Cognitive psychologist Dan Ariely is one of my favorite decision scientists, and he’s recently taken an interest in time management—one of the most challenging decision-making issues we all face each day.
So I was delighted to see that he did an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) on the social network Reddit recently.
Here are my favorite quotes from his responses to the dozens of questions he received, mostly about time management but also venturing into statistics, decision-making, and behavior change:
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Emotions are nature’s way of executing a command. Imagine you’re in the jungle and you see a tiger. What nature wants you to do is run as fast as possible without thinking. And emotions have evolved as a way of getting us to behave in specific ways, even if not perfect or rational. #
I think that looking constantly at other couples and other people and comparing yourself to them is certainly not a good way to find happiness. It is a way to maximize counterfactual thinking (thinking about what could have been). #
The world has a lot of “randomness”, and to make good decisions we have to understand the nature of Probability and Randomness. #
Your “productive hours” are very important. Think about when those are, and then practice maniacal devotion to work during those hours. Some people are night hawks, but most are not. #
Sometimes, putting yourself in the position of an external advisor and asking yourself what advice you’d give to someone else in the same situation can be a useful way to reason more calmly and make better decisions. #
One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want. #[I]f we change the environment in which people operate, we can drive better behaviors. #
Lots of people think that they get an extra boost of focusing and productivity when they are close to the deadline — but it turns out that this is an illusion and in reality they are not getting any better. #
For lots of undesirable behaviors it helps to have a rule. Think about something like “no drinking,” “no dessert unless it is the weekend,” etc.
Rules help us figure out when we are doing the right thing and when we are not, and this way it helps us behave better. #
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Dan Ariely is Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke and Co-Founder and Chief Behavioral Officer at Timeful, a time and task management app for iOS. He is the author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.