If you’re one of the 8,000,000+ people who use Slack as their main communication tool, your day was probably a little different on Wednesday, June 27th.
SLACK IS DOWN!!!!!! IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD! pic.twitter.com/CMAy5Y3pHF
— Jrd (@BadwolfTX) June 27, 2018
When Slack is out and you're working from home. pic.twitter.com/ZEcg9uasPZ
— Caitlin PenzeyMoog (@PenzeyMoog) June 27, 2018
— Josh 'Gauntlet' Bury (@ThrownGauntlet) June 27, 2018
For a few gloriously nerve-wracking hours in the morning, Slack’s service was interrupted.
Slack bills itself as “where work happens.” So what happened when it was essentially closed for business?
To get an idea of how much Slack usage affects our productivity we compared the anonymized productivity data of 12,000+ RescueTime and Slack users on June 27th—the day of the Slack outage—to a week prior.
When Slack was unavailable, users spent more time on productive work than during the same time the week before
You might think that losing your communication tool would grind productivity to a halt. But when looking at the productivity scores of Slack users during the time when Slack was down, we found people were ~5% more productive than during the same time period the previous week.
(Note: We’ve seen that productivity patterns change by day of the week, so comparing Wednesday to Wednesday made the most sense.)
It’s hard not to look at this graph and not draw some pretty clear conclusions.
First, compared to a “regular” day, a few hours without Slack brought some pretty serious boosts to productivity.
This makes sense when you think about it. Without the option to even use their communication tool of choice, more users spent time on tasks they categorized as “productive” in RescueTime.
Next, when service was restored it created a productivity “whiplash” effect with users dropping to a daily low in productivity.
But, isn’t Slack supposed to reduce our need for communication and help us stay focused and productive?
In practice, sure.
However, when we recently looked at how people actually use communication tools during their workday, we found that on average, knowledge workers spend 40% of their day multitasking between communication and other productive work.
Even worse, because of this, on an average day, workers only have 1 hour and 12 minutes of productivity time that’s not interrupted by communication tools.
It’s pretty well established that multitasking kills our productivity and focus, which means we’re self-sabotaging our workday by always keeping communication tools open and in the background.
We love Slack. But communication multitasking is an issue that’s getting more and more serious.
None of this is to say that Slack is a total productivity killer.
We’re religious Slack users at RescueTime and absolutely love how it helps us do great work (especially as a remote team!)
The issue isn’t in the tool itself, but in how most of us use it.
Constant context switching between Slack (or email) and other tasks fragments our day and kills our focus. In one study, Dr. David Meyer found that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”
Just think how many times you’ve mindlessly popped into Slack only to get derailed by puppy gifs or random conversations?
The Slack distraction struggle is real. And yesterday’s outage proved it.
The next time you’re feeling behind, give yourself a communication coffee break
Communication tools like Slack are essential in the modern workplace. But they are also one of our main sources of distraction. And seeing what happens to productivity when we’re forced to not use them is an eye opener.
So while we’d never advocate getting rid of Slack (or whatever tool you use). It’s pretty clear that taking a short break can do wonders for our ability to do good, focused work.