Honey, I Love You. Didn’t You See My Slack About It?

Honey, I Love You. Didn’t You See My Slack About It?

By Oghale May12,2024

Ben Lang didn’t expect to get so much hate just for being organized. For the past three years, he and his wife, Karen-Lynn Amouyal, have been using Notion, a popular software tool, to optimize their household and relationship. His version of the tool, commonly used by businesses to manage complex projects, functions like a souped-up Google Doc, with sections for a grocery list, to-do lists and details of upcoming trips.

More unusual is a section Mr. Lang, a venture capital investor who previously worked at Notion, created about principles (“what’s important to us as a couple”). Another section, called “Learnings,” outlines things the couple have discovered about each other, such as their love languages and Myers-Briggs test results. There’s a list of friends they want to set up on dates. They also maintain a log of memories from their date nights. Mr. Lang, 30, was so proud of the creation that last month, he started promoting a template of the setup to others. “My wife and I use Notion religiously to manage our day-to-day life,” he wrote on X. “I turned this into a template, let me know if you’d like to see it!”

The internet responded with a venomous outrage. “People have told me my wife is cheating on me, people have told me I have a dead body in my basement, people have told me I’m autistic,” he said.

But his approach isn’t entirely unusual, especially among people who work in the tech industry and want to manage their personal lives the same way they manage their professional lives. For a class of young workers, it’s only rational to apply the tools of the corporate world to their relationships and families. Businesses have goals and systems for achieving them, the thinking goes. They get things done.

Anastasia Alt, 35, uses Kanban boards — a visual tracking system where tasks progress from left to right — in Trello, a project management tool, for “literally everything.” This includes work at Yana Sleep, her e-commerce start-up, but also planning trips and events with her partner. The two of them also have a dedicated Slack work space, named after a mash-up of their surnames with a logo created using the artificial intelligence software Midjourney. She acknowledged, in jest, that some of her systems were “a little psychopathic,” but said she’s always been an optimizer.

Ms. Alt said the Slack work space has emotional benefits for her relationship, too: freeing up their text messages and in-person conversations for the fun stuff.

“I’m glad, when the workday is over, that I don’t need to address 20 minutes’ worth of semi-urgent logistical items before diving into eating takeout food and hanging out with our dogs,” she said. “Sitting in person and hashing out a schedule together is less high-quality time than sitting in person and, you know, telling jokes.”

A #gratitude channel, where the couple posts messages of appreciation or acknowledgment of what the other person is doing, has become a repository of memories she likes to look back on, almost like a photo album, she said.

Relationships are work, but no one wants to admit it.

But this particular flavor of life hacking often causes observers to collectively recoil. It threatens to take the romance and spontaneity out of life, in their view. It feels cold.

“There is a phenomenon whereby the more you try to manage your life, the more you risk squeezing the vibrancy out of it,” said Oliver Burkeman, author of “Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals.”

And yet, the crushing overwhelm of modern life, with daily to-do lists and schedules and notifications and digital logistics can feel so never-ending that any solution offering to optimize even the tiniest task — or most meaningful relationship — looks like a lifeline worth grasping for.

Emily Oster, a parenting expert and economist, rose to popularity by promoting a data-based approach to managing pregnancy, including in her latest book “The Unexpected.” She also wrote a book in 2021 called “The Family Firm,” which advises using a “business process” to make family decisions about, for instance, extracurriculars or getting your kid a phone. Some critics have attacked her approach for the same reasons they recoil from a Notion template for married couples — it can feel detached.

Dr. Oster said the problem is not systems like hers — it’s not having difficult conversations about priorities and principles. Her spreadsheets and other tools are designed to set people up for the lives they want, she said.

“Surfacing conflict on purpose is something we don’t generally like to do,” she said. “It’s hard to do at work, also, but it’s even harder to do with someone you want go to sleep with at night.”

Dr. Oster said the lesson she takes from the business world to her personal life is to make thoughtful, deliberate decisions. “I don’t think there is a limit to how far you can take that,” she said.

She’s not alone in that thinking. Even amid the backlash to Mr. Lang’s template, more than 2,400 people liked it enough to download a copy, with an option to pay up to $25.

Claire Kart, 40, was among those who bought the template, in part, she said, because she was amused by all the jokes about it. But also, with two kids under the age of 3, the allure of a better, more productive, more organized way of life at home was irresistible.

Ms. Kart, a marketing executive at a cryptocurrency start-up, already has some optimization systems in place with her husband, a start-up founder. They use Google’s Keep app for a shared grocery list and Google calendars to manage their schedule. She has elaborately color-coded Google Sheets for Christmas gifts and vacation planning. (She calls herself the family’s chief creative officer, as well as chief investment officer. Her husband is the chief financial officer and chief technology officer.)

Ms. Kart said systems like hers were necessary for splitting up household management duties. One person can keep everything in their head, she said, but “dividing and co-owning that work” leads to “coordination friction.”

Like Ms. Alt, she believes the systems free up their limited in-person time for more meaningful conversations. “Using that really rare time to talk about a grocery list feels lonely,” she said.

Since her second child was born a little over a year ago, Ms. Kart and her husband have been “cutting scope,” she said, using a project management phrase for doing less. “We’re in survival mode,” she said. “Just cooking dinner feels like a win.”

Mr. Lang’s template could help, she said. The only problem so far? She’s been too busy to set it up.

A smaller subset of people have always used tech tools in their personal lives, but the practice has spread in recent years. Mei Lin Ng, the co-founder of the family tech start-up, Hearth, said that one reason past attempts to create technology for the family have failed was that consumers weren’t as open to it. Her company’s product, a 27-inch screen that families can mount in their homes to display schedules, assign chores and help kids with morning and bedtime routines that became available last year, is being adopted by digitally native millennials.

“Consumers are really, really ready for something like this,” she said. “They are craving a solution.”

After Ms. Alt told her friend and fellow optimizer, Ryan Matzner, about her couples’ Slack, he immediately started his own. It was a bit of an uphill battle to get his fiancée, Kate McKenzie, on board — she is a medical school student and preferred analog tools like a paper planner — but they’re now using Trello, Slack and a shared Google calendar to plan their wedding.

Mr. Matzner, 39, co-founder of a product development agency called Fueled, realized that he had been avoiding responding to text messages from Ms. McKenzie because their thread had turned into a to-do list full of tasks.

So they dumped all their administrative tasks into Slack, which has expanded beyond wedding planning into regular life with more than 40 channels including #house-parties, #travel and #ludwig-the-car.

Being hyper-organized and efficient is a natural outgrowth of having a very active work and social life, Mr. Matzner said. He sends calendar invites the minute he makes plans and saves new friends into his contacts with their city — searchable anytime he’s in town — as well as a note if they’d be fun to invite to a dinner party. He wishes someone would build a “personal C.R.M.” (customer relationship management, the kind of system sold by companies like Salesforce), since none of the options he’s tried are entirely satisfying.

Being the organized person in a relationship can lead to friction. Kate Reznykova, 27, a venture capital investor, used to frequently field random queries like, “How do we log into our internet?” from her partner throughout the day, which tested her patience. She recently started using Mr. Lang’s Notion template to establish a “shared source of truth” for such questions. “If I get a text, I say, ‘Go to the page, it’s all there,’” she said.

Mr. Lang was amused by the attention his template got online. There were memes about divorce rates spiking in San Francisco, about “offboarding” one’s wife and about requiring your partner to submit a “purchase order approval form” to spend money. He posted his own joke version, with quarterly objectives and annual reviews for relationships.

He and Ms. Amouyal used Notion to plan their wedding — a life event that, anecdotally, seems to turn many couples into project managers — and decided to keep it going after their honeymoon. The most hated part of his template, the date night log, was simply a way to follow all the marriage advice he kept hearing, he said. Everyone told him how important it was to keep the connection strong as life gets busier and more complicated. Why not create a journal of all the fun things they’ve done together? The outsized reaction was a surprise.

“I thought a few people would respond and think it’s cute,” he said.

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By Oghale

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