How does the need for dopamine hits kill our productivity?

Cindy JobsADHD In The Workplace, Health and Well-Being, Productivity

In today’s hyper-connected world, staying productive has become an arduous task. One of the culprits? Dopamine, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter, is often deployed by social media and email platforms to keep us hooked. 

The Dopamine Connection

Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter central to motivation, pleasure, and reward. It’s our brain’s way of reinforcing behaviors that feel good, encouraging us to repeat them. When it comes to social media, email, and Instant Messaging, these platforms have harnessed the dopamine system to create addictive experiences.

Social Media: The Endless Scroll

Scrolling through your Social Media feed is like a never-ending dopamine rollercoaster. Each time you see a new post, receive likes, or get comments on your content, your brain releases dopamine. This positive reinforcement makes you want to keep scrolling, seeking that next hit of pleasure. Before you know it, hours have passed, and your productivity has plummeted.

Email: The Inbox Ping

The familiar ding of an incoming email can be irresistible. It’s a tiny rush of anticipation and curiosity powered by dopamine. We’re wired to check our inboxes when we hear that sound, even if we’re in the middle of an important task. The constant email notifications interrupt our focus, preventing us from staying in the zone and getting things done.

Instant Messaging: The Need to be Needed Right Now

Much like email, Instant Messaging can create the opportunity for dopamine hits, create distractions, and direct our focus elsewhere. If someone sends us an Instant Message, it must be critical, right? Probably not.

The Dopamine Cycle

The insidious thing about dopamine-driven productivity killers is the cycle they create:

  1. Trigger: The trigger is the notification, the buzz of a new email, or the allure of the social media app icon.
  2. Anticipation: Dopamine surges as your brain anticipates the reward or information waiting for you.
  3. Reward: Opening the email or scrolling through your social media feed provides a small reward, releasing even more dopamine.
  4. Repeat: The cycle continues as you seek out more triggers, anticipate rewards, and receive small dopamine hits.

This loop effectively keeps us engaged with these platforms but is disastrous for our productivity.

Escaping the Dopamine Trap: Understanding the connection between dopamine and productivity killers is the first step towards breaking free from their grip. Here are some strategies to help you regain control:

Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries for when and how you engage with email and Social Media. Designate specific times for checking emails and limit your Social Media use to particular times of day. By controlling access, you reduce the constant dopamine-triggering interruptions.

Turn Off Notifications: Disable non-essential notifications on your devices. This minimizes the number of triggers that lure you into the dopamine trap. In a focused work session, silence your phone and mute email notifications.

Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques can help you become more aware of and better manage your impulses. When you feel the urge to check your email or social media, take a moment to breathe deeply and refocus on your current task. I’m a big fan of Headspace for helping me stay present.

Use Productivity Tools: Utilize productivity apps and tools that help you stay on track. Time management apps, website blockers, and task lists can all be valuable allies in reducing the impact of productivity-killing dopamine triggers.

Reward-Based Goals:  Channel the power of dopamine into your work by setting up a reward-based system. Break your tasks into smaller milestones and reward yourself when you achieve them. This creates a healthy dopamine response associated with productivity.

Design a Productive Environment: Create a workspace that minimizes distractions. Clear your desk of unnecessary items, organize your digital workspace, and use noise-cancelling headphones to drown out background noise.

Seek Support: Discuss your goals with friends, family, or colleagues. Someone holding you accountable can be a powerful motivator to avoid the dopamine traps of email and Social Media.

Understanding the connection between the dopamine trap and productivity killers like Social Media, email, and Instant Messaging is essential for anyone looking to boost their productivity in today’s digital age. By recognizing the dopamine cycle and implementing strategies to regain control, you can break free from the addictive grip of these platforms and unlock your true productivity potential. So, take charge of your dopamine and watch your productivity soar.


Cindy Jobs, PCAC, PCC

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