Jun 23, 2020

Inbox Zero and Message Throttling in Slack

If you are happy with your Slack experience and believe that Slack makes you both productive and focused on your work, then you can stop reading now. However, if you feel overwhelmed by the constant influx of Slack messages and your mind gets anxiety attacks from the endless list of unread channels, then I may have a little trick for you.

Inbox Zero in Slack? Is such a thing even possible? Yes, it is!

Disclaimer: Your mileage may vary depending on how you use Slack. If you are flooded by direct messages, the following tip is not going to help you.


  • Organize your channels using the new Slack sections.
  • Organize them not by topic but by when you want to read them.
  • Keep them closed.

Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero is a common technique for email management. The idea is simple: You aim to keep your inbox empty (or almost empty) by

  • aggressively deleting or archiving processed messages, and
  • snoozing or “setting aside” messages that need more work. You process these messages in bulk later during dedicated time.

For my brain, which gets immediately triggered by any non-zero “unread messages count”, having an empty inbox goes beyond just being able to focus on real work. An empty inbox allows my brain to clear the buffer and enter a relaxed, pleasant state with no peeping tasks in the backlog.

Message throttling

Obviously, here is the problem: I can’t just clear my email inbox or Slack and close it. I need to keep it open to do my job. Then new messages start pouring in, breaking my focus.

That’s when message throttling comes useful. The idea is to delay delivery of less important messages so that they reach your attention only when you choose to.

Slack has always supported pausing notifications, which, however, is not that helpful as it won’t hide the unread counts from the UI. For me personally, that’s hardly distraction-free. Luckily, after the recent update, there is a new tool available: Slack sections.

Here is how it works:

  1. Create a new section in the sidebar.
  2. Put some channels into the section.
  3. Collapse it.

That’s it. Now the channels are removed from the UI and you don’t see them until you choose to. You can still see that there are unread messages in the section but that is sort of default state which my brain learned to ignore.

My workflow

The question is how to set up your sections. Contrary to the intuitive approach, I don’t organize my channels by topic but by their priority, as in, how often I want to read them.

These are my sections:

  • Priority; for channels that I want to get updates immediately from.
  • Daily; for channels that I want to read once per day.
  • Weekly; for channels that I want to read once per week.
  • Muted; for muted channels.

All sections except for priority are by default collapsed.

This creates a nice workflow. Every morning, I expand the daily section and process all unread messages. If there is something actionable, I resolve it directly or create myself a TODO/reminder for later. Then I close the section and don’t think about it for the rest of the day. I do the same on Mondays with the weekly section.

With this setup, I can remain subscribed to a high number of channels without a significant impact on my productivity.

A funny consequence is that I get to certain Slack discussions with a several-day delay, often when the discussion is already over. And that’s great because my bar for jumping on random active threads and sharing my opinion is really low.

That’s it and let me know if you found this tip useful or if you have tried different approaches to tackle your Slack inbox.

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