Slack: Mastering your mental friction

slack-logo

Eight months ago my python guru Jason told me to check out slack. “It’s like IRC on crack!” but I was too busy.

A few weeks ago I finally took the time to integrate slack into my work, and it has been transformative. It will definitely be one of my future ‘book of the month‘ topics. Here is a taste of slack:

slack-trello-integration-channel

This is one channel, a timeline of activities related to a single project. In this case, it’s managing user experiences on http://feedbackcommons.org – the website we’re launching. As you can see, I am managing the work in Trello, but the code is being updated using GitHub. In addition to that, whenever a user creates a new survey, a custom bot (feedback-bot, the super spy squirrel) puts a message in this channel for one of our team to follow up. And of course the rest of my life is happening, so there’s google calendar reminder not to miss our weekly Nerd Lunch.

In the past all of this would’ve gone into my email box. And gmail has done wonders to keep things organized. But slack is a step beyond gmail. One fundamental difference is that in gmail, each member of the team has to create his/her own labels and organizing scheme. There’s no coordination. If you have 10 members, that’s 10X the work of having one person create an organizing scheme for everyone.

Slack is exactly that. As I extend a channel’s integrations, I’m also relieving everyone else of replicating that data structure. And slack is more extensible. If I wanted the feedback-bot to show daily google-analytics stats or the number of new users, anything is possible, and everything is faster/easier to write than doing it some other way. Feedback-bot is just three lines of python code inserted in the middle of one of the website’s functions.

Think of it this way. The current office 21st-century office environment revolves around a gmail interface:

gmail-mental-friction

What I’m just waking up to realize is that over time, gmail’s interface gets bloated and unwieldy just like outlook folders used to get, and pop3-based eudora did before that. Eventually you have a class of helper tools to keep things under control:

gmail-mental-friction-helper-tools

This is what I mean by mental friction. A typical worker has over a dozen overhead apps in play just to manage their core communications. For a long time I’ve benefited from simplifying work-flows using Trello. But now I am seeing the benefit of aggregating all internal communications through an agregator. Many startups have tried to do this, but Slack is the one that seems to have solved the problem. Not because it does anything magnificent on its own, but because it can absorb the greatest number of these in a reasonably flexible way. Slack is also better because it means that only a few people need to manage the channel (reducing meta-work and mental friction), while the rest just use the channel to do actual work.

Most conversations are on a specific topic, and we all agree what those topics are. So why not archive them in a topical way for everyone? This means slack also doubles as a knowledge repository. You can scan a channel to catch up on a specific project. Slack kinda looks like this to me:

slack-mental-friction-reduction

My brain finally sits in between two main channels. One is for personal communications – gmail and it’s tools. The other is for accomplishing the actual work, and slack is the logical hub for that activity. No more should be be sending data through email or trying to manage work-flows in a text-dominated system that has not upgraded its capabilities since the beginning of the Internet. HTML emails are not universally supported, and CSS / Javascript are not supported at all, even though these are the defacto languages that today’s web uses. Slack makes more sense. And he who innovates faster, wins.

More Slack Mastering ideas to come.

 

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