Ask Ariely: On Snooze Strategy, Better Bottles, and Productive Procrastination

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 having trouble waking up in the morning. I set my alarm clock, but I always wind up hitting the snooze button or turning it off completely. Any advice? If I want to wake up at 7 a.m., what time should I set my alarm for, and how many times should I hit snooze?

—Phillip 

Set your alarm for exactly the time you need to get up. Since you want to start your day at 7, you may be tempted to set the alarm a bit early (let’s say 6:40) and hit snooze a few times until it is 7 or maybe even 7:15. But if you pick this snooze strategy, your body can’t learn the conditioned response between hearing the alarm and getting up.

In general, our bodies do better when they can get used to a single clear rule: Get out of bed the moment the alarm sounds. When we play with the snooze button, our bodies get a confused message: Sometimes we hear the beeping and get up, sometimes we hear it and stay put for 10 more minutes, sometimes we lie there for another 20 minutes, and so on.

So just bite the bullet and get out of bed when the alarm tells you to. Do this faithfully for a few months, and the conditioning should start to kick in. It won’t be fun in the beginning, but over time, it should pay off. Good luck.

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Dear Dan,

When I’m out for dinner, I occasionally encounter a wine so special that I buy a case of it to drink at home. But the subsequent bottles never taste as appealing as the initial one, so I wind up not only regretting the purchase of additional wine but also spoiling some of the wonderful memories of my night at the restaurant.

So why can’t I enjoy the same wine as much at home? Is there something special about the way the restaurant handles the wine or the glow of the original occasion?

—Eugene 

After an excellent dinner out, we might remember the wine as impeccable. But we probably won’t realize that part of our enjoyment of the wine flowed from the flickering candles, the beautiful music, the tasty food and the charming company. At home, the same wine is just the wine, without the halo effect, and it isn’t the same experience. Psychologists call this phenomenon the “misattribution of emotions”: We assume that the source of our enjoyment is one thing when it is really another.

It’s almost never possible to revisit special experiences. The place where you spent your honeymoon, for example, probably won’t make a good family vacation spot: A few days of chasing the kids and trying to eke out a few hours of sleep will certainly taint (if not erase) the original memory.

Next time, enjoy the wine, commit the whole experience to memory, don’t try to relive it, and look forward to new experiences.

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Dear Dan,

I recently started using a smartphone app to manage my to-do list, and I’m really enjoying it. Every night, I take some time to make my to-do list; every morning, I go over it; and as I tackle different tasks throughout the day, I check them off my list. I feel not only more organized but more productive. Is there good documentation about an increase in productivity from to-do lists?

—Lev 

You might be experiencing some increase in real productivity, but my guess is that you are mostly experiencing “structured procrastination.” That is the feeling of productivity that we get from making lists and crossing things off them—which spurs us to spend time on things that make us feel productive rather than on being productive. I am not recommending that you stop using this app, but I hope that you will measure your productivity based on what you’re getting done in your real-life projects, not on racking up checkmarks.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.