Keeping your e-sanity

How I deal with the constant barrage of email and slack notifications

Group chat (or constant email checking) is a productivity killer. Like you, I probably check it more often than I should, and it saps my brain more than I'll admit.

But it’s worth fighting against.

My main strategy is an idea I’ve borrowed from one of my colleagues, who believes, “If it’s important, it’ll come up again.” That tenet is the basis for my email and Slack notifications workflow, which is to ignore them in the short term.

It sounds scary to ignore emails and slacks (what if it’s my boss!?). But in my experience, any notifications I miss always resurfaces if whatever caused them was important enough. Yes, this means I’m less responsive than I could be. But it’s worth the tradeoff to keep my attention. (There are, of course, important exceptions - write them down on your to-do list and move on.)

At this point, you might be thinking, "wow, Lars is one of those dicks who never responds to emails". And you're not completely wrong. But reflect for a second on 1) how immediately (and even whether) any given message needs a response and 2) how much your employer is paying you to focus your attention on something that moves the business forward instead of pushing emails/messages around. If there's actually an emergency, someone will get in touch with you - they'll find you in the office, call your cell, or continually ping you until you can’t ignore them.

So, what does this mean for my day-to-day workflow?

Here’s how I use email:

- I use Simplify Gmail.

- I use the keyboard shortcuts - “y” (archive) is your new best friend. I read and then archive anything without a direct action item for me to follow up on. I can always search for it if I need to re-read later.

- Some messages only require a quick (sub 2 minute) response. I deal with them immediately, then archive. (NB: I don’t leave those messages in my Inbox to remind me I’m expecting a response - If it’s important, it’ll come up again.)

- I leave messages (usually one or two) with larger ‘to-do’ items in my Inbox. I archive them once I’ve ‘done’ whatever the action was.

- Close the email tab so I won’t interrupt myself to check it out of habit. This has done almost as much for my productivity as the rest of these rules combined.

Here are my rules for slack:

- Turn off all notifications in the Dock / top right corner. I don’t understand how people get anything done without disabling this.

- Stay on the “All Unreads” tab.

- Hit ‘enter’ to read and then ‘r’ liberally to mark notifications not needing a response as “read”.

- Use Cmd-K to jump to and respond to channels/conversations.

- Create slack in my day by turning off Slack. I usually take a few hours in the morning to focus on “deep work” (a la Cal Newport - http://calnewport.com/books/deep-work/ ) before I open Slack for the day.