Ask Ariely: On Management Methods, Dramatic Donations, and Online Offers

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’ve tried several techniques to be more organized and productive—to-do lists, time-management apps, keeping a journal. But switching between all these methods only makes things more confused. How do I figure out the best productivity system for me?

—Wesley 

Behavioral economists refer to this kind of overplanning as structured procrastination. Juggling productivity tools and platforms makes us feel we’re making progress, when in fact they’re just another way of distracting us from our work.
To avoid this, take an experimental approach: Pick one time-management method and use it exclusively for a month. When the month is up, ask yourself if you really need a different method or extra tool. By committing to a single method and giving it time to work, you’ll be able to find out which productivity tools suit your needs and which just waste your time.

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Dear Dan,

I’m an actor in a local theater company, and sometimes we perform at benefit events for nonprofits that only pay a small stipend. In those cases, I always donate the money back to the group. But recently I was in a benefit where the play was so popular that we gave a number of extra performances, and the fee I received was significant. This time I find myself resisting the idea of donating the money, even though I never expected to earn anything from the play. Why do I feel so reluctant and how can I overcome it?

—Carol 

We all enjoy the warm glow we get from being generous, but that feeling tends to diminish as the amount of money we give increases. Donating $500 doesn’t feel 10 times as good as donating $50, while the pain of giving up the larger sum is much more noticeable. The best way to avoid this problem is to commit to a donation policy in advance, rather than to evaluate each individual gift. For example, you could tell your theater’s manager that you want to donate all your stipends from benefit performances for the coming year and even ask for a certificate or receipt. That way you won’t feel tempted to change your mind each time.

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Hi, Dan.

I have a 12-year-old son, and when I looked at his social media accounts last week, I was shocked to see how many ads and solicitations he receives. I’ve already talked to my son about more serious internet dangers, but how can I teach him to resist the pressure to throw away money online?

—Sadaf 

Instead of telling your son how these solicitations conflict with your values as a parent, try pointing out how they conflict with his own values. A clever 2016 study by behavioral scientist Christopher Bryan and colleagues found that adolescents could be convinced to avoid unhealthy snacks by framing it as a way of standing up against the deceptive advertising practices of junk food companies. Similarly, asking your son to take a stand against manipulative online solicitations will help him feel that he’s striking a blow for his own independence rather than obeying a parental rule.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.