Stop doomscrolling and get back to work! Expert helps workers unplug

Roxana Popescu
The San Diego Union-Tribune (TNS)

Attention, phone scammers and telemarketers: About 50 people in San Diego are now better equipped to deal with you after they listened to a talk Wednesday given by Nicole Rawson, a digital wellness expert.

At the end of her presentation, Rawson guided people how to take out their iPhones, pull up the Settings menu, then navigate to a feature called "Silence unknown callers."

The focus of her talk wasn't financial scams and fraud, but a different kind of theft: Time burglars.

When that phone buzzes or rings and you weren't planning to take that call, "it's an opportunity to get hooked back into doing something you did not intend," Rawson said.

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At a lecture to the Rotary Club of Rancho Santa Fe, Rawson discussed how addictive digital design impacts developing brains and masterfully claims our attention. She named five common online compulsions (gaming, pornography, social media, shopping and excessive browsing). And she shared ways to minimize distraction and stop giving away minutes — and focus.

"Every time you open up an app, every time you play a game, every time you read a news article, your attention is being captured," she told the group. "That leads to decreased focus stamina, which is really troublesome."

Online compulsions: People surrounded her when she stepped away from the podium and shared their travails with invasive online media. One woman talked about heading to YouTube for a quick video and then being sucked in for hours. Others talked about trying to cut down on screen time for their kids.

Rawson sat down with the Union-Tribune after her lecture to chat about how online compulsions are toxic in the workplace and how employees can better protect their time. Cutting down on internet overuse — like doomscrolling, slaying at Candy Crush and impulse shopping — is really important, Rawson said. That's because screen addictions cut into productive work hours and damage people's ability to do deep, meaningful, focused work.

Digital wellness expert Nicole Rawson addresses the Rotary Club of Rancho Santa Fe, offering tips on how people can curb their screen time on their devices and thereby increase productivity. (Roxana Popescu/The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

During the pandemic, she added, the use of online gaming and pornography shot up, and those habits leak into work hours, whether or not someone works from home.

Strategies: Rawson shared three concrete strategies professionals can use to set limits around their social media and digital technology usage, so they can be more productive and have a better work-life balance.

Step one: Understand your habits.

"Most people do not check their own screentime on their personal devices, and that's where a lot of the consumption comes: on your personal phone. Unless you're watching Netflix or YouTube on your computer," Rawson said.

Step two: Cut back.

One way to cut back is to turn off notifications, which barge in throughout the day and clamor for attention. Another: Block off your online social or gaming time. Dedicate a set amount of time each day for social media, texting, checking up on the world.

"You set a timer, and after the 30 minutes you're on to the rest of your day," Rawson said.

Step three: Push back with your own intentional design.

"Make things more difficult to access," She said. "If … you're tempted to go to Amazon and do some shopping, or you want to go on social media, move those apps five screens over." Along the same lines: log out of online accounts so you have to log back in, instead of buying a pizza-cutter (or whatever impulse du jour) with one finger tap.