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Why your snooze button is evil

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY Whenever people ask me how to spend their time better, I suggest they keep track of it. Much as a dieter should keep a food journal, knowing how you spend your time is the first step to making any desired changes.

Sometimes, people actually take me up on that advice. A little less than a year ago, Jen Dziura, who writes the "Bullish" column for fashion and shopping website The Gloss and workplace site The Grindstone, posted her time log online. In general, it showed a good amount of work and fun. And in the cringe-worthy department? She spent 3.25 hours per week spent hitting the snooze button. "What a miserable way to live, sleeping in ten-minute increments," she noted.

I agree. Anywhere you've got a developed economy with electricity and cultural norms of punctuality, work day mornings tend to feature millions of people waking up to an unpleasant noise, then hitting a button, rolling over, and 8-10 minutes later, waking up to the same unpleasant noise again.

This is madness. But not because I'm worried about widespread laziness. The reason I dislike the snooze button is that it represents a pernicious self-deception about how you plan to spend your mornings. There is nothing wrong with sleeping. Sleep is wonderful. If you'd like to spend your mornings sleeping, why not set the alarm for the time you actually intend to get out of bed? Your body would probably prefer 27 minutes of uninterrupted sleep to three 9-minute segments of snooze-button time.

Instead, the snooze button is a weapon in the battle between the selves we'd like to be and the selves we actually are. Research into the science of willpower finds that we wake up with a robust supply of self-discipline that is then depleted by decision-making during the day (see my related post, Can You Learn Willpower?). The snooze button turns the simple act of getting out of bed into a willpower-sapping episode of trench warfare. I'll give you 9 minutes if you promise not to take so long in the shower. I'll give you 9 more minutes if you don't eat breakfast. Eventually, your ability to invest that willpower in meaningful tasks later on is shot.

Best to skip this battle and treat getting out of bed when the alarm rings as a habit akin to brushing your teeth. Most of us don't stand there in front of the sink every morning, arguing over whether we feel like brushing, whether anyone will notice our clean teeth, whether the sensation of toothbrush bristles sliding around one's mouth is particularly pleasant. It's just a habit.

Getting out of bed should be the same way. If you have to hit snooze, keep track of how many times you typically hit that button and set the alarm accordingly the next night. Your body will thank you. And even with the shortened time to get ready and out the door, you're likely to have a much more productive day.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user mettamatt
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