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Is Chat Sucking the Work Out of Your Work?

In the days after posting my goals for 2017, I’ve been haunted by the brevity and ever-advancing nature of time. Our 5-month-old daughter was just so small she would sleep on our chests at any moment throughout the day, and suddenly she’s twice the size and taking scheduled naps in her crib. I can’t get days (or hours) back, and I want to cherish and revel in the moments that I do have.

Many of these goals are either alongside work or entirely extracurricular, which means I need to make the most of my work hours to free up the time necessary to build relationships with family and friends, work on our house, and maintain exercise and a couple hobbies.

And if I’m honest, my job’s biggest dent in that productivity is the chat app Slack. Widely praised as the industry’s best of its kind, this tool is blazing fast, completely intuitive, and loaded with features. And due to humans’ propensity to addiction and self-gratification, it can also be incredibly distracting. I know it is for me.

This isn’t Slack’s (or Hipchat’s, Telegram’s, Gitter’s, or Discord’s) fault — it’s mine. When I get stuck on a problem or run into hard work, the best way out is to bail out of context in search for something mindless and easy. Something mentally relieving, and maybe even rewarding. I could say something funny on Slack and get a good reaction! And I wouldn’t want to miss the latest conversation in our office channel; that might put me behind socially—or something. It’s the same reason we check Facebook 50 times a day when it’s very unlikely something groundbreaking will happen in the in-between.

I want my time back. I want to do work at work and take better control of my life, deciding what I will do when. Here are some new chat rules I’m going to try to personally implement:

  1. Only check chat when personally mentioned/messaged. If something’s important at work and my input is needed, someone will make that known. 90% of conversation in our public work channels is banter, jokes, photos, news, and non-work information.
  2. Quit as many “big” or random topic channels as possible. The more people who are in a channel, the faster conversation moves, and the more I feel inclined to drop in and make sure I don’t miss anything. I rarely miss anything, but I use up 10 minutes of my day and take my focus away from something more productive.
  3. Treat chat as a way to get small questions answered and ambiguity resolved. I need to be aware of Slack’s ability to interrupt my coworkers’ work just as much as mine. If I have some big questions that I need answered by someone, scheduling a short in-person meeting or sending an e-mail allows these things to be thought through and answered on their terms. Sending four messages interrupts them and puts me in immediate control of their time, which feels backward.

I don’t know about you, but I want a little less noise, and more space to think, in my life.

In pursuit of a calm, productive life.

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