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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

If You're Suffering From Group Chat Fatigue, It's Kinda Your Own Fault

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Email, specifically too much of it, was deemed a real issue by the powers that be at the last place I worked. And, in fact, the situation was kind of out of control. The truth was I’d never before received so many messages in my life, but as a person who’s accustomed to adapting to what I can’t control, the sheer number sent and received per day stopped phasing me after long.

Toward the end of my tenure, the company introduced the team to Slack—a real-time messaging and archiving service—in hopes of fixing the problem. While the group-chat tool decreased the amount of emails going around, there wasn’t a significant drop because, sometimes—or, a lot of times as it turned out—email was simply the better option.

Here at The Muse, we also use Slack. Which isn’t surprising, since, as of June 2015, The Verge reported that more than one million users were on it.

The idea behind these group chat tools is that “people can dip in and out of chat rooms that are the most relevant to their interests and work lives,” explains Rebecca Greenfield in a recent Bloomberg Business piece.

The title of Greenfield’s piece, “You’re About to Hate Slack as Much as You Hate Email” is provocative, to be sure, but it’s missing the point, particularly if you don’t dread your inbox. It’s generally understood that email replaced phone calls and now group chats are replacing emails, but just as phone conversations will never be extinct, neither will email. And it’s unlikely that Slack or its competitors are going to go away either—certainly not on the basis that they’re too distracting or resulting in “chat fatigue”— which Greenfield asserts is setting in.

Although Slack can be a substitute for email at times, it’s also a fun and playful way to engage with your co-workers, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but my team does, in fact, use it to collaborate and brainstorm as much as we use it to discuss lunch options. If your company hands you a variety of tools to communicate, it’s up to you to figure out which medium is going to be best for whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. (And if you’re in disagreement with your team as to what’s best, that’s a good discussion to have with your boss.) In a way, having these options is the answer to not being micro-managed, and who doesn’t want to thumbs-up emoji that?

Sure, both an overflowing inbox and a ton of chat notifications can make you feel stressed out and overloaded, but that’s a personal time management issue. Spend too much time on email and you’re bound not to finish your day on a productive note. The same goes for spending too much time in meetings, on conference calls, and even texting during the day with your friends.

In the same way we’ve (hopefully) learned to manage our inboxes, you have to learn to manage your chatting strategy. Get mired up in every conversation occurring in every channel or room on Slack, HipChat, or Google Hangouts, and you’re likely to glance down at your to-do list at the end of the day in despair. But, turn on the “away” notifications, choose to leave certain channels during your busy moments, and decide not to feel guilty for not weighing in on every conversation, and you’ll find yourself in a much less stressful place.

For example, I don’t even try to get in on every thread. And maybe I even miss some cool things as a result of that. But I’m pretty sure that if someone has something important to talk to me about, he or she will find a way to tell me.

Haven’t you heard? In-person meetings are about to start trending again any day now.

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