Dopamine in accelerated times

In this article I express my frustration with time management in the digital age, especially the excess of emails and the demand for immediacy that are affecting my work-life balance. Social networks and digital tools foster addiction and distraction. It is in our hands to put an end to this madness.

I can’t guarantee the impact, nor do I have any statistical studies to back me up, but don’t you feel we have a problem with time management?

I made a point of reading a lot about it. It is my method to understand my reality. Read books that allow me to understand different perspectives.

I feel that I have never had such a lack of control of my calendar (2024), nor of the flow of projects or work activities. Hence my great frustration.

All this generates a great imbalance between the personal and professional part. Also, I have a feeling that people go through life “irritated” or inflamed, I don’t know if that would be a better term.

People want everything yesterday, and they get desperate if things are not done quickly. I have the impression that speed and immediacy are more important than quality.

Mailboxes become, at least for me, a profound source of stress.

Eternal mails that although you try to keep under control to feel a psychological well-being of “tasks accomplished” in reality, are an unparalleled source of endless mails that occupy a very high percentage of your working time.

As Wizard Moore says, “I miss my children’s childhood to have the inbox at zero”.

A huge percentage of these emails could be avoided, but it is easy from an objective point of view (I do it too of course) to send an email that delegates in some way my responsibility for a future response.

The problem is that it comes back to you (sooner or later).

I have clients, projects and e-mails that could easily take me an hour and a half to two hours to answer due to the complexity of the subject matter.

Two hours, my madriña!

Depending on the type of people they are, if I receive an email, I get scared because I know what it implies. I realize that many of these emails can be simplified into calls as short as 5 minutes. I understand that there are people who prefer the other formula.

I have searched for endless methods of organization, for wonderful software tools designed to facilitate workflows.

I have read dozens of books on psychology, productivity, organization and 8 years since I am a freelancer, so I am responsible for my own organization and I still can’t find the right “key”.

I’ve had this obsession for a long time, as I realized, rereading an old post from 5 years ago: The Time Problem (2019).

After a lot of reading, searching and thinking, I think the simplest answer was: there is no solution.

Don’t fight, don’t resist. We have created an imperfect world and we don’t have to fight, we have to accept it.

But what does it mean to accept? What does it mean not to resist? Is it a form of self-indulgence? Is it resignation? No. It is simply understanding the factors that are under our control and those that are not.

“Acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation to what is happening. It simply means a clear recognition that what is happening, is happening.” Jon Kabat-Zinn (psychologist)

Cited in: Tal Ben-Shahar, “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

A little context

I am a great technologist in the philosophical sense of the term. I think technology is fantastic and can help us improve our society and our environment.

But it would also be naive not to realize that many monetization patterns of this Internet technology have been created based on brain functioning and dopamine production.

One of the biggest sources of dopamine comes from this digital world.

Dopamine is a neurochemical substance present in our brain that induces hyperstimulation.

This means that many of the social networks and tools we use in our day-to-day lives have been created by design to generate a certain addiction.

Chris Bailey‘s book, entitled: “How to calm your mind. Get serenity and productivity in times of anxiety” has a wonderful chapter dedicated to show us data (statistics) of this reality.

In addition to these factors, the “mentality of the more”, which is doing so much damage to our society.

“The more-is-more mentality can be defined as a set of attitudes that drive us to strive for more at all costs, regardless of the consequences, regardless of the context.”

Chris Bailey

As Bailey says, people never stop to think is it more the right variable to optimize our lives?

Think about it. I hadn’t given it any thought until I read that book.

As Bailey says, dopamine cultivates perpetual dissatisfaction.

“The human brain releases twice as much dopamine when there is a 50% chance of getting a reward than when there is a 100% chance. So it’s no wonder we check email so often.”

Chris Bailey

The stress produced by our cell phones and technological dependence is taking its toll on us in many areas.

I feel that part of society has realized this and is opting for an abandonment and a reconnection with manual things. Simpler things, given the anxiety and compulsive way we relate to technology.

Terms such as: digital minimalism, technological disconnection, etc., are beginning to flood our realities, as they reflect a latent need in our environment.

I notice a considerable increase in information that takes us back to nature. To connect with a human essence that society has lost along the way.

I love technology and the possibilities it creates from every point of view:

  • Convenience: in paperwork, travel, shopping.
  • Education: At the click of a mouse, we have all the knowledge of human society over the centuries.
  • Connectivity: We can follow our loved ones, connect in ways that were unthinkable two decades ago.
  • Organization: If you use them to your advantage, technologies can take away a lot of work because they are well designed to repeat processes. Loops as John Maeda points out in his book “How to speak machine” is at the basis of programming.
  • Clear the mind: It is an irony that nowadays they can generate so much stress, when in fact if we use it well, we can use technology to automate processes and free the mind from repetitive tasks that make no sense.

But these advantages come at a cost. And I am increasingly inclined to think that the problem lies in its abuse.

We do not evaluate whether the tool is really necessary.

We use the tools in an absurd way or we create a profile in all the networks because we “must” be.

But what do they really bring you?

As Cal Newport says in his excellent book, “Deep work:The 4 rules for success in the age of distraction”, “Deep work: The 4 rules for success in the age of distraction”.

“We have become accustomed to the mentality that any benefit is welcome. This is a strange and anachronistic way of looking at the selection of tools we use. The tools on the network are not exceptional, they are simply tools.”

Cal Newport

For me, Newport’s book is essential for anyone involved in the world of knowledge.

By reading it I have become aware of many negative and automatic patterns that I have in the way I evaluate and organize my work.

A simple example. I used to evaluate my work on the number of hours I put in per day. But as the author points out, knowledge work is not an assembly line.

This idea is a product of the industrialization that we have assumed a series of patterns in relation to work. I understand that some trades or professions may involve 7 or 8 hours of work per day.

But in the world of knowledge, working that number of hours in a really intensive way is madness, because attention is a commodity we have lost.

I love when I achieve that “flow” in my day, that moment of maximum concentration that makes me completely forget about time.

But the continual distractions upset us and generate a mentality distracted from the relevant things. In the world of knowledge (and our digital sector is), we spend an inordinate amount of time communicating with other people: Slack, Discord, mails, chats of any kind, collaboration tools, etc.

Is it really necessary? Have you thought about it? Have you analyzed how much of your workday is spent doing superficial communication tasks with clients or other professionals?

It’s unbelievable… but believe me, I’ve counted it and well over 60% of the number of working hours of the month I’ve spent on these tasks that report almost nothing to my clients, beyond feeling listened to or responded to promptly.

It’s amazing. And be careful, I know that an email answered on time generates tranquility, confidence and a series of positive aspects that increase your value as a professional.

But we have reached a point of absolute madness. Or at least that is my impression.

Something similar happened to me when I compared myself years ago with other professionals. A very negative practice indeed.

I felt terrible for not posting on my blog as often, for not writing a review of all the WordCamps I went to, for not sending more frequent mailings to my database.

A marketing trend was created to publish very frequently all the time, again and again and again. All with the objective of being present all the time. From being. But I can understand this frequency for certain professionals and/or companies, not for everyone.

For my character that frequency implies a loss of quality. Just because you post a lot doesn’t mean you have good quality in what you do, it simply means you talk a lot.

I valued (and still value) much more content that involved weeks of work and research, and although I did not have the visibility of other profiles, I considered that it flowed better that way because it was and is consistent with my values and ways of working.

“I am slow but sure,” as a good friend says. I need to calmly review the data and not act frantically (depending on the type of tasks, of course).

I appreciate the quality of a good book for what it implies.

I know that to write a book you must document yourself well, clarify your ideas, justify your positions, and know how to take the readers to the author’s point of view. It’s not the same as a freaking tweet or post on Instagram.

Therefore, I understand this frantic marketinian stance for those of you who are like that. But there’s no way I can apply it to my work because it would clash head-on with the way I am.

FUCKING mails

As I said at the beginning of the post, one of the biggest sources of stress in my current job is email.

I am still unable to find a successful formula that allows me to better manage this basic communication tool.

As Newport says:

“Emails offer a permanent stream of distraction and we have begun to lose the sense that we can question their role in our lives.”

Cal Newport

The problem is the social convention that if someone writes to you, a reply is expected, so any mailbox is a bloody source of obligations.

I’ve opted for Tim Ferris‘ position, when he points out that you have to develop the habit of allowing little bad things to happen, because if you don’t, you’ll never have time for the big things that change lives.

I know that I have a lot of emails waiting for a response, but if I dedicate myself entirely to respond to all the people, I will need to dedicate myself exclusively to it and forget my tasks for which they hire me, which is to do the SEO of their websites.

Therefore, I am leaving on lists trying to respond as I have completed tasks.

I’m thinking of creating an automatic reply to make it clear that I won’t be able to respond in time, and that’s it.

Accepting that although e-mail is a wonderful communication protocol of our digital era, it is at the same time a system full of flaws due to the misuse we make of it.

If you are reading this post thinking that I will give you the key to maximum productivity or a novel way to view time, manage your tray or to-do list, I am sorry to frustrate your expectations. 😉

My involvement with the projects I work with is very high. That generates an incredible source of stress for me, understanding that these people expect answers in a reasonable time.

The irony is that those answers take me away from what is really important. That’s why I will start to move on from the myth of the zero inbox, I’m too old to believe in Santa Claus.

I understand that by delegating tasks you can afford this chimera. I hope to achieve this at some point.

It is already a challenge to delegate SEO projects with my collaborators to be able to effectively delegate my tray. If I succeed, I will update the content of this post in the future. 😇

At the moment I only use this article to reflect, to free myself from tensions and stress, to clarify my ideas and to put as a tagline in my signature and automatic email reply where I will say:

“You do not need to reply to this message, nor send me another follow-up communication” (Newport’s sentence). If I don’t answer you fast it’s because I’m dedicated to improve your website as you deserve 🙏. Patience and please free yourself from the dopamine bondage of today’s world. Read my post on time management.

Live long and prosper!

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