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Slack hacks: 5 remote-work boundaries for a better work-life balance
If you want to get real work done—and have a personal life—you have to set boundaries to protect your time and attention. Here are five ways to do it.
Last updated18 Aug 2022
Reading time5 min
Remember when you used to work in an office?
Back then, being in the building was the default way you showed you were working. This time in the office also set a natural boundary for when you were working and when you were off.
Now that we’re remote, how do we show that we’re actually working?
Many people try to demonstrate this by responding as quickly as possible to email and Slack. It’s the equivalent to proving you’re in the office. But it also means that part of your attention is always pending that next incoming message.
If you want to get real work done—and have a personal life—you have to set boundaries to protect your time and attention.
Here are five ways to set boundaries with comms and calendars while working remotely.
1. Set dedicated look-and-respond times
It’s easy to feel the pressure to respond to messages quickly, but do all of our instant messages really need instant responses?
Obviously, messages take time to read and respond to. But less obvious is how these apps take our attention in between messages. Even with notifications set to pounce on us with every new delivery, we still peek to make sure nothing slips past our notification radar. And every time we switch over to a new task, it takes energy to reorient to what we were doing before.
Try this instead: set dedicated times to check and respond to messages, and let your coworkers know when these times are.
Someone at our company said that they aim to respond to email and Slack only at 11:30am, 2:30pm, and 6pm. They also admitted that they don’t always stick to these times. But just having this as a guideline helps them set boundaries that improve productivity.
Of course, doing this takes agreement and understanding with other team members. And it might not work for every situation, or for every week of the quarter. But it’s a boundary you should aim to set.
Side note that you already know: turn off notifications before they deplete you. Really, turn them off and do some undistracted work.
And if you’re not yet comfortable checking messages only a few times a day, there’s something else you can do.
2. Turn off your green light in Slack
When people see Slack’s little green light, they assume you’re available. Given Slack’s reputation for being a messaging tool for quick comms, there’s a built-in assumption that you’ll respond quickly to every message. With a simple trick, you can manage these expectations.
Hack: turn off Slack’s green light status. It’s as simple as clicking ‘set yourself as away’ in your settings.
Why? When people see that you’re away, they won’t expect an immediate response. And knowing this, you won’t feel so compelled to respond asap.
Now of course this requires trust from the rest of the team that you’re actually working. How do you do this? By using that time that you’re not spending on Slack to actually get your work done.
That said, the more effective way to focus is to actually turn off Slack and get to work.
3. Set Slack status with emojis or words
“Why is Jan not on Slack?” Maybe they’ve shut it off to focus. Maybe they are on, but with their status set to ‘away.’ It’s not necessarily our business what Jan is doing right now, but it does help to frame expectations and next steps.
One of the most important rules for setting boundaries is open communication. If you’re unavailable, especially during unusual times, leave a status update letting people know why. Emojis can serve the same purpose.
Warning: don’t waste too much time updating your updates. This should be a time saver, not a time waster.
Instead, come up with a few typical emojis that you use for recurring activities. Like 🍱 for when you’re out to lunch, or ⛔ when you don’t want to be bothered.
You can also save time by synching your calendar with Slack to automatically show when you’re in a meeting. Just install your Google or Microsoft Calendar app to your Slack workspace, and check out the Settings.
4. Decline unnecessary meetings
Ever sat through a meeting that you really didn’t need to attend?
It’s all too common: someone wants to talk about something, so they invite everyone that's involved in some way to hash things out. But what exactly “hash things out” means, or who exactly needs to be there to get that done, isn’t always clear.
The solution: follow the 10% rule.
If you’ve been invited to a meeting where you know you’ll participate less than 10% of the time, politely decline. You can always ask for the meeting notes. And if someone needs your input on a specific item, let them know you’re happy to help with what they need in an async conversation.
Bottom line: don’t commit to meetings that you don’t need to be in. Speaking from experience, this is a boundary that we strongly believe in and all very much appreciate.
5. Be intentional and clear with your schedule
We all have different rhythms for when we work best and how our days go. Part of the beauty of remote work is allowing people to take advantage of their own schedules. This happens in a couple of ways.
1. Routine schedules: do you need to pick up kids every day at 5pm? Do you like to have a Wednesday afternoon coffee with a friend or family member?
2. Unusual schedules: are you taking advantage of your remote-worker privilege to spend time working in far-off lands? Hoping to avoid late-night or pre-dawn calls while you’re in Cambodia?
Of course, you have to follow any company timezone or work-hour policies. And if your preferences clash with your teammates’ needs, you might have to do some empathetic negotiating. But it’s really about collaboration and communication.
So talk to your manager and teammates to make sure it works all the way around. If your company is doing remote work right, all of these situations should be manageable.
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