Slack for asynchronous work – customize settings and features for focus mode

Must watch Netflix’s documentary – The Mind Explained, Episode-1: How to focus

I was watching this amazing documentary on Netflix called ‘The Mind Explained – Episode-1: How to focus’ and this one line caught my attention:

So, if I am a mad scientist trying to create the distraction doomsday device, email and Slack would be my first idea, and something like Twitter or Facebook would be my second.

The moment I heard this line – I wondered about my own tryst with Slack.

It’s true that it can cause distraction. Its also easy to get into the rabbit hole of messages of so many 30+ Slack communities I am a part of – lurking, responding to threads, and making my pitches to potential clients.

I want to change this – and want to understand how I can make the most of Slack with the features it has.

The next thing I did is what exactly this documentary is trying to explain – I lost focus on watching the documentary, and now I am literally typing here a blog post on – how to customize focus mode on Slack via its settings and features.

Hope you don’t lose your focus in reading complete blog post as you try to implement the Slack hacks mentioned!

Slack’s product design philosophy versus reality

Slack is a collaboration tool and aims to replace email’s limited approach to workplace communication.

But why did the documentary place this ‘productivity’ app as the 2nd most useful tool for ‘distraction doomsday device’, literally after email?

I searched about Slack’s product philosophy and found this page where it compares itself to email:

Slack v/s email

Every point mentioned here about Slack is true – but I think Gmail has come forward with above value propositions too via its app marketplace, automation, security, etc.

I think what truly sets it apart from email is the chat interface and search. The chat interface makes it easy to respond and the search is quite powerful.

While this is great to collaborate and get work done, this same chat-interface seems to make it addictive, and hence, one ends up working less.

“Distraction is a way to avoid existential anxiety” – and this is what Slack provides, an easy way to connect with other humans – some of who maybe hating on their jobs and looking to actively disconnect. With the emojis, notifications, colors, design, Slack huddles – one feels like staying on the app.

But this is worse because you still feel productive as you do all this for ‘work’ with ‘people at work’. But you aren’t really working – you are distracted.

Slack is definitely better than emails though. I am personally able to benefit more with the communities hosted on Slack than other platforms. Since it is a useful software in workplace productivity space, it makes sense to put efforts to find out how to make the most of it.

Is Slack good for workplace productivity?

The key to improve workplace productivity is to practice working asynchronously. And Slack is a great tool to implement asynchronous style of workplace culture at levels that is comfortable to the team.

Many organizations use it for collaborating with internal team members or external clients/vendors via seamless communication features. For the critics of Slack ruining the concept of ‘work’, the software does provides features that help you disconnect so that you are mindful about the usage.

How to use Slack for working asynchronously to increase productivity and focus?

What I like about Slack is how it is asynchronous work friendly. I have shared various features provided by Slack across themes:

Set up asynchronous communication on Slack

Getting into meetings shouldn’t be the first result from a short conversation with colleagues. Here’s how you can adopt async communication practices on Slack:

1. Use Emojis

On a workplace hangout place like Slack, it is not rude to leave someone’s comment with an emoji. Writing ‘Sure’, ‘Got it’, etc do not add much into the conversation, and unnecessarily increases the length of the thread.

As an organization, it is advisable for managers to promote emojis as responses (as long as it doesn’t miscommunicate).

For example, you can use ‘✅ Approved’ or ‘➕ I agree’ as a way to communicate acceptance of a submission by colleague.

2. Create separate channels specific to a conversation theme

Screenshot of various Slack channels of a slack based No-Code community called ‘No Code Founders’ created to suite different No-Code tools and interests

Create separate channels for different purposes to make conversations focused on the topic. For example, within a company, different departments in an organization should have different channels. Or, you can create separate channels as per certain themes if you’re running a community on Slack.

3. Use ‘Draft message’ and ‘schedule message’ options

Slack allows you to schedule messages or save messages on ‘Draft’ so that you can manually send them later.

You can head to the draft messages dashboard on top left navigation bar of Slack to edit draft or scheduled messages.

Note: You cannot schedule messages on a thread. Also, there aren’t options for formatting scheduled messages.

Slack’s Draft, Schedule and Sent messages dashboard

You can also directly access this option when you’re typing a message in a channel or sending a direct message. Click on the drop down arrow beside the send option to schedule the message. You can access this message once scheduled in the same drafts dashboard.

Schedule messages directly while typing

4. Use ‘Remind me’ feature to reply later

Some messages require personal attention, but you might be stuck in a meeting. ‘Remind me’ feature is a life-saver for me who uses Slack for lead generation and cold pitches. I save the messages, and ask Slack to remind me to reply to it. I love this feature so much, I wish it was there on other social platforms to manage my cold pitching.

To activate, you can type /remind on the message space like this:

Set a reminder option using message field

You can use the format provided or click on ‘Set yourself a reminder’ for more options. The later opens a dialog box to make it easy to custom create a reminder. Explore more about this feature on their official help page – Set a reminder on Slack.

Set up focus mode with Slack’s notification features for deep work schedules

If you want to schedule deep work pockets as a part of your daily time table, here’s how you can ensure Slack is not able to distract you:

1. Use ‘custom status’ to share that you are working in deep focus mode

The first step to productive deep work is to limit your interactions. For this, you need to tell people that you aren’t available.

Adding a status intimates your availability to people, based on which (ideally) they can decide whether it is the right time to message you.

Click your profile picture on top right for the Slack channel of your choice – and then click ‘Update your status’. You can also set yourself as ‘Away’ – but adding a status along with it gives your teams clarity about your whereabouts.

‘Update your Status’ on the Profile dropdown menu

You can choose default options else set your custom status. Ideally, it is good to be straight forward about what you’re doing like, writing, coding, deep work, exact problem you’re working on if its company channel, etc. It is also a good practice to state when you’ll get free again to communicate for meetings and respond to messages.

2. Mute notifications using ‘Do not disturb’ feature in Slack’s settings

You can also set up ‘Do not disturb’ and pause Slack notifications and mentions for the set duration. This feature is available for all Slack’s subscription plans. It is possible to set a routine by enabling DND feature on specific time of your working schedule.

Here’s what happens when you set up DND:

Image Source: Slack’s product page

It will showcase a snooze icon around your name – and it will also notify the messenger that you have set up DND. In case of urgency, your colleagues can override DND so that they can contact you immediately. DND is great to avoid casual conversations, and coupled with a status update you clear your colleagues about the need for no disturbance.

You can set up DND from the same profile drop down menu by clicking on ‘Pause Notifications’ option. It will show you options to set time limit.

Choose default timings that work for your deep work schedule. You can also set up a custom time.

Shortcut to turn on DND mode on Slack:

You can also use the shortcut /DND for 10 mins or /DND until 5 PM to quickly turn on DND mode. To turn off DND and resume notifications, you can use /DND off.

3. Set up notification schedule

On the same menu of DND, you can find Slack’s latest feature on restricting notification alerts for certain time limits. Click on the option ‘Set a notification schedule’ and you will see this pop up:

Set notification schedule pop up

You can adjust the options around timelines, sound and appearance too.

4. Use ‘Mute Channel’ option for channels which involve casual conversations or aren’t important to your work

Blocking notifications is not a liberty many corporate roles can have. But it is possible to block notifications from channels which are definitely distracting – like channels for pet photo sharing, memes, and other casual conversations.

Snooze option is best to never receive notification from these channels, and you can visit them when you have free mind space. Although, if you have set up ‘keyword alerts’ (described in 5th hack below), then it will show the red badge to grab your attention.

To mute a channel, right click on the target channel and select ‘Mute channel’.

Mute channel option

5. Use customized keywords to get alerts

How about getting notified only when a topic of your interest is discussed on the Slack channels?

Slack allows keyword based alerts. To activate – head to ‘Profile’ and select ‘Preferences’.

Select Preferences to set up keyword alerts

Head to ‘My keywords’ under the Notification side bar. You can add your keywords or phrases that you do not want to miss. You can inform your teams about using such phrases so that these messages aren’t missed out by the team members.

Add relevant keywords or phrases to get alerts

6. Restrict mobile notifications

When you scroll down further in the same ‘Notifications tab’ under Preferences in 5th hack mentioned above, you can see the option to set up mobile notifications.

If you’re not active on desktop, you can set up specific delay timings to manage distractions from mobile phone better.

Slack’s option to custom delay mobile notifications

How to create a healthy Slack usage environment in your company?

Here are some more tips to implement asynchronous workplace at your company using Slack:

1. Learn the search tricks before contacting people

Many of the follow-up questions with colleagues are about asking for some document. Instead, it is better to create a repository or use Slack’s search functions to find the relevant documents quickly.

Slack’s search function

You can type what you’re looking for, and it can search via messages, files, channels, and people to find it. For example, I use ‘looking for a content writer’ to find hiring opportunities for my lead generation than sending random cold DMs.

2. Overcommunicate in messages

It is a good practice in asynchronous workplace to overcommunicate in an organized manner to avoid follow-up questions. State all the information, including files or screenshots that the receiver would require to make a decision and close the conversation.

3. Organize channel view

The jobs or freelance channels in Slack communities I have joined are important to implement my cold DM strategy.

Slack allows you to create channel views – where you can custom organize DMs and channels into categories. Other members of the Slack cannot view your custom organization. This feature has helped me separate the jobs and freelance channels in Slack communities I have joined so that I always quickly head there first for my work.

Here’s how you can organize channel view on Slack:

Head to the Channels dropdown on the left sidebar. Click on ‘Create’ and then on ‘Create section’ option.

Slack’s organize channel view option

It will show a dialog box to create a new custom sidebar section:

Slack’s dialog box with option to create custom channel view

Many times we create temporary channels to plan some office activity, or maybe we join memes channels. Once it’s done, make it a practice leaving such channels to avoid unnecessary notifications. Else you can club them using ‘Social’ default view provided.

Make Slack a workplace tool, not an escape from work

Slack is a truly useful app. Implementing asynchronous working style ensures you restrict casual conversations where it hampers your productivity.

You can explore Slack apps like Clockwise for syncing your schedule or Dash for time-sensitive projects by creating deadline-driven channels to extract more productive time spent on Slack.

Did you know that you can also build automated workflows on Slack using its app ecosystem and features? For example, if you have a support request, you can automatically direct such messages to the relevant subject matter expert in the team and notify them. Connect with us today – we can help you explore and implement useful Slack automation.

Hey, we can help you!

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Tweet to the author of this guide (me!) for any feedback or follow-ups: @harshalachavan7

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2 responses to “Slack for asynchronous work – customize settings and features for focus mode”

  1. […] Although Slack makes you available to everyone in a community via chat – it is possible to use Slack asynchronously by controlling […]

  2. […] may have to stay mindful of email notifications, meeting requests, phone calls, WhatsApp messages, slack notifications, etc. It’s easy to see how it causes one to waste time and spend less time doing actual […]

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