Note: If you have never seen the above images then this article is for you.
Back in 2021 I wrote an article and gave a lightning talk about being more productive with Slack. Since then the Slack application has gone through several rounds of updates including some useful, new features and I have also updated my approach to using Slack effectively. I think Slack is one of the greatest productivity tools available to business in the last 10 years... but with hundreds of channels it can get overwhelming and turn from a time saver to a time waster. I hope the tips I share will help you cut through the noise so you can focus on the important messages and get your work done.
Tip #1 - Hide unecessary messages
The "sidebar" is the main area for navigation so its critical to keep it lean and clean. The best way to do this is to remove any channels that do not have unread messages in them and to sort the channels in a custom prioritized manner. In the Slack settings, under the Home section, select "Unread Only" and sort by "priority". This single tip can be a game changer for most slack users.
Tip #2 - Use 'Unreads' and 'Mark as Read' to scan messages at lightning speed
With hundreds of Slack channels you may have to sift through thousands of messages every day to keep up. Chances are most of the messages you get are not critical but you'd still like to be able to scan them quickly. My recommendation is to take advantage of the 'Unreads' feature and the 'Mark as Read' keyboard shortcut.
Select the Unreads option at the top of the Channels list.
- In the main window your unread messages will appear as a stream sorted by channel. From here you can quickly see if any of the messages need you immediate attention.
- To respond to a message you can click the "Reply in Thread" bubble icon and write your message.
Use the ESC key to mark all messages in the channel as read or click the 'Mark as Read' button.
Using this approach you can fly through all your channels in no time and not miss an important message or dad joke.
One drawback to hiding channels is locating a channel that you want to post something to. Slack's search feature will quickly find channels based on the channel name or partial name. In the results channels will have a # symbol, Private channels will show a lock icon, people will have their emoticon.
- Use the CMD-k (or ALT-k) keyboard combo to bring up the Search function. Type in a few letters of the channel name and select from the dropdown.
If you reach the point where you just have too many unread messages and you can't be bothered to wade through them all then it is time to use the nuclear option.
- To mark all messages in all channels as 'Read' use the shift-ESC keyboard combination.
Tip #3 - Use Threads
Use Slack's threads feature to organize discussions around certain messages. Keeping discussions organized this way will prevent clutter in the channel. On busy Slack channels two different discussions can get mixed up quickly.
Tip #4 - Use Channel Sections
Group related channels and direct messages into Section folders. Sections appear in the lower, left pane of the main window and can be rearranged into any custom order. Section folders can be collapsed to save precious space. Some special sections are already created for you, like "Priority", "Starred", "Channels" and "Direct messages". You can create your own sections by:
- Right click into the Channel section and select "Create section"
- Give your section a unique but appropriate name
- Choose and Icon for your section (optional)
Once the section is created it will appear listed along with the existing channels.
Now you can group Channels and Direct messages into the section folder so they all appear in proximity to each other. You can click the triangle icon next to the Section folder to collapse or expand the list of contents.
Tip #5 - Use the Priority section for quick access to important messages
I arrange my Priority section folder at the top of my Channel list. Throughout the day I will add (and remove) the most important, active conversations/channels from this section so that they stay within view and don't risk getting burried below the scroll. I regularly clean out this section so it doesn't get too cluttered.
Slack is an incredible tool for businesses, allowing teams to communicate and collaborate efficiently. However, with hundreds of channels at your disposal, it can quickly become overwhelming. I hope that with these five tips, you can make Slack work for you instead of the other way around.