Slack is Killing Your Productivity

Slack and email cost organizations an average of $28,209 per employee every year, according to time-tracking company, RescueTime. One-third of this time is reportedly spent communicating via Slack, so the app is costing organizations about $9,500 per employee per year.

Now, this number is a simple reflection of time spent communicating as a proportion of salary and doesn’t take into account whether time spent is effective or not.

It doesn’t take much personal reflection or observation of others to conclude that a lion’s share of that time spent on Slack is not just wasteful, but harmful to productivity.

Unnecessary messages, cat videos, and taking the path of least effort (sending another Slack message instead of getting to the real work) all play their part.

Here’s how Slack compromises our productivity.

Hyper-Responsiveness Compromises Deep Work

Users are spending over 10 hours a day logged onto Slack — that’s basically their entire workday. As a result, they’re suffering from hyper-responsiveness, perpetually glued to the app’s red notifications. Needless to say, this lends itself to anxiety and workplace stress as games of whac-a-mole ensue, compromising core priorities in the process.

Even if people don’t click on a notification, just observing it and having it at the back of their minds renders their focus compromised.

Screen Switching Compromises Deep Work

Furthermore, people are switching screens or tasks once every 40 seconds — whether to email, Slack, social media, some other app often masquerading as a work tool, or between Slack conversations and channels themselves.

This comes with a significant cost. Each time we switch tasks, we suffer a cognitive switching penalty and it takes us about 23 minutes to get back in the zone. But when we’re switching screens every 40 seconds, our ability to get in and stay in the flow state — fundamental to deep, focused work — is all but gone. It’s part of the reason you can be ‘busy’ all day but have very little to show for it at day’s end.

Decision Fatigue Compromises Energy and Decision-Making

People are suffering from decision fatigue as they sift through hundreds of messages a day, determining what is valuable and what they need to respond to — many of which aren’t directly or even remotely related to their work.

So, how do we get on top of this?

Well, a tool is only as good as how you use it.

A Slack HQ study found that Slack reduced emails by 48.6%, but email is hardly used effectively so it might simply be a case of replacing one unnecessary email with an unnecessary Slack message.

Outside of merely substituting emails with Slack messages, there are a number of things you can do in order to get more out of Slack and do away with its many pitfalls.

1. Create and foster a culture that practices asynchronous communication and prioritizes deep work

This is numero uno.

If your team culture is built around centralized control, consensus-seeking, back-to-back meetings, reply-all email threads, over communication, and super-fast response times, then all of the productivity tools in the world won’t save you. When we optimize for deep work, and empower people to make decisions, we move towards high-performance cultures resonant of Amazon and Netflix.

2. Turn off notifications

Having built such a culture, you should have no qualms about turning off notifications for periods of the day, if not the entire day.

Few things are so urgent that you need to address them immediately (and if they were ‘life or death’ you’d probably — or you should — receive a phone call). Remember, in most cases, tech companies use notifications as an external trigger to keep you engaged on their app, and drive up their KPIs.

Put your goals ahead of theirs.

3. Batch your use of Slack and log off for periods of the day

In addition to turning off notifications, consider logging out of Slack for periods of the day that you have assigned to deep, focused work.

For both of the above mentioned, you could use TryRoots’ Autoresponder to let people know your focus is elsewhere — see below.

4. Use the Must-Read plugin

Get notified and notify your colleagues of the messages that are absolutely must-read, and spare the world of the need to sift through hundreds of other messages.

5. Use Meekan to set up meetings within Slack

Avoid the back-and-forth of setting up meetings, and leverage the Meekan plugin, which integrates with calendars, to set up meetings within Slack at a time that suits both or more parties.

6. Run your standups via Slack

People often complain that their daily standups have devolved into chores that don’t serve much purpose.

People often share the same thing each day, and worse still, the standups can go way beyond the prescribed 15 minutes.

This can also be a pain for early birds who prefer to assign deep work to their mornings — when their cognitive synapses are firing.

Consider running some, if not all, of your standups via Slack, using the Team Standup integration.

7. Leverage reporting plugins

Consolidate key information within Slack and avoid switching screens. Consider integrations for project management tool such as Monday, Zapier, Trello, Google Analytics, Zoom, JIRA, and others.

8. Get on the phone

When it appears your Slack messaging is going back and forth like a 5-set finale at Wimbledon, often a quick phone call might quickly resolve what might otherwise devolve into a 60-minute message exchange.

9. Learn how to write asynchronous messages

Ensure that asynchronous messages:

  • provide sufficient background detail, where necessary provide clear action item(s) and outcome(s) required.
  • provide a due date
  • provide a path of recourse if the recipient is unable to meet your requirements.

For example:

Hey Shay

Attached is the incorporation document for our new spin-off company.

Please sign the document where requested and send it back to me by 4 pm this Friday.

If you have any concerns, give me a call on 555 1983.

This spares you the boomerang effect of writing unclear messages.

10. Don’t send messages for the sake of it

The more you send, the more you’ll receive — this is almost a universal law of nature.

Spare yourself an influx of messages simply by being more conscientious of the messages you do send, keeping in mind the fact that each message you send is contributing to your colleague’s decision fatigue and productivity as well as your own.

11. Keep team and channel sizes small

If you’ve got hundreds of people in your channels, then chances are the number of messages in said channels will be in the thousands. By keeping team and channel sizes small, we can limit the number of messages being sent and received.

Final Thoughts

Let’s not confuse the means to an end with an end in itself. Tools like email and Slack are supposed to support us in our goals, and when they get between us and our goals we should stop, reflect, and course correct.