Authored By: Adam Edgerton
Slack can be a great communication tool or a major distraction-creating productivity killer. We’ve experienced both at Copious (often simultaneously), but have made continual tweaks to our Slack settings for the better. With a little fine-tuning, you can fully utilize Slack as a tool for better productivity rather than fearing the next distracting message notification bombardment.
There are a number of productivity-oriented articles on Slack available, but few are prescriptive about how Slack should be configured and used. We want to make your everyday work life using Slack better, so below we’ve shared our configuration guidelines for our ideal Slack experience with you divided into four main categories:
- Fine-Tune Your Desktop Notifications
- Use Do Not Disturb or Away Mode
- Simplify Your Channel Setup
- Configure Mobile and Email Notifications
We’d suggest following along and fine-tuning your Slack settings as you read. If you only have time to skim, look for the “BIG IMPACT” headings to catch the most vital tips! We’d suggest following along and fine-tuning your Slack settings as you read. Start by going to Preferences in the main menu to find Notification Settings.
1) Fine-Tune Your Desktop Notifications
BIG IMPACT: Limit Desktop Notifications
In notifications, we’d strongly suggest you NOT have desktop notifications set for all activity. That’s asking for a constant barrage of message notifications. We recommend the Only Direct Messages/Highlight Words option, though if you’d prefer an email or mobile-only notification scheme, no desktop notifications is also an option.
BIG IMPACT: No Notification Sounds
Next, we suggest muting all sounds or setting the notification sound to none. If you like to listen to music while in your flow (which many members of our team do), notification sounds are highly counterproductive.
BIG IMPACT: Hide Message Text in Notifications
Next, the Notification Display setting allowing you to hide message text in notifications can serve two purposes. First, it’s great for more privacy if you may be discussing sensitive subjects or ever share your screen in presentations. The second use of the setting is more productivity-oriented; you’ll still get notifications, but won’t immediately be drawn into the contents of the message (which often starts your brain on a different path than your previous focus) until you’re at a good stopping point to switch gears and check Slack.
Dock Icon Indicator
The Dock App Icon setting is another way to get notified of messages while minimizing distraction. We don’t recommend bouncing the dock icon, but displaying an unread message indicator is useful, particularly if you choose to disable desktop notifications entirely.
Aside from any key phrases that are critical to your projects, we suggest not having any highlight words set to minimize notifications.
Set Do Not Disturb Defaults
Do Not Disturb configuration options are fairly limited, but it’s worth making sure defaults set.
2) Use Do Not Disturb or Away Mode for Focus
BIG IMPACT: Do Not Disturb Mode
Do Not Disturb is a great newer feature of Slack and should be used liberally when you need to focus and get work done! DND mode mutes all notifications for the amount of time you specify, and will send you an update of your notifications at the end of the specified period. Other users can still override your DND in the case that something urgent comes up (with a warning to that user that you’re in DND mode), so use DND without worrying about missing critical notifications. You can either use the bell icon in the upper left to set DND mode, OR you can use /dnd to turn it on or off with greater specificity than the menu’s preset options.
When you set yourself to away in Slack, your away notification settings are active (which generally means notifications come through email rather than desktop). This can be useful to ensure you receive the notifications, but it’s a bit easy to forget to set yourself back to active, so Do Not Disturb is probably the better option in most cases.
3) Simplify Your Channel Setup
BIG IMPACT: Configure Mark as Read
Since Slack focuses on real-time messaging, it’s generally not a productive use of time to try to read everything you may have missed that has been posted to Slack since you last checked in. We suggest Start me at the newest message, and mark the channel read to limit the need to scroll through hours or days of messages to get caught up.
BIG IMPACT: Mute Channels
Slack has a great but slightly buried feature: muting notifications for a channel that you’re subscribed to. This will cease notifications for new messages in the channel, but will still alert you when you’re @ mentioned in that channel (including @here and @channel mentions). It’ll also conveniently move your muted channels to the bottom of the list, reducing visual clutter for the channels that really matter.
One example use case for this: I’ve joined channels for most of Copious’ projects for visibility, but don’t need to be notified of activity on them since other Producers manage the projects day-to-day. I’ve muted them all and now only get a notification if I’m mentioned in one of those channels. This greatly reduces the number of unread channels that are highlighted and sitting there just begging you to read them all to clear the highlights.
Show Only Unread Channels
This one is a matter of personal preference, but you have the option to hide all the channels from your sidebar that have been read. It may make it a bit more difficult to recall what channels exist, but it sure does clean up your sidebar! With this setup, you can use Command (⌘) + K to search and bring up any channel you’d like (read or unread).
Customize Notifications Per Channel
An alternative to muting channels is to modify notification settings per-channel. Slack allows you to reduce notifications as well as suppress notifications to the entire group in a channel. Muting is probably the better bet in most cases, but when you want fine-tuning of notifications, Slack delivers.
4) Configure Mobile and Email Notifications
Configure Mobile Push Notifications
Slack can send push notifications when you’re inactive or away on desktop. It’s worth limiting these notifications the same way you limit desktop, or turning them off entirely and configuring mobile notifications on a channel-by-channel basis for channels that are important to receive updates from when you’re likely to be away on Slack. From there, configure your phone’s general notification settings for the Slack App to turn off sounds, minimize showing alerts, etc. We suggest just having the badge app icon update you that you have unread messages when you check your phone, rather than your phone interrupting you with notifications.
Set Email Notifications
Slack can send you email notifications when you’re set to away or inactive and don’t receive the standard desktop notifications There’s no need for both these AND mobile notifications. If you do have email notifications on, hourly should be often enough to serve their purpose.
Turn Off News & Tips Via Email
No offense Slack, but that’s one less source of email clogging your inbox!
That’s our list for now! Slack is constantly updating their featureset, so check back for new suggestions, tweaks, and changes to continue optimizing your Slack setup.
Oh, and be sure to try out voice (and now video) calls in Slack! They’re quickly becoming one of our favorite ways to connect with each other and our clients!