Ask Ariely: On Allowances for Appearance, Desirable Drafts, and Too Many Tasks

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a young woman who works at a Fortune 500 company, and I feel pressure at work to dress up. Between hair, makeup and a different, interesting outfit every day, I’d estimate that the extra effort takes about an hour a day and costs more than 10% of my income. So shouldn’t women be allowed to come to work an hour later than men and get paid 10% more?

—Maria 

You’re quite right that the different standards we have for men and women in the workplace create lots of inequalities that, as a society, we need to fix. But your modest proposal is inherently flawed. If we followed it to its next logical steps, we would give raises to people with strong body odor who need to spend more time in the shower. Would we make bald men work longer because they don’t need to spend time washing their hair? And what about women who worry less or more about their attractiveness? Would your “dressing-up allowance” of time and money be provided only to those who focus on such things? You are basically proposing that we overcome sexism with reverse discrimination, which usually creates new and sometimes more complex problems.
Still, even if we agree to disagree over whether women as a class should make more than men, I hope we can agree that equal pay for equal work would be a key step forward.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a college professor, and every year, I have a few wonderful students who work and work on their papers to make them better and better. They almost always miss their deadlines and get penalized. What can I do to get them to be less perfectionistic and more punctual?

—Howard 

Perfectionists don’t have it easy. They feel so bad about submitting subpar work (and of course, nothing is ever perfect) that they are willing to pay all kinds of costs in their struggle for perfection—including being late and getting lower grades.
To overcome the perfectionists’ problem, what if you asked your students to write their papers using Google Docs and to share their drafts with you? You would then have access to their work every step of the way, and the students—including the perfectionists—would know that you’ve been exposed to various versions of their less-than-perfect paper.
Alternatively, you could ask your students to submit their first drafts by the middle of the semester. You could explain that you expect these papers to be half-baked and encourage them to keep on improving their drafts by handing you an updated version every week. This approach would also make the students submit an imperfect paper, and once they did, they might be more relaxed moving forward.

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Dear Dan,

Children today are continuously exposed to multimedia on their cellphones and other devices. At a sporting event a few weeks ago, I saw some kids who were watching the live game in front of them while also playing a videogame on their phones. I’m amazed by such versatility. Are they more able to handle multiple tasks at the same time than us dinosaurs?

—Rob 

Kids these days certainly do a lot simultaneously, and they certainly think that they can handle multiple tasks—but they have the same limited attention span as the rest of us. The sad outcome of their overconfidence in their multitasking capacities is that they listen to a lecture while scrolling through Facebook, play a videogame while watching a movie and text while having a family dinner—and don’t really benefit from any of these activities.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.