How to avoid all-day meetings with random participants and no agenda (Slack Saunaing)


Entrepreneur Jason Fried compares group chat tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams to “being in an all-day meeting with random participants and no agenda”. When we’re using these tools non-deliberately, his statement is accurate. Yet, there’s a better way.

What to do

Use group chat like a sauna – get in, stay a while, and then get out again.

Why it works

As attention expert Gloria Mark has found, work takes 50% longer when switching tasks — so “just briefly checking” anything creates huge productivity losses. That’s why, as with email, checking and answering group chat throughout the day is a terrible idea. According to Fried (pictured above), “interruptions are the enemy of productivity, and group chat has become the greatest interruption factory at work”.

Fried’s statements are a bit surprising, given what his company Basecamp does. In 2006, it launched Campfire – the first modern SaaS group chat and messaging tool for business. Yet, Fried also is a pioneer of effective collaboration in the 21st century. He co-founded Basecamp with David Heinemeier Hansson in 1999, and the two have been running it as a remote-only company for decades. They’ve also written several bestsellers, including “Rework” and “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy at Work”.

Fried recommends using group chat deliberately instead of having it as the primary, default method of communication. His advice comes down to a simple rule of thumb: “Real-time sometimes, asynchronous most of the time”. In a word, he recommends using group chat like a sauna. Here’s how.

How to do it

1) Turn off group chat by default. Most people do the opposite and keep it open throughout their days. Don’t fall into this trap. As Fried puts it, “all sorts of eventual bad happens when a company begins thinking one-line-at-a-time most of the time”. Like your email inbox, your group chat client is a to-do list put together for you by other people. If you want to spend your days proactively instead of reactively, turn it off by default.

2) In the morning, plan group chat by timeboxing your collaborative work. There are two types of collaboration: synchronous (i.e., meetings) or asynchronous (i.e., email and group chat). If there are appointments with other people on your calendar, you’re already timeboxing your synchronous collaboration. Congrats! Yet, don’t stop there. Batch email together with group chat into sessions of asynchronous collaboration. Do so by adding appointments with yourself to your calendar to check both at predetermined times — e.g. at 10 pm, 1 pm, and 4 pm.

3) Throughout the day, show up to these appointments – just as you would for appointments with others. Turn your group chat client on when you arrive at your predetermined times. Check, process and answer new messages for as long as it takes, but then get out again. Also, here’s a pro tip: delete the group chat app on your phone. None of the above works if you get ringed, pinged and dinged by your phone all day long. Take it from someone with a strong tendency to get “hooked” by the smartphone: removing it from your phone will make stepping out of the “Slack Sauna” much easier.

Let me be clear: this won’t be easy at first. Yet, once you’ve gotten into the habit of avoiding all-day meetings with random participants and no agenda, you’ll decrease your stress levels, focus better, and massively improve your productivity.

So why not give it a try?