Ask Ariely: On Tee Time, Quick Quizzes, and Leisurely Lifestyles

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,

Many CEOs claim to use golf to informally “get things done.” How much are they really accomplishing on the links?

—Paul 

I used to believe in the popular notion that golfing is an important business tool, but a paper published last year in the journal Management Science changed my view. Lee Biggerstaff, David Cicero and Andy Puckett collected golfing records for more than 300 CEOs from S&P 1500 firms from 2008 to 2012 and found that the more golf a CEO played, the more a firm’s performance and value decreased. When CEOs played at least 22 rounds in a year, they found, the mean return on assets was more than 100 basis points lower than for firms whose CEOs played golf less frequently. I’m inclined to think that the idea of golf as a business tool is a self-serving tale that CEOs tell themselves and us to justify spending time and money at play.

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Dear Dan,

I am an economics professor, and many of my students don’t complete their readings before class. That makes class activities ineffective and meaningful discussions impossible. I have tried incentives and punishments related to their final grades, but these haven’t done much. Any suggestions for nudging my students along here?

—Amarendu

This is a challenge. You’re right to think about offering incentives, but they have to be fairly immediate. Waiting until the end of the semester isn’t going to work. Your goals include fostering a love of learning that will endure long after your class, which means that your nudges shouldn’t be perceived as penalties but as ways to help your students do their best.

I recommend the following approach, which I use in my own courses. On the first day of class, I ask, “How many of you hope to do all the reading for each session?” They all raise their hands. Next I ask, “But how many of you will probably—particularly toward the end of the semester—sometimes not be on top of the readings before each class?” Again, they all raise their hands.

Then I say, “OK. To help you achieve your goals, we’re going to have a quick quiz on the assigned reading at the beginning of each class. The quizzes should take three or four minutes and will make up 10% of your final grade. And to be clear, they’re designed to help you be the kind of student you want to be.” This has worked for me, and I hope you’ll find it effective with your students.

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Dear Dan,

Is this column the best use of your time? For that matter, how should one decide how best to use one’s time, especially leisure time?

—Paul 

The way we spend our time, much like the way we spend our money, is mostly a question of opportunity cost. If you spend an hour reading, that’s an hour that you can’t spend training for a marathon.

People vary somewhat in what makes them happy, but the longevity expert Dan Buettner has found some general lessons. His research shows that the world’s happiest people, in an average day, spend less than 30 minutes watching TV, devote just 30 to 60 minutes to social media, listen to music for at least two hours and get six to nine hours of sleep. They also volunteer two to four hours a week, practice relaxation techniques, take at least four weeks of vacation a year, read a book at least every other month, engage in sexual activity (the more, the merrier, Mr. Buettner says), and have close friends who are racially and ethnically diverse.

All that may be too much of a lifestyle change for you, but try picking a few of the elements that seem simplest to implement—and over time, try to take on more.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.