I highly recommend going through its notification preferences and tuning the various sounds and other distractions to your liking. You can even control when Slack sends notifications to your phone instead of your computer — or, worse yet, emails you.

Don’t take your work on vacation

Take your vacation time without bringing the office with you. Don’t end up trying to relax with Slack notifications popping up on your phone. After all, you could answer this person’s question really fast — boom, now the app is open and you’re working.

Taking a vacation from Slack is pretty easy. Use the Do Not Disturb feature, select “Custom” and tell Slack to mute notifications until you return to work. Let your co-workers know you’re gone by setting a custom status. In my status, I say I’m on vacation until a specific date and tell people whom they should contact instead. It’s like the Slack version of an out-of-office email reply.

Slack is a work tool; treat it like one

I love Slack, really. Anyone who looks down on Slack doesn’t remember the bad old days of endless email threads and lesser workplace chat apps. But Slack shouldn’t be ever-present in every minute of your life.

These tips may not feel realistic if all of your co-workers are in Slack at all hours of the day. How can you step away when everyone else is always on?

This is a problem older than Slack: It’s the same issue that leads to people responding to emails at all hours of the night. That’s a more difficult problem to tackle at your workplace, and it can’t be fixed by adjusting some settings in the Slack app.

But Slack can be pernicious. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel like work, especially if you like your co-workers. The same people who might otherwise leave email at work may think nothing about chatting away in Slack after the workday is over. That’s a challenge more people will have to wrestle with as Slack penetrates more and more workplaces.

Chris Hoffman is a tech journalist and editor in chief of How-To Geek, an online technology magazine. Follow him on Twitter @chrisbhoffman.

How to Actually, Truly Focus on What You’re DoingJan. 13, 2019What You’re Truly Saying With Your Out-of-Office ReplyAug. 25, 2017


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