Embrace email, mute Slack. A policy for handling incoming messages

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After coming back from a two-week break—in which I didn’t check my work email or Slack—I prepared to spend most of a day catching up to whatever happened in my absence.

Slack's direct message view

Somewhat to my surprise, that wasn’t the case. I cleared my inbox in about two hours, in which I responded to everything that I could do immediately and moved everything that’d take more time to the correct project boards to be prioritized and picked up later. After clearing my unread messages in slack, I realized I was all caught up in record time.

This hasn’t always been the case. I remember coming back from some holidays and spending a couple of days catching up by checking multiple communication channels, after which I still wasn’t really sure I missed anything.

Part of this is thanks to my policy of handling incoming messages. I try to make any communication as asynchronous as possible, even while using synchronous, distracting tools like Slack.

Funneling everything through email

I use Email, Basecamp, Github, Intercom and Slack as communication tools.

Others seem to view email as a productivity killer. It’s my Fortress of Solitude. I try to funnel all incoming messages through email. Most of the items in my inbox are from Github, Intercom, and Basecamp. I also have email notifications set up for Slack channels I idle in, to let me know when I receive a direct message so I don’t have to check in there too often.

Email is my single source of truth. I have email notifications set up for everything, so I know I don’t miss anything if I keep up with my inbox.

By handling email this way, I don’t need to separately check Github and Basecamp to see if there’s anything waiting for me to pick up. It’s all in email.

Managing Slack direct messages and unreads

By definition, Slack is more difficult to turn asynchronous like email. I try to keep work-related messages I need a response to off Slack as much as I can to keep it from becoming a distraction for others. GitHub or Basecamp are better channels for that.

I’ve struggled with Slack, but lately I feel like I arrived at setup I quite like.

I love Do Not Disturb in, as it puts the decision to notify me in the senders hands instead of taking me off my work to determine how urgent something is.

Thanks Maarten, Jankees, Jeroen, Piotr, Antek and Thijs for your input, and Jelte for typo-hunting.