Slack messages in your Org Agenda
Too long; didn't read
Do not waste your time cycle through Slack, rather make important Slack messages appear in your Org mode agenda as TODOs!
Slack is a time sink. At work I need to check if some messages pop up and promptly respond to them. Well, it would not be the first time I miss those because I am dealing with something taking my full attention and certainly not the last that I start checking for them and suddenly find myself participating into some unrelated and time-consuming conversation.
So the question: how to avoid missing messages I care about AND be dragged into unnecessary (but nice) chats?
It is a problem indeed
It does not help if we look at some stats: it seems on average devs spend 90 minutes on Slack per day. That is roughly 1/5 of your working time! My personal stats have shown that some days I end up spending much more time checking Slack (for example in order to be in the loop to help solving incidents and likes).
And there is a solution
That is where the good old Emacs comes in! Did you know that there is an amazing Emacs Slack client? I got to discover it by checking out the amazing configuration of Jethro Kuan, the creator of org-roam. Initially I was a bit shy, and I was thinking: "It would be bad to be disturbed in my sacred elispy garden by continuous Slack notifications".
Then an idea started popping up: what if I can remove notifications and show messages in my Org Agenda instead. I look at this frequently to see what I am left to do for the day, and Slack communications are tasks to do of which I do not take note.
So I looked into how notifications work for emacs-slack and a way to divert them to my agenda. The first amazing piece of news is that the mode use alert: a mode by John Wiegley who is just a very smart (and evidently generous) person and also the creator of use-package, another mode I very much enjoy using. The alert library is just designed to allow extension!
The amazing thing is that Malabarba has already shown how to make the best of the alert library together with emacs-slack in this and this posts. I found them really useful for my setup, thank you Malabarba to share that!
So the first step is to setup emacs-slack:
(use-package slack :defer 4 :init (make-directory "/tmp/emacs-slack-images/" t) :bind (:map slack-mode-map (("@" . slack-message-embed-mention) ("#" . slack-message-embed-channel))) :custom (slack-buffer-emojify t) (slack-prefer-current-team t) (slack-image-file-directory "/tmp/emacs-slack-images/") :config (when (f-dir-p "someFileOrDirectoryExistingOnlyOnWorkEnvironment") (slack-register-team :name "someTeam" :token (password-store-get "someTeamPass") ;; avoid to store password in plain text please!! :full-and-display-names t) (slack-start) (add-to-list 'org-agenda-files "~/yourOrgAgendaFilesFolder/Slack.org")))
Note I use Slack only for work so I start it only when on my work environment. Also in that case I add an extra Org Agenda file to the set of files that compose my agenda: in this way slack messages are well separated from my other tasks and will not clutter my home agenda.
And now let's handle the notifications. First we need a way to append special slack TODO to our dedicated Org mode file. In the alert library you can define your own alert handler, like this:
(alert-define-style 'my/alert-style :title "Make Org headings for messages I receive - Style" :notifier (lambda (info) (write-region (s-concat "* TODO " (plist-get info :title) " : " (format "%s %s :slack:" (plist-get info :title) (plist-get info :message)) "\n" (format "\n <%s>" (format-time-string "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M")) "\n") nil "~/yourOrgAgendaFilesFolder/Slack.org" t)))
Here when we get notified for a message (
:notified section), we
append a TODO entry to the agenda file through
that we give it the date including hour and second to make it appear
in the agenda at the correct time.
The other thing we need to do is the plumbing things together: we want only slack notifications to be handled this way
(add-to-list 'alert-user-configuration '(((:category . "slack")) my/alert-style nil))
Put all together:
(use-package alert :after slack :init (alert-define-style 'my/alert-style :title "Make Org headings for messages I receive - Style" :notifier (lambda (info) (write-region (s-concat "* TODO " (plist-get info :title) " : " (format "%s %s :slack:" (plist-get info :title) (plist-get info :message)) "\n" (format "\n <%s>" (format-time-string "%Y-%m-%d %H:%M")) "\n") nil "~/yourOrgAgendaFilesFolder/Slack.org" t))) (setq alert-default-style 'message) (add-to-list 'alert-user-configuration '(((:category . "slack")) my/alert-style nil)))
Note you may find bugs. I have to improve things slightly, so this is a basic and drafty implementation but it already gives me great satisfaction so I decided to share it anyway.
What would you do then? Keep jumping at your notifications or getting them appear as event in your Org agenda? I strongly prefer the latter: a chat is still asynchronous communication that fits very well with my agenda workflow. Also you can keep track of how many messages you work on in a day as org TODOs (and plan time for these with concrete data available that you can easily query with org-ql if you like -- thanks alphapapa!!).
If you want to try out: just adapt the code in this repository to your needs!
Finally, I hope to have time soon to add linking from the TODOs to the Emacs Slack client buffer, so that I can just jump to the chat buffer and reply on the fly. I will blog about this too if I manage!
Hope this frees some of your precious time too!