How to supercharge Slack with ‘action’ apps

Step up your Slack game by integrating third-party apps like Asana, Zapier, and Todoist. We show you how.

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Toa55 / Getty Images / Slack

If your office uses Slack on a daily basis, you know how easy it is to lose a good idea in a long list of scrolling messages — or in multiple channels. A simple way to reduce the clutter is by integrating third-party Slack apps that allow you to immediately convert chat messages into assignable tasks or other workflow elements. We’ll show you how to do just that.

By default, any user can add any app to the Slack workspace, unless an administrator has restricted access to certain apps or required admin permission to install any app. Admins can also preapprove a list of apps that can be installed in the workspace.

If your workspace has been locked down by the admins (and you’re not one of them), you’ll need to ask them to add the apps. Just follow along with the instructions here; we’ve noted the point at which you’ll submit the request to the administrators.

Once an app has been added to a workspace, each individual user in the workspace has to install it in order to use it — there’s no way for an admin to install the integrations for everyone in the workspace.

Before we begin, a word of warning: All third-party apps ask for some permissions in Slack, such as access to messages in private or public channels. Some apps ask for a great number of permissions. Before you install any app, be sure the permissions it requires don’t run afoul of your organization’s privacy policies.

For this walkthrough, we’ve focused on apps that use “actions,” Slack’s term for apps that can trigger an event right from the Actions menu of any message, rather than requiring users to type in a command. Some examples of actions include creating a ticket in bug-tracking software like Jira, or saving a web link to a bookmarking app such as Pocket to read later. Add these apps in Slack, click a button, and you’re set. 

Here we’ll demonstrate two examples of apps with Slack actions that can speed up your workday. The first is from the team-based project management software Asana, and we’ll use it to convert a Slack message to a task in that platform. In the second example, we’ll integrate the automation software Zapier and use it to create a new to-do list item in the app Todoist from a Slack message. Let’s get started.

Integrating Asana with Slack

Slack conversations tend to be heavy on idea generation and light on assigning the related work that comes out of those discussions. Tying a project management app like Trello or Asana into Slack creates a logical next step as your team hashes out ideas and problems in your channels.

The Asana app in Slack allows you to, with a click or tap, quickly turn a conversation into a new task, edit an existing task, or associate a message with a task, right at the moment you’re discussing it.  

To integrate Asana into Slack, you’ll, of course, need an Asana account. For this demo, a Basic account will do. It’s free for personal use and small groups. Asana offers more robust plans for larger teams and organizations. 

You can actually sign up for an account during the installation, but with this app and others, it’s much easier to first head to the app vendor’s website, view the plan types and register. Installing the app is quick work once your account is set up. 

From the Slack app directory, under “Essential Apps,” choose Asana. (You can also find it under the Productivity category at left or use the search bar to call it up.) 

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(Click any image in this story to enlarge it.)

A brief description of Asana appears on the Slack site. Click the Install button on the left.

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Review the permissions Asana is requesting and click Continue.

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If you’re not an administrator for the workspace, you may see a Submit Request button instead. There’s also a space where you can type a note to your admins explaining why you want to add the app to Slack.

Then you’ll be asked which channels you want to associate the app with — or just leave the default to set it up with all channels your team uses. Click Install.

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When you open Slack, you’ll see Asana in the left pane. Click it, and it prompts you to allow Asana to send alerts for tasks you’re assigned to or following. Click Turn On

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From now on you can right-click a comment in any channel in your Slack workspace, and you’ll see two Asana options in the context menu that pops up: Create a task and Add as task comment. You’d choose Add as task comment if you want to add a note to an existing task —to explain why you’re assigning someone the task, for example, or add some context. To start a new task, choose Create a task

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A new dialog screen appears in Slack. Here you can name the task, assign it to someone, and choose the related project. You can also set a due date. Note that the description fills in automatically from the Slack comment you started with. When you’ve filled out the screen, click the Create button.

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Slack will then send a notification (visible only to you) asking whether you want to announce the new task to the channel or choose “Not now.”

If someone assigns a task to you, a notification appears in the Slack channel. You can also edit the task without leaving Slack. Click More Actions, and a menu appears where you can mark the task complete, “like” the task, change who it’s assigned to, edit the due date, or associate the task with an existing project.

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If you want to open the task in Asana, to add more details or attach a file, for example, click the View task in Asana button. Here’s how the new task appears on the Asana web site: 

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Now you know how to add apps directly into Slack. You can browse or search Slack’s app directory for more apps to integrate.

Next we’ll go over how to use a powerful automation app to connect Slack to even more apps and services.

Integrating Zapier and Todoist with Slack

Zapier, like competitors IFTTT and Microsoft Flow, lets you easily automate repetitive tasks based on events, called triggers. In the case of Slack, a trigger could be a direct mention, or when a new message is posted to a certain channel, or when a new person enters the channel, among other possible events. You can create your own automations based on triggers in Zapier, or use pre-written, shareable scripts called “zaps.” 

Zapier is essentially a connector app — it allows you to automate connections between two other apps. Using the Zapier Slack app, you can connect Slack to hundreds of other apps and services, from spreadsheets to social media to project management tools. Here are some of the things you can do directly from Slack with pre-written zaps: Send an email from any email client that will then post a Slack message, automatically scan Twitter for mentions of your company and then post those tweets to a Slack channel, or take a starred Slack message and convert it to a task in the to-do list app Todoist.

We’ll demonstrate that last example here. With the Todoist integration, you’ll be using automation to add items to your own personal to-do list, not a group project. For example, if your manager asks someone to pull the latest traffic figures for your website, you can star that message, and it will be added to your own personal to-do list and not lost in a scrolling list of messages.

If you don’t already have them, you can set up a free Zapier account here and a Todoist account here. You can log in with a Google or Facebook account, or set up a login and password with your work email. Again, you can set up these accounts when you add the app to Slack, but it’s a smoother process if you create the related accounts first on their respective websites. You’ll also get a better sense of their subscription options and pricing. (See plans for Zapier and Todoist.)

Zapier offers more than 100 ways to integrate Slack and Todoist. To get started, make sure you’re signed into Zapier, then go to Zapier’s Slack + Todoist Integrations page.

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You could click the Connect Slack + Todoist button near the top; if you do, you’ll be taken to a page where you can select the trigger event (a new starred message in Slack) and the action (creating a new Todoist task).

A quicker way is to use Zapier’s “Add new starred Slack messages to Todoist as tasks” zap; it’s the first item in the “Popular Ways to Connect Slack + Todoist” list on the Slack and Todoist integrations page. Click the Try It button.

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In the screen that appears, Zapier will begin stepping you through the process to turn starred messages into tasks. You’ll see your Slack account and your Todoist account. (If you’re not an administrator for your workspace, you might need to send them a request at this point.) At the bottom right of the page, click the Turn on Zap button.

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Zapier should show a confirmation message that your new zap is on and working.

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Head to Slack and select any message, then click to star it. 

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Head over to Todoist and see your starred message as an action item. 

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That’s just one of the Slack/Todoist integrations that Zapier can automate. You can also have it send direct messages to team members in Slack when a task is marked complete in Todoist, add a task in Todoist whenever a particular word or username is mentioned Slack, add new team members to Todoist projects when they join Slack, and much more. Just head back to Zapier’s Slack + Todoist Integrations page and choose from the popular integrations list or scroll down and select from the triggers and actions on offer.

And the Todoist integrations are just the tip of the iceberg. Now that you’ve got Slack and Zapier connected, you can find integrations for more than 1,500 apps at Zapier’s Slack Integrations page. Just search for the app you want to connect Slack to and get integrating.

Read this next: 8 highly useful Slack bots for teams

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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