Slack as RAM

Slack’s Logo I think it’s necessary for a company to have a shared understanding of how they use Slack (and similar tools). If such an understanding exists, it’s incredibly powerful, but without shared understanding then the rules can change from moment to moment based on HIPPO and momentary frustrations. In this environment, collaboration and brainstorming can end up being treated as bad things because they’re not compliant with someone important’s vision.

Now, if you’re going all in on slack, this is pretty easy. There’s not much question of what to take to email or the like – the tool you’ll use is slack, and you make it work. This is great, if you can pull it off, but for a lot of people that is a bridge too far. So how do you get everyone on the same page when every communication requires the decision (and friction of) “Is this the right context?”

This is a bad situation, so the best we can do is try to make this decision simple. If you could boil it down to a few rules (“Finance discussions must be in email”) that works, but it scales poorly. What it really calls for is a shared metaphor.

The one I’ve been using lately is this: Treat your Slack as your company’s RAM.

For non-nerds, RAM is the memory on your computer or device where things happen. When a program runs, all the information necessary is kept in RAM. When I say it’s memory, I mean it’s memory the same way your hard drive is, but the components used to make RAM are faster than the ones in your drive because it’s constantly changing it’s contents as needed.

So RAM is essential to your computer functioning, but there are things it’s not for. Specifically, it is not a reliable place to keep any information, since its current contents could be swept away at any moment. For this, your computer has storage (like your hard drive) to keep things without losing them

Slack can serve the same role in your organization. It should be the place where things happen. What kind of things? Well, what do you do? Whatever it is, I bet it requires people needing to talk, think, plan and be creative. Slack is a great place for that stuff to happen, and your organization should encourage it.

But, like RAM, it is not necessarily where you want to keep things. Yes, Slack has pretty robust search functionality, so you might be able to recover things, but for a Slack of any size or age, search leaves too many possibilities for things to be lost. So it’s necessary you also identify your company’s memory. It’s probably Confluence, or a Wiki, or Sharepoint or something else. It might be more than one thing, in which case you have a different problem. Whatever the case, you should have a place where important things end up.

Now, you could just copy and paste into memory (‘dumping the RAM’) but with a little bit of mindfulness it’s reasonably easy to capture the outputs of discussions rather than the discussions themselves. This requires a little bit of extra work, but it’s a fantastic habit for an organization to develop for two reasons. First, by making it everyone’s responsibility, it gives a bit more ownership to decisions. Second, if the discussions as important enough to save, it’s important enough to take the time to get everyone on the same page, and communicate that agreement in a useful way.

It may take a little bit of time to get people used to this, but once they see that their outputs are treated as important (and that no outputs means it didn’t happen) then they can see how it benefits them, at which point you’ll be surprised how invested people are in the final result.

And, heck, if this practice starts spilling over into your meetings? WHAT A SHAME.

Three Bullet Points

3bullI had reason to go through a LOT of archived video from old company meetings. Several years worth.  It was kind of fun, if only to see how things used to be (especially haircuts) and how things had changed, but it was also a real grind.  When we recorded these meetings, the thinking was that it would be a permanent record of what had been discussed – something we could look back on and learn something from.

In practice, I’m pretty sure I was the first person to see some of these videos ever.  Not because the material was not valuable, but because no one is going to go back and watch hours of videos for possible insight when there’s actual work to be done.

Obviously, this is an argument for good record-keeping around meetings.  Have an agenda, capture the key points and decisions, make sure that’s available.  That sort of document is much more skimmable, so it might at least see some use.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad, we often will have meetings that don’t have any documentation, and the prospect of going back and creating documentation seems daunting and wasteful.   I sympathize with this.  I really and truly do.  But there’s another option:

Just capture three bullet points.

Not even long ones.  One post it note or index card should give you enough space.  It’s not hard, it takes no particular time, and it’s easy to archive or communicate.

Now, I get why there may be some resistance to this – your meetings are complicated! They’re nuanced! Any attempt to summarize them in this fashion will lose all the critical information that you spent all that time putting into the slide deck!  I completely understand.


If the content of your meetings really matters that much, then you probably are having no problem keeping them documented.  No one would willingly surrender such treasures.

But if they’re not being documented, then an incomplete document is better than nothing.  It can capture key decisions, or just be a pointer to other information which is documented but maybe hard to skim (like video recordings).

If you’re still uncomfortable with this idea, do me a favor and think of a meeting you had last week.  Any meeting.  What can you remember about it?  There’s a non-zero chance the answer is “nothing”, so try to pick one that you recall.  What do you remember about it?

Unless you cheated and checked your notes, I will bet that your recollection lines up pretty well with a few bullet points.  You remember why the meeting happened, what was decided, and anything urgent that came. up.  Anything more detailed than that maybe lives in your task list or your personal notes, and those things are being dealt with appropriately.

And that’s as it should be.  The goal of the meeting is to unpack things in the moment, but then allow everyone to proceed. If something is important, it will generate its own work.  The meeting itself needs only a few bullets to pin itself up in your brain.

Still skeptical?  Give it a try for a week. It’s not a lot of work, and can be done in a notebook, a text file or anything else.  At the end of the week, take 30 seconds to look over the bullets and see if you think anything is missing.  Maybe it will be an unnecessary exercise.  But if you are used to getting to the end of the week and wondering how you lost so much of your time to meetings, it just might help you get a better sense of your own reality.

And if you use that information to start demanding better meetings? Well, that’s just a bonus.