Time makeover: A little story about Lenore and her snooze button habit

photo-112Changing habits is hard. It is often a multi-step process that doesn’t fit neatly into a before-and-after story. However, slow progress is still progress and, over time, slow progress can help you build the life you want.

All that is a long way of getting at today’s (also long!) story: a time makeover for one busy woman whose days didn’t look the way she wished them to look.

Lenore is a “forty-something Fortune 500 exec turned tech startup entrepreneur,” as she describes herself. “I live alone and have no children, just a sassy little dog and a loving, yet neglected, boyfriend. The tech startup world is a roller coaster and I’m struggling to control my workaholic tendencies and maintain structured time management. I have the same 168 hours everyone else has, and less demands (no kids, husband or boss), but am embarrassed to admit I still struggle. I’m always busy, sometimes productive, but never feel like I control my day. I feel like my day controls me.

I asked Lenore to keep track of her time for a week for me. She sent it in with this analysis:

“It was both eye-opening and frustrating to see my use of time. I’m addicted to snooze – I have been since high school. Email rules me (I’m not sure why – I rarely have urgent emails — habit I guess). I always feel rushed and run late – things always take longer than I expect. I get a lot done in a day…more than most people…but I always want to do more (classic workaholic). I have a hard time sticking to a schedule…with very few external forces (kids, husband, boss, etc) I have a tendency to blow with the wind.”

Looking over Lenore’s log, I thought point number 1 — the battle with the snooze button — was a root cause of all the other issues: the passivity with her time, the rushing, even her tendency to skip meals.

Long time readers know that I think the snooze button is evil. First issue: sleep is great. Sleep is wonderful! But sleeping in 9-10 minute increments is a sad version of the real thing. If you are tired, you will do better sleeping until you really intend to get up and enjoying every last minute of deep sleep until then, rather than attempting to slowly wake yourself with the snooze button.

Second: Human beings possess a limited amount of willpower. Over the course of a day, we often use it up, which is why diets are broken at night, and you rarely hear about crimes of passion occurring at 6 a.m. Hitting snooze amounts to fighting a battle with yourself, and using up precious willpower, on nothing more meaningful than if you will get up now or sleep for 10 more minutes. Why not use that same willpower to make your tech start-up profitable?  

Finally, many snoozers have this idea that tomorrow will be the day they don’t hit snooze. So they don’t build the snooze time into their mental model of life. That makes them late and makes them skip breakfast, so they grab something big mid-morning, but then they’re not hungry at lunch. Of course, then they’re starving at 4 p.m., so they grab something awful from the vending machine and… etc. Lenore’s time log showed a fair amount of such unstructured eating.

I mentioned this to her, and asked if she was willing to try quitting the snooze habit. She was. “I have been trying to quit the snooze habit all my life,” she told me. “I’ve tried almost everything EXCEPT being accountable to someone else.”

So we hatched a plan.

  • She decided to put her alarm clock in the kitchen. That would force her to get out of bed and go downstairs.
  • She would put a treat (caffeinated tea — a drink she liked) in the kitchen to reward herself for getting up.  
  • She would get to bed at least 7-7.5 hours before her target wake-up time. Originally, this was going to be 5:30 a.m. most days, but see below for more on this.
  • She would try to “let it go” at night. “At night I have so many things I want to do I struggle to go to bed,” she told me. But there will always be more to do. If she made her peace with this at 10:30 p.m., rather than at midnight, she might at least be able to get a decent night of sleep. She intended to try reading around 10 p.m. or so to bribe herself into bed.

So how did it go? Day 1 was a success. She didn’t hit snooze, and she had “a wonderfully productive day.” She ate 3 meals AND took a yoga class. But as she pointed out, “one day does not a trend make.” We can move heaven and earth on the first day of a new habit, and she could already see the storm clouds brewing. As she wrote me on day 1, “I still have so much to do to prepare for some meetings tomorrow.” She resolved to resist the urge to work all night. She would get up and do it faster in the morning.

The next few days brought some challenges. She was going to check in with me, but I started getting notes like “I missed sending you a note yesterday…sorry, Friday was a crazy rushed day which is exactly what I’m trying to FIX. My day happened to me, I didn’t happen to my day. So actually it is a very good example of my challenges with time management.”

The saga: “It all started Thursday night…I had not finished a presentation I needed for an 11am meeting and my house was a wreck. Since my boyfriend was coming over on Friday night and I had meetings scheduled all afternoon it was important that my house got tidied up. But, I committed to myself I was going to do yoga at least 3 times a week and there was a 6pm yoga class.  Normally I would have skipped the class and worked/cleaned, but I went to the class instead.  I did as much as I could before bedtime but it was still not done, I remembered in one of your books saying something about resisting the temptation to have everything perfect…so I went to bed at 10:30 reluctantly.  When the alarm went off at 5:30 I woke up and stayed up more due to panic than anything else.  I was able to finish my presentation, and possibly with the time pressure I did it in a shorter amount of time….same thing with cleaning up my house.  I’m not sure if that is good or bad…doing things faster is good, having to do them the day they are due in a panic is bad.”

She intended to follow a rough schedule on the weekend, but she was so worn out from the previous days that it didn’t happen. There may have been a bottle of wine consumed at some point in there. “It was a mess of a night.”

My personal take is that weekends are an entirely different issue. I also wasn’t so sure that 5:30 a.m. was a good target time for her. She more needed to focus on getting enough sleep and not hitting snooze. The actual time she got up was a secondary issue.

She was coming around to this too, and also figuring out that her daily to-do list was a problem. “I always have unrealistic goals of what I need to accomplish. If I can get a day ahead or make more realistic expectations, maybe I can truly kick the snooze habit and control my days better.”

The next week she started again. She wrote me with “Just a quick mid-week update….doing OK this week.  Mon & Tues very good, today… I hit snooze once but that is really good because I usually hit it 4 times.”

I had noted that I thought her issue was partly mid-week sleep deprivation. Her worst day in her time log was after she’d slept about 6-6.5 hours. “You were totally right about the 6.5 hours sleep – it is not enough.  If I get 7.5 hours…getting up without snooze is pretty easy.  But if I get less…it is hard to resist the snooze button.”

Later that week: “Thursday was painful because I stayed up too late on Wednesday.  Today was ok because I went to bed on time. 7+ hours of sleep plus the alarm clock in the kitchen with a ‘treat’ has helped tremendously.”

Slowly she started to build the number of days in a row she could sleep enough and get up when she wanted to get up. She also learned to be flexible about wake up time: “My goal was 5:30 every day AND no snooze.  I think I need to change it to be just ‘no snooze’.  Then I need to set the alarm downstairs at the proper time to wake up ‘for that day’ and not hit snooze.  Then I will at least feel like I am successful.”

So that’s what she did. She wrote me a few days later that “Now that I separated snooze from the time in my mind, it is much better. I ‘feel’ more successful. I still have to put my phone downstairs as ‘bait’ to get (and stay) out of bed.  If the phone is by my bedroom, I still succumb to the ‘10 more minutes’ habit.  But with the phone downstairs beckoning me it is easier. I made a deal with myself that I get a minimum of 7 hours sleep.  So if I stay up late, then I have to change my wake up time.  So there is no more ‘stealing’ hours from sleep.  Because, I steal hours, I have to pay them back, with snooze, a nap or low productivity.” Her body was slowly adjusting to this schedule. Waking up in the morning was easier. Sometimes she was waking up before the alarm. For a long-time snoozer, this was a major victory. “I think I have the mindset and the techniques that will help me succeed.  I just have to keep doing them consistently – that is the key!!”

The take-away: Set reasonable goals. Be accountable to someone else. Reward success and get back on the wagon as soon as you can after failure.

Have you kicked a snooze button habit?

Photo: This is what gets me out of bed in the morning!

24 thoughts on “Time makeover: A little story about Lenore and her snooze button habit

  1. I have never used snooze. In k-12 I had getting out the door down to a science (10 min max). Since then I only use an alarm clock in the rare instances I need to be someplace at a specific time. It helps that dh is willing to do mornings and needs less sleep than I do.

    1. Haha, right there with you. I’ve had a snooze button habit, and it was REALLY hard to kick, but eventually figured out (as LV suggested) that if I just slept until I wanted to get up, my sleep quality was better and it was less torture. Currently, I also sleep until the absolute last possible minute and can be out the door in 10 minutes. I think this is one of the reasons suggestions to exercise in the morning irk me so much — it’s taken me years to perfect my routine, and it works really well for me and I don’t want to mess it up. Also, why is it that getting up earlier is considered a virtue, while being a night owl is considered a vice?

  2. I used to hit snooze a lot (high school) and then I got an alarm clock with two alarms. I set one alarm for “optimistic” and one for “realistic” and stayed in bed past both…of course! Just recently have turned off the earlier one and just slept to the later one. It’s been better.

    Real problem is that I hate mornings and have no rewards to give myself.* Hate coffee, hate breakfast. Love my morning shower, but will take that no matter what time I get out of bed.

    *Actually, for a while I deliberately rewarded myself with knitting time if I got to work a few minutes early. (I sat in the car and knit until it was time to go in.) It worked for a bit but just not worth it…especially now in the cold!!

  3. I love this time makeover! So many things for me to take away from this one, as I am a no-alarm snoozer. I just lounge in bed (well, on the couch now until the construction is finished) until I am forced to go get the baby. Some days I get up a full hour before her, and still can’t get out of bed. It IS crappy half-sleep and I would be so much happier if I just got up and got my day started.

    Pre-kids, I mostly did not use an alarm. I had a flexible schedule at work and had a target to get in between 9 and 9:30am which I could do without setting an alarm. I was MUCH happier getting up on my own than being “forced” awake by an alarm.

  4. I don’t think this is a one-size-fits-all sort of issue. Pre-baby 2, I always hit snooze, because I really enjoyed that slow wake up to the morning, and usually my daughter would come in and snuggle in those drowsy times. We wouldn’t have had that if I’d set the alarm when we needed to be UP.

    Now I don’t set an alarm at all. If the kid needs to be up (because she hasn’t done her homework, say), she sets one, and she knows to get me up if I’m still sleeping with her little brother past a reasonable time…

    When I’m well-rested I wake to normal morning sounds (like the school bus that stops outside our house for the high-schoolers).


    What I take from this make-over is that sometimes even very small things can have a large impact on one’s whole week. And I need to look for mine…

  5. I don’t use the snooze button, or any alarm, these days—if my kids/dog/bladder don’t get me up, I consider it a win ( I naturally wake up by 7 at the latest which is plenty of time if I just get ready and go). But during my training years I used it a lot—I set the alarm for when I needed to up to shower/have coffee/maybe comb my hair. But if I was REALLY REALLY exhausted, that extra 9 minutes was worth skipping any of those “frills”.
    My take away from this, though, is that for Lenore, this little nagging habit was just the symptom of the deeper issue—sleep deprivation. Its a good reminder to look for other instances of this in my own life.

    1. @Ana – yep, getting a good night’s sleep is key. Getting rid of the snooze button habit isn’t about sleeping less. It’s about making the decision the night before about when to get up. If you’ve stayed up later, you should get up later. Many people don’t like making their peace with the consequences of that the night before! Hence the snooze button. We aren’t really going to get up, but we like to pretend to ourselves that we are.

  6. I have a terrible snooze button habit!! It’s awful. I made a goal last November to use the snooze button less — so, I’ve definitely improved in that area.

    Putting the alarm clock across the room or in a different room doesn’t work for me because I’ll hit snooze and go back to bed. ha. (I told you it was awful!)

    The two things that have helped me improve:

    1- Going to bed at a decent time, which is 8 hours before my intended wake up time.
    2- Getting the boyfriend on board. We go walk in the morning, so we wake the other up if we’re struggling.

    For me, though, it’s about doing these things consistently! Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. @Jennifer – I guess the advice to hide the alarm doesn’t work if you’re that determined! But yes, being accountable to someone else can change a lot. As long as the partnership has the right dynamic. What could happen (I was warned about this by someone who studies accountability partnerships) is that you and your boyfriend could start negotiating with each other, and create an “oh, we deserve it” dynamic in which each day becomes an exception… Hopefully not!

      1. Laura, I recognize a common pattern between my husband and me after reading your comment here about the “we deserve it” mentality Not for sleep and waking up necessarily, but many other areas, most notably in spending. For example, I can be pretty firm with myself about resisting spending money that I don’t need to or shouldn’t (e.g., eating out), but the minute my husband offers to stop for coffee, I’m all for it and feel that buying coffee is now justified! Thanks for putting this idea into words – it will stick with me for a while in my head and hopefully I’ll be aware of it next time.

    2. I also will get up to turn off an alarm across the room and then go back to bed! One unintentional thing that worked recently was when my husband put my phone (alarm) somewhere and I didn’t know where it was. So the act of finding it to turn off that annoying noise woke me up 🙂

      I set an alarm to make sure that I have time to start my day before my kids wake up. Recently, I have been waking up on my own early enough, but generally only when I go to bed at the “right” time so I will get enough sleep, as mentioned in this post.

  7. YES!! This is me. I always try to make my day more productive by setting the alarm earlier, and then I end up hitting snooze until my usual wake-up time.

    This January, I have not been able to go to sleep earlier than 10:30, and I know I need 8 hours. So that puts me waking up at 6:30 instead of 6 AM. Only 30 minutes… but it seems like an unbridgeable gap, especially when that 30 minutes is my exercise time.

    So just this morning, I was struggling with myself. Do I just acknowledge that I’m not able to wake up at 6:00 AM right now, and set my alarm for my ‘real’ wakeup time?

    With that in mind, I love the concept of not ‘stealing’ hours from sleep. If I truly can’t get to sleep until 10:30 or 11:00, then I need to recognize that setting the alarm for 6:00 AM is not going to help. In fact, it will be LESS productive for me, rather than more.

    Thanks for a great article just when I needed it!! Next, how about one on how to get to sleep earlier? 😉

    1. @Bev- thanks! Glad you liked the article. I think getting to bed on time is a habit just like waking up on time. You might try keeping track of what you’re doing in the evening. What exactly are you attempting to get done before 10:30? Is there anything you could not do? Get someone else to do? You might try setting a “bedtime alarm” a bit before you need to go to sleep and having that remind you to start your wind-down routine…

  8. I’m not a snoozer but hubby is. He sets his alarm 30 min ahead of when he needs to get up and snoozes multiple times. It’s truly miserable since I don’t need to get up at a set time these days. There’s no changing him either. I’ve tried to explain to him that sleeping in 9 min increments isn’t helping.

    Down with snooze buttons I say! 🙂

    1. @WG – change is a long, slow, and grinding process. We love narratives that involve epiphanies. Life rarely works like that.

  9. Great work. I could like this 10 times 🙂 Amazing to read about how much our lives can be transformed and how much room there is for improvement once we make up our minds (and ask an expert for help) 🙂

  10. I loved this time makeover too.

    I wrote an article last year for my newsletter “are you getting enough sleep” and the comments and emails I received in response were astounding. Maybe it was just my list but people really felt they were getting all the sleep they could 🙂 but some acknowledged that it just may be the reason they were not as productive as they could be.

    It’s true though and one of the first things I work on with time management coaching clients – making sure they get enough sleep. We play with sleep patterns for about 3 – 4 weeks til they find their happy place.

    (as for me, I’m always up for more sleep!)

  11. I like to hit the snooze button but I build the time into my day for it. I set my alarm for 5:21 so that if I get up at the optimal time of 5:30 it is exactly one snooze away. I can still get the basic morning work done if I get up at 5:45 I just won’t get any extra little tasks done like folding laundry.

  12. The idea of “stealing” time from sleeping hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s a good way of putting it! I suffer from creating over-ambitious to-do lists which I fail to achieve (partly due to procrastination) and then try to get everything done before bed (which gets pushed back later and later) so the next day I’m more tired and less productive. It’s a very hard cycle to break.

  13. I was so shocked when I discovered that a lot of people in the US get up at 5.30! To me that’s totally insane! 6.30-7.30 is far more reasonable. I’m grumpy and I eat more if I don’t get a nice 7.5-8 hours of sleep every night.

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