Incentives matter, especially in the morning

As I was dozing through the first ten minutes of “Meet the Press” this morning, I had an idea for an alarm clock that would effectively get people out of bed on time. It’s a two piece system: the first piece is an alarm clock in the bedroom, the second is a paper shredder in some other room, say the kitchen or the bathroom. The two devices are synchronized and communicate wirelessly. When the alarm goes off, it begins a countdown for the paper shredder to activate. If the user doesn’t get out of bed in time to go deactivate the shredder in the other room, it turns on and shreds whatever paper happens to be in the feeder tray.

The key to success is for the user to place an appropriate amount of money in the shredder before going to bed, based on how important it is that he gets up in the morning. If it’s only to catch MTP on Sunday, maybe just a dollar. For a job interview, a twenty. For his own wedding, a $100 bill is probably in order.

Of course, the importance of whatever event one has to get up for should be all the incentive one needs to get out of bed, but we know that isn’t always the case. To put it in economic terms, our discount rates are often very high when the alarm goes off, so we undervalue future goods relative to staying under the covers for a few more minutes. Remembering that there’s a big bill on the verge of destruction would give us an immediate good to value.

Structure the incentives right and one need never be late again. Better living through economics.


3 thoughts on “Incentives matter, especially in the morning”

  1. The two devices don’t actually need to communicate in any way, which makes implementing this easy. Go to Radio Shack and get one of those timed power outlets for turning things on at specified times, like people use to make it look like somebody is home during an extended vacation. Plug the shredder into the timed outlet. Set the on-time for when you need to be up and turn on the shredder wherever it needs to be. Set the alarm clock for 20 minutes before the time you need to be up. Done!

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