Red Blobs and Pop-Ups - how to Slack and not get anxiety

Slack is the TikTok of your working day. Originally a simple chat client for work and hobbies (compatible with any alternative IRC client!) - today it can do way too many things.

While we usually have detailed guides on how to review a pull request or deploy to production, there is nothing about how to use Slack daily and still love your job. I’ve been burned out by Slack in the past, so let me share a few tips on how to avoid that.

Focus on work

We are engineers and scientists. We have to focus on engineering and science. Most messages on Slack are not urgent. In fact, I’d say none of them should be. If you are on support, there must be other channels set up to alert you of an ongoing incident - and ensure reception. Slack is not such a channel.

Work comes first, then Slack.

Immediate notifications

By default, Slack will do push notifications and sounds. I have all of them switched off. When someone DM:s me on Slack, nothing pops up, and no sound is played. As it should be.

No DMs on Slack are really urgent. Even when it is your manager. Hypothetically speaking, what can possibly be of top urgency?

  • “Hey, are you joining this meeting you forgot about?” - sort of urgent, but meetings usually last for hours, and important ones should be recorded anyway
  • “Hey, are you online at all today?” - not urgent at all, sort of implies lack of comms, but there’s likely a reason for that, and once your counterpart gets back online (or out of a particularly complex task), they can update you.
  • “This building is on fire!” - again, Slack is the wrong channel for this kind of message, and hopefully alarms are going off in the building that would relay this message in a more direct way.

On Mac, you can also switch to “Do not disturb” mode, which effectively kills all notifications and popups from all apps. It is great, use it.

But when do I reply?

I like Pomodoro.

Have yourself a period of deep focus. Nothing should disturb you during this period.

After that - check your Slack.

You can choose 15 min intervals, 30 min, 1 hour, sometimes even longer. 15 min is a good start - but even 1 hour should be doable, depending on the kind of project you’re working on. No messages on Slack should be such that it absolutely cannot wait for 1 hour.

Red badges

Sometimes your Slack window will look like a lit Christmas tree - full of red blobs of unread messages.

The second most anxiety-inducing element of Slack are red badges of unread messages. You just have to click through all of them to make sure all are gone.

Not true.

Most of the red badges will be group mentions, or even @here tags. Yes, there might be a channel you keep a close eye on - and it might be actually important to see the message. This leads me nicely to one of my favourite hidden features of Slack.

Mute conversations

Incredibly useful and somewhat obscure feature - you can mute particular channels and DM groups so they don’t show up with a red “unread messages” blob. You can still choose to click on that conversation and catch up when it suits you.

Mute is amazing for situations when you’ve been added to a DM group, and every single message in this scenario is a red blob with pop-ups (if you haven’t disabled them).

Right-click on any channel or DM, and Mute it.


I have a hand-picked list of channels and people that are at the top of my left sidebar at all times. They are my top priority, and everything else is less important.

This list also gets constantly revised. Daily, in fact. Depending on the kind of work, someone will get added to my top attention list, and something else will get relegated to the Bottom List of Endless Scroll.

By now you can literally drag and drop channels and people to organise your left sidebar. Right-click -> move to… also works great.

Leave channels and conversations

It is too easy to make a channel and invite a bunch of people there. It is more difficult to leave that channel.

Being a part of tens - sometimes hundreds of channels - is anxiety-inducing. But it is also ok to leave them. Most important messages should be cross-posted on larger channels, and maybe even outside of Slack.


Huddle is an incredibly powerful tool, and my hope is that it will not get abused in the future. Slack somehow nailed this feature perfectly - well, almost. I wish you’d be able to record them as easily, as you can on Microsoft Teams (of all apps!).

Huddle is the answer to “What if I must get in touch right this moment with someone, who is not checking their messages”. They will get a popup, and a sound, both of which are difficult to ignore. This is our modern equivalent of a phone call.

Use this power wisely.

Anything else?

Email used to be the only interruption on a workday. We’ve evolved our work tools to have so much collaboration. And I’m a huge fan of structured collab, where everyone is present and at the top of their game.

If you let it, Slack will position itself as the most important tool of your workday. It can become the single most stressful part of the job. I’ve had jobs when I’d be expected to immediately reply to all DM:s. But Slack is just a tool, you can shape it and use it the way it suits you, not the other way around.