Work Dopamine vs. Deep Work

Chris J Terrell
3 min readJul 7, 2022


Before I begin, getting into “Deep Work” is something I strive for and struggle to produce consistently. It is simply hard to manufacture. But, on the other hand, I know Dopamine very well, and I habitually chase the dopamine hit, and after chasing the high, I wonder why I am not satisfied.


What is “Dopamine?” Dopamine is the feel-good chemical in our brain. Dopamine in and of itself is not bad and is essential to have. Increasing Dopamine via healthy activities and food can lead to more satisfaction. So what is the problem? Most of us have become addicted to seeking a “Dopamine Hit” in unhealthy areas. One significant way we get a “Dopamine Hit” is through technology. Our technology is constantly saying, “Look at me.” Our devices have tricked our brains into thinking they provide essential information when we are only being duped by clickbait. We are becoming “Click Bate” junkies. This week started tracking the number of times I unlocked my phone (49 yesterday) and the number of notifications (367 yesterday). These two numbers are crazy, and these are only distractions from one of my devices.

Deep Work Happens While in Flow

How do you get into Deep Work? The key is to enter Flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi popularized this concept in his seminal book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” His theory states that we are happiest when we are in deep concentration and absorption of a task or job. You are in a state when you forget the time or work extra hours, not caring because the task is fascinating. There are a couple of critical elements required to get into these states. First, the challenge has stretch but is not too difficult. The goal is clear, immediate feedback and solved in your way. Writing those words took me back to when I made bridges out of popsicle sticks and CO2 cars in Junior High and High School.

How to Get More Flow and Satisfaction at Work

There are two significant hurdles to jump over to get to more “Deep Work.” First, in psychology, there is a phenomenon called the “Mere-exposure effect,” which states that people tend to develop a preference for things they are familiar with. There is also a mental process called a “Fluency Heuristic,” which states that the brain infers that any objects that are more easily processed, understood faster, or grasped easier have a higher value. These two processes have served us well throughout human history, but they may not serve us well as Knowledge Workers,

The overwhelm that comes with a barrage of emails, instant messages, meetings, and text messages that bombard our attention daily has become familiar (mere exposure). We don’t ask if our daily activities are helping or hurting. So not only are we expecting the overwhelming tsunami, but answering emails and instant messages are easier (Fluency Heuristic) than the real Knowledge Work. It is a crazy cycle that we all get stuck in. So how do you get out?

7 Ways to Dig into Deep Work

  • Pay attention to what you consider productive work. Do more productive work and less unproductive work.
  • Find a project that will stretch you and that you can fully own.
  • Make sure you define what complete is and have explicit goals.
  • Build in a project feedback loop. Run your work by your peers.
  • Time block time to work on this project for 15 to 20 minutes of intense work. It is a way to trick your brain into getting accustomed to short bursts of work. Try the Marinara Pomodoro Chrome Extension. It is AWESOME — here.
  • Once you are ready to work your blocked time, close all non-essential software and apps. It will make your entry to Deep Work simpler and more repeatable.
  • When done with the time block, make sure the next work task is defined, exciting, and unfinished. This technique is a classic writing hack and is perfect for knowledge workers.

I would love to say I have mastered “Deep Work,” but I am far from it. It is a process, and hopefully, I am better than I once was and not as good as I can be — best of luck.