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Jeff Kreeftmeijer
Jeff Kreeftmeijer

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at

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

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

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

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

  • I'll go through my inbox at least twice a day. Once when I start
    working, and once before I leave.

  • I'll respond immediately if I can, or schedule time to look into it
    (by blocking out time in my calendar) if I need some more time.

  • If it'll take more than a day to produce a response because of other
    tasks, I'll let the other party know that it'll be a while.

  • I'll unsubscribe from issues, un-watch repositories or ignore
    threads on Basecamp if I'm not needed.

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 have Do Not Disturb turned on at all times, which means mentioning
    me or sending me a direct message won't send me a notification. When
    direct messaging me, Slack shows a message explaining I won't be
    notified, complete with a button to notify me anyway. This button
    gives the sender the ability to push an urgent message through; and
    notify me anyway.

  • If I get a Slack notification, I'll drop whatever I'm doing and will
    get back on the message as soon as I can.

  • I check Slack multiple times a day, usually in between tasks, to see
    if anything new came in. Unless I'm working on finishing a big task,
    I'll read messages within two hours during my workday.

  • I'm in as few channels as possible. I'm not in notification channels
    if I don't need the notifications, or if I can move them over to

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.

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