Skip to main content
power points

We all learn from our experiences. But learning from somebody else’s experiences can also be beneficial. So see what you can garner from journalist Stephanie Vozza’s attempt to avoid multitasking for a week and consultant Connor Swenson’s five-day dopamine fast.

Ms. Vozza had already taken steps toward providing focus in her life, such as enabling the setting on her phone and laptop that prevents texts or notifications from interrupting Zoom meetings and calls. But she was surprised at how much multitasking she was still doing. “For example, I quickly check social media if I’m struggling to write a story. I fold the laundry while watching television. I eat dinner while reading or watching a YouTube video. And I listen to podcasts while going for walks. These things seem harmless, right? But are they?” she writes in Fast Company.

She discovered they weren’t. She says she could taste her food better, for example, when she ate breakfast without checking e-mail and hear the birds when not listening to a podcast on her walks. “But it wasn’t easy. My mind wants to go to what’s next instead of what’s now,” she notes.

As she monotasked, she realized she had been constantly living with an undercurrent of feeling rushed – like a timer was operating in the background. In part that was because she was cramming things in, embracing distractions like Wordle when working. Moving the game to later in the day, after work, made more sense. One odd discovery was that pouring her next cup of coffee was essentially a form of multitasking – she was doing it mindlessly, not paying attention, consuming too much, and it led to headaches or a jittery feeling.

“By the end of the week, I felt calmer. I realized I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t need to feel busy and productive all day,” she writes. “Going forward, I’m striving for a happy medium, embracing multitasking for some things.”

Mr. Swenson, despite many years of practice and experimentation in creating a more mindful relationship with technology, found distractions constantly knocking on his door. “Wake up, check my phone. Brush my teeth, check my phone. All day, checking and scrolling and checking and scrolling. What is this life?” he asks in his Substack blog. “Part of me itches for entertainment, for information, for something other than what is happening right now.”

Anna Lembke, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of Dopamine Nation, recommends at least a 30-day fast to break free from the addiction. Mr. Swenson opted for a five-day fast with no TV, news, social media, articles or podcasts.

“It was painful. There is no getting around that. There were countless moments where I really craved a TV show, podcast or to scroll my Twitter feed,” he writes.

But the itch became far less noticeable after 48 hours. Indeed, he was surprised at how quickly the urge to consume faded to the background. It was still there, but much weaker. “I felt a lot more calm and peaceful. All week, I felt just a little bit more ease in the system. My mind felt a little slower. My energy more balanced. I think this is because consuming information all day at work, then consuming more in the breaks and the evenings, it can be easy to overload the system,” he says.

He’s more purposeful and balanced now in his consumption of the dopamine delights technology offers. “In a world of abundant access, I know I need to draw some lines in the sand in order to get the best of these technologies without them overwhelming me,” he says.

Quick hits

  • Always question your first assumptions, advises author Mark Manson.
  • To improve your e-mail marketing, avoid using “no Reply” in the sender’s e-mail address, suggests Pamela Vaughan, a marketing fellow at HubSpot. Recipients are more likely to open the messages if they feel a human wrote them. Also, stick to fewer than three typefaces. The more clutter you have, the fewer conversions.
  • Presentations coach Gary Genard recommends making your gestures during a talk come from your centre, and not the fringes. Like the strike zone in baseball, this “box” goes from shoulder to shoulder, and downward to your waist. No gestures should start outside of that area.
  • Gmail users can save time composing messages, tech writer Saikat Basu notes, by bookmarking this URL and clicking it. If you’re already logged in to your Google account but not necessarily in Gmail, a blank message pops up instantly.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He, along with Sheelagh Whittaker, former CEO of both EDS Canada and Cancom, are the authors of When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe