Monday, March 26, 2018

Slack is a major productivity drain

For the past few years I've been using RescueTime time management software.  It helps keep track of the different activities I've spent time on during the work week and stay focused on things that contribute to my productivity.  Another application that's become a big part of many workplaces is Slack. We use it for communication in my current team. A lot of times, it's really helpful. You can fire off a quick message and get a quick reply without really interrupting your main task. A lot of times you can ask a question, get valuable opinions from everyone concerned, and come up with a consensus that works for everybody, in a way that would've been impossible with traditional email and meetings.

Recently though I was shocked to see that Slack accounted for a full 7 hours of a recent work week. We've been doing a lot of planning and discussion for new feature work, and also working through some issues related to customer documentation, deployments, and things that are not specifically coding-related, so it's understandable that there's been more planning and discussion activity than usual, and less actual code-writing. But 7 hours!  My gosh.  That is a real time sink.

This was a wake-up call into something that I already intuitively knew, that Slack - as helpful as instant messaging can be - has the potential to be a black-hole where productivity gets sucked into a terminal death-spiral.

The challenge is how to reign in this Slack tyranny... if you don't monitor the conversations going on in various Slack channels, you're liable to miss out on vital information. A lot of people seem to think that broadcasting a message out on a Slack channel is "job complete" when it comes to communication - a surrogate for the old-school email.  That's not really the case; messages easily get lost in the backlog of noisy, run-on chatroom conversations.

I'm going to be keeping an eye on Slack usage and trying to figure the best way to keep it from sucking up a large percentage of my productive working hours without losing the benefit of instant communication with the broader team.  Maybe just being respectful of people's time and being a little less cavalier about using Slack to post casual commentary, understanding that Slack can definitely become a drain on my own and other people's time, and approaching it as a tool to be used with a certain level of professional self-restraint, might be a start.

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