Slack rolled out fancy new features. Here’s how to use them.

Canvases and new windows will let you keep track of more threads in your workspace.
Person using Slack on their laptop
Take notes of your huddles and threads directly on Slack. Mikhail Nilov / Pexels

Depending on the size of your Slack community, the productivity platform can seem a bit chaotic. But in its latest update, the app debuted two tools that will help you add order to the chaos.

Slack’s newest additions are the company’s so-called Canvases and the ability to open new windows. These options will make it easier to keep track of all the conversations you want to keep tabs on and take notes on what’s important. 

How to use Canvases on Slack

Whether you use Slack for work or to keep up with friends, the environment can get very confusing, very fast, especially as more people join your workspace. But now you can jot down notes and add to-do lists, links, and other media to chats and channels with Canvases. 

To use this tool, open any chat or channel and click on the canvas icon in the top right corner of the interface—it looks like a dog-eared sticky note with a small plus sign. This will open a new space on the right side of the screen (like what happens when you open a thread) that will act as a highly versatile notepad. 

[Related: Seven quick tricks to do more with Slack]

Slack provides a couple of preset ideas to get you started, including to-do lists, Resources, and Meeting notes, all of which you can customize to ensure they’re a productive space for you. Use the tools at the bottom of the interface to add elements: click the plus sign to add files or images, or to record a video or audio clip within the app. You can also use the emoji option to add as many smiley faces or exclamation points as you want, and the checklist icon to add checkboxes. 

You’d expect the text option (two A’s next to each other) would show the classic formatting tools: font size, bold, underline, italics, etc, but that’s not what it does here. On Canvases, the text option exists to help give your text order and hierarchy. There are different headings (from H1 to H3) to organize your thoughts by topic and subtopics, you can add bulleted and numbered lists, and you can drop in quote text blocks. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll also be able to add a block of code to display on the interface. As for font size, bold, underline, and italics, just use the universal text-formatting shortcuts.

Slack's Canvases interface with a to do list and a list of important links
Standalone canvases will allow you to keep your notes organized and your to-do’s always at a glance. Sandra Gutierrez for Popular Science

Canvases may seem like a comfortable space to keep notes on what’s happening on Slack, but be careful: this feature is collaborative by default, which means everyone in the channel or direct message where you opened the canvas has access to it. So if your boss gave you an annoying project and you added it to your to-do list under a funny name, they’re going to know about it. But this is not all bad, as collaborative to-do lists can, for example, be really useful for keeping track of major team projects, with people adding and updating items in real time. 

Canvases can also become an interactive space, and each element on one can turn into a thread. On the desktop and web apps, just hover your mouse pointer over each item (if it’s a list) or paragraph and click the speech bubble icon that appears on the right to add a comment as you usually would. On mobile, tap an item on the canvas and then tap the speech bubble icon at the bottom of your screen to open up a thread. 

If you want to create a canvas only for you, you have two options. If you’re on a paid plan, you can scroll all the way to the top of the left sidebar (or the main interface in the mobile app) and click Canvases. There, you’ll be able to create as many canvases as you like, and they’ll all pop up as new windows (more on that in the next section). When you close them, you’ll find all your canvases saved and listed in this section of the app, and you’ll be able to share them with specific people if you want to—just click the Share button in the top right corner of the canvas. Standalone canvases also allow you to reduce the potential for chaos by making them read-only documents—if you’re the creator, just click the three dots in the top right corner of the canvas and choose Read only view. Keep in mind that this will prevent people you’ve shared the canvas with from editing the document, but not from opening threads within it. 

Free-tier users don’t have the ability to create unlimited standalone canvases, but they’ll still be able to create one for themselves using their user’s direct message function. If you don’t know about it already, this is literally a DM you have with yourself, which is an ideal place to save links, messages, and GIFs you want to go back to in the future. You’ll find it at the top of your DM list, and it works just like any other private chat with a friend or co-worker, so it also includes the Canvas option. 

How to open new windows on Slack

Also a recent feature debut, new Slack windows will allow you to have multiple conversations open on your display, which is incredibly useful if there are a number of threads you want to follow. 

To open entire channels or direct conversations in their own dedicated windows, just click on them while holding the Ctrl key (Windows) or the Cmd key (Mac). You can also right-click on the conversation and choose Open in new window

[Related: Slack’s new video tool is @here—and you might already be able to use it]

If you want to keep up with the replies to a specific post, you can open a thread and click the new window icon in the top right corner of the interface—it looks like a small square coming out of a bigger one. 

The new window feature is available for all Slack users and guests, but only in the desktop app. Another caveat: Maybe because opening up threads in new windows is now available, Slack no longer lets you keep threads open in the right-hand sidebar while you browse other channels. This is definitely a bummer if you’re not a fan of having multiple windows, or if your spacious display gives the main chat space enough screen real estate already.