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One Solution to Information Overload

Saving yourself from micromanaging.


It goes something like this: A manager/executive/outsider/bystander (i.e. me) decides to peek in to get a sense of how a project is going. He enters the project’s channel on Slack and it looks like this…

  • Jane: I know. I couldn’t believe he brought that up in this meeting. Ridiculous. ???
  • Bill: It’s fine. We’re in a good place. I’m still trying to make sure the approach we agreed on a week ago still works. That’s the main priority.

[Six hours with no chat, then…]

  • Stacy: BILL NO! STOP IT! Go home.
  • Bill: Fine. Fine! Alright. ? ?

Seeing this, I do what I always do when I start at the end of the chat. I scroll up. Tiptoeing slowly backwards in the conversation, I try to piece together a narrative. I’ll usually make it up 5 or 6 screens of chatter before I just give up. It’s obvious I’m not going to get the full picture here.

Over time I’ve come to accept that these channels are not for me, the manager. They’re a virtual war room for the project. It’s a place where any team member can rapidly descend or ascend in altitude and everyone in the room is tuned in. For many of our projects at Postlight, the client is in the room as well, constantly in touch with what’s happening.

New ways to communicate and new ways to get lost

The explosion of group chat with tools like Slack has changed the nature and manner of communication. It’s no longer about the asynchronous pile of emails, waiting for response. It’s conversation. Conversation across countless threads. Now, instead of one unread tally attached to my single inbox, I have 15 different unread flags.

If I’ve got access to a channel and I’m behind on the conversation then I’m failing. Those flags represent more than “oh cool, there’s a lot of chatter in that channel.” It’s more like: “Damn Rich. Things are happening and you’re not staying on top of them. You’re out of the loop.” It’s this benign sort of failure. Every few days, I’ll sheepishly click “Mark All As Read” and quietly cleanse myself of all those mini-obligations.

So you may be asking: Why don’t you just go in there and ask how things are going? I could do that, I suppose. I am the co-founder after all. I have a right to know how an effort is going.

But let’s be real. Nobody wants me in there. It’s no different than me walking into a standup meeting and just injecting out-of-context, out-of-touch questions and comments out of nowhere. I mean—sometimes I do this, it’s one of the prerogatives of managers. But I try to keep it under control.

Me walking into a channel I haven’t visited in two weeks.

What I need as an outsider, an outsider with a vested interest in these efforts, is a way to get a birds-eye view of how things are going. Did you know that, according to the Harvard Business Review, in the course of an hour online, a typical manager receives over 3,349,435 notifications from—

We’ve decided to do something about it

Just kidding—we don’t know how many notifications a manager receives. We just know that we want things to be better. We could write another whining piece about information overload on Medium, or we could…do something about it.

And we have: We built a simple solution that makes Slack actually usable for managers who work on lots of projects. It’s one of the new experiments we’re doing inside of Postlight Labs.

If you’re in New York on October 20, come join us at our new offices for the unveiling of Postlight Labs. If you’re not, make sure you’re subscribed to Track Changes to hear all about it.

In the meantime, I’ve got some conversations to awkwardly disrupt.

Story published on Sep 28, 2016.