Configuring Slack for Focus

Slack is a wonderful application… and it can really bring teams together, especially ones that are far-flung and remote. However it is a constant drain on our focus muscle… dinging and bouncing away and drawing our attention and time away from our best work.

Each team is different… and no tech-tweak is a good substitute for a team to have an open and honest conversation about expectations and communication styles.

That being said, here are some suggestions to enable a more purposeful use of Slack. (I'm on OSX, but the basic principles should apply anywhere.)

Hear less.

Turn off notifications

How I have my notifications configured

Set your desktop notifications to be only notified for Direct messages, mentions, & keywords. You can also enable threads.

Turn off notifications on your mobile devices. Just try it. You won't die.

Snooze notifications

Sometimes turning down the notification level doesn't work for a team. In this case, you can also employ the snooze notifications or DND feature. Some people have figured out a way to start it automatically. I know that some plugins and bots can access it.

Minimize Distraction


I use Marco Arment's to hide Slack after 1 minute of inactivity. This reduces the chance that I'll be compelled to read all my unreads as they flicker in my peripheral vision. This helps a lot.

Ignore the dots

I have my dock and menubar completely hidden on my mac, but if you are a dock user, you may want to disable showing the activity badge on Slack. This just pulls you out of focus whenever that little red circle appears… you just want to know what conversational present has arrived! (And it's usually not that exciting.)

Listen more.


Show only what you need to see

image showing distraction reduction

As you stay in a community, you tend to join a ton of channels and talk to a lot of people. It kills me when I see people scrolling up and down a 300 person long list just to see who messaged them last when you could enable this setting in Preferences -> Sidebar: Unreads and starred conversations. This means that you will only see the updated conversations.

This setting makes more sense if you primarily use ⌘+K to jump between channels or conversations. ⌘+⇧+K allows you to specifically target conversations and create group channels.

If you want to browse through all your people, you can always still click on the Channels or Direct Messages pane to scroll through the full list.

All Unreads

In Preferences -> Sidebar you can enable All Unreads. It sits at the top of your sidebar as a summary digest of everything you've missed. It's really the best.

While you can click on it in the sidebar, I access it using ⌘+⇧+A, and will then scan all my channels and conversations for things that I need to address. More often than not, there's nothing there that needs my input, and I can hit ⇧+ESC to clear all notifications.

(Similarly, you can read all threads similarly with ⌘+⇧+T.)

/remind to defer

Sometimes I will see a message that does deserve my attention, but not right now. Sometimes I'll copy a link to the message and put it in my task manager, other times I'll simply use the /remind command in Slack to create a reminder to "get back with John Smith in 1 hour."

No longer drowning.

So far this system has worked really well for me. I tend to schedule times to get back online and check my email and slack, and I am working with my team to ensure that my cadence fulfills their needs without detracting too much from my focus.

  • 2022-06-08 11:31:29 -0500
    Rename articles

  • 2020-06-18 14:26:02 -0500
    Move everything to CST

    Don't know why I didn't do that before. It caused _no_ end of

  • 2020-01-15 11:51:35 -0600
    Add sentence for mouse-friendly Slack browsing

  • 2020-01-14 13:20:13 -0600
    Post: Configuring Slack for Focus