Advanced Slack tips for geeks

Navigation shortcuts, channel management, and more

Hello! We had the absolute pleasure of hosting a Girl Geek Dinner at Slack this past week, and I gave a short demo of advanced tips that I use every day in both the Slack Slack and the Women in Product Slack team. The screenshots I’m including here are from the Women in Product Slack team — we’re now over 800 people strong, so I’ve found these tips vital to keeping conversations flowing.

These tips build on each other and are meant to unfold like a beautiful flower. I’ll be using the Mac version of the keyboard shortcuts in this writeup since I demo-ed on a Mac.

 

Navigating Slack

Learn and love your keyboard short cuts. To see a full list of all keyboard shortcuts, type `CMD /` on your machine. Voilá!

Use the Quick Switcher to easily find channels and direct messages you’re in. I use this constantly. It’s `CMD K`and it’s incredible.

I often find myself wanting to bring together a few people for a quick huddle, so I use Group DMs quite a bit. This is useful for getting a group together to go to lunch or make a quick decision. Type `Shift CMD K` to bring up the view of your direct messages, and then just start typing people’s names to stack them all up. Once you have your list, boom: Create that group DM.

I think about channels and direct messages like conference rooms in an office: I keep going back and forth between them to share information. To easily get back to where you just were, type `CMD [`. Then, to go forward to your most recent channel or DM, type `CMD ]`.

 

Managing noise and channel overload

Once your team is at a certain size or volume of messages, you’ll almost certainly want a channel where the company leadership or community stewards can just announce things without provoking a big discussion. This is great for communicating stuff like “Fill out your 401k information today!” and “We just hit $50k in MRR!”

To do this, first rename #general to something like #announcements: click on the gear at the top of the #general channel (Channel Settings) and select “Additional Options,” then select “Rename Channel”.

 

additional set up options

 

Once you’ve renamed the channel, the next step is to actually limit the user roles who can post messages in it. Do this by selecting “Team Settings” from your team menu. This will open a web page and you’ll see a few tabs. Click on the Permissions tab and then expand the Messaging Restrictions option. Select “Team Admins and Owners” from the option “Who can post in #announcements.” You are now on lockdown.

 

menu team settings

 

Get used to creating and archiving channels. At Slack we have some evergreen channels that we’ll likely never archive, like #sf or #yvr — the channels for two of our offices. But we also actively create (and later, archive) new channels for a variety of purposes: New projects like #feat-reminders (channels dedicated to feature development have the prefix “feat-”), or new topics of conversation or debate like #lacroix. When we’re done with a feature, we then just type `/archive` into the message input field in that channel. To get back to a channel that you archived and then want to re-open, check out the list of archived channels in your Message Archives. You can always un-archive a channel.

Okay! Your Slack-fu is starting to build now. You’re easily moving between conversations, quickly getting group DMs going, and you have a nice channel that’s only for announcements to the group. But now that everyone on your team is confidently creating and archiving channels… uh, there are a lot of channels showing up on your channel list. Time to give your brain a break and stop scroooollllllliiiinnnng to see all your unread channels.

First, star your favorite channels that you always want to keep near and dear. You can star DMs or Group DMs as well as channels. I have several channels related to the Growth team starred. When you’re in a channel or DM, look at the title — there’s the faint outline of a star there. Click it.

Click on your team menu again and choose “Preferences” — these are preferences that only apply to you, not your entire team. Select “Advanced Options” and then under “Channel List” select Hide any channels, etc., which have no unread activity, unless they are starred. Now, only channels or DMs with unread activity will show up.

 

channel list

 

Now that you’re set up to only see channels when they have unread activity, do yourself a favor and ask yourself: Do I really need to be in here? If the answer is no, then leave! If the answer is: “Well sorta because sometimes I should see when an important message is posted or something wants my attention”, then mute the channel. Do this by typing `/mute` in the message input when you’re in that channel. Now you’ll only see the channel appear when an `@here` or `@channel` is used, or when your username or highlight words are mentioned.

 

Having more efficient conversations

Using Slack is pretty different from emailing people or talking IRL. One of the best, unique ways to use Slack is to both make quick decisions and to find decisions that you previously made.

I love to get groups of people to vote on things in Slack. I do this by first posting a question to a channel, and then specifically telling people to indicate their preference using an emoji reaction. Even if you’ve set up your #announcements channel to only allow messages by admins or owners, everyone will still be able to emoji react to messages.

 

poll

 

Great! You’ve been able to reach a clear (and might I say, decisive) decision about the pernicious overuse of `@channel` and `@here`. But what if someone asks about this decision in another channel? I want to easily share with them the point in time when we made that decision. For this, I use an archive link. Every message in Slack is accessible by a link you can copy from the “Message Actions” menu. Hover on a message and click the “…” button, then select “Copy link.” Now, just paste that link into another channel. It will display like this, allowing people to not only see the full message, but the time at which it was posted and the channel it was posted in.

 

copying links into new channels
assisted search

 

If I couldn’t easily find where I posted that message but I knew that I posted it in the #announcements channels at some point, I would use search modifiers to find it. In this case I’d type `from:@merci` `in:#announcements`, and then make sure I was looking at “Messages” and not “Files.”

 

Managing yourself in Slack

Finally, we’ll end with some quick tips that will make your working life a little more pleasant.

 

emoji skin tones

 

Set your skin tone on the emoji picker so that any emoji that can be modified with a :skin-tone: will automatically look like you. Click on the lil’ emoji icon in the far right of the message input in any channel. If you click on the hand at the bottom of the panel, it will expand and let you choose your default skin tone.

I’d rather not waste my glucose by remembering things, so I use our lovely Reminders feature quite a bit. You can set reminders for yourself, for someone else, or for an entire channel. On the Slack Growth team, we conduct a standup every day in our team channel. At 11am, Slackbot reminds the whole channel to do it. It’s quite nice.

Start by typing `/remind` into any message input. You’ll get a little syntax helper, but if you want to try out setting a reminder for an entire channel, do something like this: /remind #team-channel What did you do *yesterday*, what are you working on *today*, and are you *blocked* by anything?

 

remind me about this

 

Finally, I’ll often go read a channel and see a request or question from someone that I don’t have time to deal with in just that moment. In that case, I’ll click hover on the message and click on that “…” menu again, into which many good things are tucked. Select the option “Remind me about this” and then select a time period in which you think you’ll be available. Slackbot will DM you the message again.

I hope these tips have been helpful for you as you geek out on Slack. :-)

slack character
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