Is It Possible To Be “Uninterruptable” By Slack And Email?

Do you remember a time when email was new and exciting? Perhaps you remember it back in the recesses of time, or perhaps email has never been that way for you. Either way, the chances are that that’s not how you think of email these days.

The same may be true for Slack, Microsoft Teams, Chanty, or whichever team messaging system your workplace uses. What once seemed like a wonderful reprieve from an overloaded inbox quickly became another tool that had to be managed, and where it is easy to miss important communications. As a recent New Yorker article put it, “Slack is both absolutely necessary and absolutely aggravating: we rely on it, but we also can’t stand it.” When a proposed acquisition of Slack by Salesforce was announced, technology journalist Casey Newton tweeted, “Salesforce is paying $28 billion for an app that people shut down when they need to get things done.”

We have often talked about how tools like Slack can be used to help build community in your organization. This is still true. But being logged in to such a tool all day every day comes with noteworthy costs. A study by the time management software company RescueTime found that employees who use Slack check at least one of their communication tools, on average, once every five minutes! But neuroscientists and psychologists confirm that our attention is fundamentally single-tasked; switching it from one focus to another is detrimental to productivity. We’re just not wired to monitor an ongoing stream of unpredictable communication at the same time that we’re trying to also finish actual work. The distraction problem that was created by email has been pushed to an extreme by messaging software.

How can awareness of this be helpful for you and your team. What can you do about that this week?

This Week’s Tip:

As someone who communicates out:

  1. Consider your messaging. Before you hit send on any message (Slack, email, or otherwise), ask yourself “does this need to be sent? Is there a better way I can communicate this? Should I call them instead?” Ask whether your ‘micro’ message can be part of a larger message that won’t be so easily missed.
  2. Work to eliminate the interruptions you create for others. If you don’t want the message to interrupt others’ work, save it or schedule it.

As someone who receives communication:

  1. Turn off messaging whenever you are able. Work on 30 or 60-minute chunks with your devices set on do-not-disturb or airplane mode whenever possible. Set aside times each day to check and respond to messages, and let others know this is how you are scheduling your time. If they know you are not interruptable, they will stop trying to reach you then, creating a culture less beholden to interruption.
  2. Consider your responses. Just because someone has messaged you in a particular format doesn’t mean you have to respond to it in the same format. Take breaths and be patient in your responses to consolidate your thoughts and answer in the form that makes the most sense for you (see “Consider your messaging” above).

Try this out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear how it goes!

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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