Alarms are everywhere: on cars, on homes, on phones, on smoke detectors, on clocks and more. In their simplest form, alarms are audible calls to action. They are designed to catch our attention and make us do something in response.

Alarms are therefore very useful tools for:

  • Reminding us to perform a task
  • Notifying us that is time to stop one task and shift to another
  • Awakening us from sleep
  • Refocusing our attention from distractions
  • Alerting us to an illegal or dangerous situation

The problem with alarms is that we have a tendency to ignore them. Whether it is because we have become accustomed to hearing them, or because we don’t want to respond, we often fail to take action. The reality is, any alarm that is disregarded has failed.

If you are guilty of dismissing alarms, here are a few tips:


Hitting the snooze button trains your brain not to wake up. In addition, the additional sleep period you gain is not longer enough to be refreshing rest for your body. You either enter a very shallow sleep, knowing you will need to get up soon, or you go into a deep sleep from which it is difficult to wake.

If you need to, put the alarm across the room so you have to physically get up to turn it off.


The alarm feature on smartphones can be very helpful. However, if you use the same sound for all alerts, you are more likely to ignore them. Instead, mix it up a bit. Use one sound for alarms that are supposed to bring you back to focusing on the task at hand, another sound for when you need to be leaving the house, another for when you should start dinner, another for a reminder about an important call, etc.

Individual phones differ in how to change the sound, but all of them offer choices. Typically there is a long list of built-in options, and there are also apps you can buy to add more options.


In an age where analog clocks are hard to find, time tends to slip away quickly. Digital displays provide a snapshot of the current time, rather than a pictorial display of time’s passage. Alarms are helpful to grab our attention, but if we have completely lost track of time, they might sneak up on us or go off in a moment when we cannot adequately respond.

I recommend that parents work with their children so they can use analog clocks, and to put them in their bedrooms and study areas. In addition, I endorse the line of products made by Time Timer. These make it very easy to see the passage of time, and therefore to use the time we have more effectively. I recommend they be placed wherever staying on schedule is important, such as the breakfast/school prep area, the classroom and the office. Seeing the time pass reduces the chances that an alarm’s will ring will come too late to be helpful.


The more we hear or see something, the more likely we are to ignore it. This is called habituation, and while it serves us well in some respects, it can undermine us in others. Defining how much is too much differs by individual. One person may need an alarm every 15 minutes in the morning to keep from distractedly wasting time, while another uses only one per week as a reminder of an important commitment.

The way to discern if you are using alarms too frequently is to honestly assess if they are spurring desired action. If they aren’t, the alarms are not working. If audible alarms have become dismissible background noise, you might as well stop using them (at least temporarily.)

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Do you use alarms? Are they working for you?

23 thoughts on “Alarms”

    1. I don’t use them either, but I hear them around me all the time. Many seem to be quickly dismissed and ignored, which got me thinking! Why use them if you don’t act upon them? Have a great week, Janine!

  1. I am a big user of alarms and alerts. What they afford me is the ability to fully engage in an activity or thought (like sleeping or writing or working on a project) while simulataneously letting me be time UN-aware. I use an alarm to wake-up and also use the snooze switch on occassion. I’m OK with that. I use alerts or buzzers to let me know when it’s time to switch from one activity to the next or get ready to leave for a client appointment. Like you, I LOVE the Time Timer products and use them for meetings or when I’m presenting. And analog clocks, because they’re so visual, are my friends. I perceive time much more easily when looking at that type of clock. So my most used time checks (like my watch and desk clock) are analog.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…What Are Today’s Interesting Finds? – v16My Profile

    1. I love analog clocks as well, and I’ve noticed that sometimes those who rely solely on digital displays struggle a bit more with the passage of time. I love when alarms/alerts WORK, and help you be more efficient. Many people can credit an alarm to having “saved the day” on a task that might otherwise have been forgotten or late. As with all tools, it is wise to use them appropriately and as long as they are effective!

  2. I never did understand the point of the snooze button. To some people maybe that feels good? For me, the constant interruption of sleep makes me feel groggy all day.
    I haven’t used an alarm clock in years. Not with kids and Cassidy around. I don’t miss it at all! I do like Google calendar alerts, but I think of them as crucial.

    1. What I love about this comment is how you’ve acknowledged which alarms are helpful, and which aren’t. I’m with you on the groggy feeling…that interrupted sleep makes me feel worse for sure!

  3. I have a battery operated portable alarm that I have used since I was in high school. It’s a talking alarm from the 70s I got from my dad who was into gadgets back then. It tells me the time and then plays a little tune. I use it when I need to wake up earlier than I usually do but, I usually don’t need it to wake up though I wake up on my own.

    1. What a special item! That not only is functional, but I imagine brings back good memories:) So many people use their phones for all alarms these days, you are lucky to have something unique to you. I usually don’t need an alarm to get up either, but every now and then I do, so I always set it. I don’t use phone alerts much during the day, but I know others find them very helpful.

  4. For me, alarms allow me to stop thinking “of” something (“Gotta remember X. Gotta remember X.”) so I can think about them contextually, or release that energy to focus on other things until I need to focus on the alarm-related task. It’s easy to get caught up in email and forget to get onto a conference call, or let the workday go by without exercising or returning a phone call. Setting an alarm for a repeated task can get you so in the habit that you can remember it without the alarm, and setting an alarm for a one-off means you won’t be distracted for fear you’ll forget.

    Great stuff, Seana!
    Julie Bestry recently posted…Back-to-School Organizing News You Can Use: 3 Solutions to Save Time, Money, and SerenityMy Profile

    1. That “snooze” sleep just isn’t satisfying. I used to hit it every day, but then I realized that I didn’t feel good when I got up. Once I broke the habit, I was so happy. I don’t use phone alerts during the day very often, but I know many people who do and find them so helpful. It all comes down to what works, but it is good to step back every now and then and consider what is (and isn’t) working!

  5. I love using alarms for all the reasons already listed. About the only thing I don’t use an alarm for (very often) is waking up! That’s because my schedule allows for me to wake naturally. But I totally need reminders to help me move on to the next thing I need to do.

    1. It’s been so interesting to see the different ways everyone uses alarms. I set an alarm in the morning, but typically wake before it goes off. I have never gotten in the habit of using them during the day. Periodically I will set an alert when I know I am at risk of losing track of time. More often than not, I hear my husband’s alerts going off!

  6. I’m a snoozer. Olympic medal snoozer. Just saying….. LOL but you’re absolutely right, I do ignore my alarms because of my snooze habit.

    I use a kitchen timer more often than not to stay on task.

    1. I have been interested to read the comments on this one and see how people are using alerts. I pretty much only use them in the morning, but I can see how they could be helpful to remind me of an important task to take place a particular time. Might come in especially handy if you are frequently crossing time zones!

  7. I love sharing timers and alarms with my clients. Most of my clients are familiar with why and how, however at times we create a new rule about using them that is a surprise. I strongly advise against using the alarm for morning wake up. Use an inexpensive alarm clock instead. This way you get a great night’s rest.

    1. I still have an old alarm clock from at least 20 years ago. I don’t keep my mobile phone near my bed, only a landline for emergencies. I just like the peace of not having that device in the place I want to fully relax and sleep. When my daughter was younger and wouldn’t get out of bed, we got her one of those phones on wheels that rolls away from you so you have to get up to turn it off. It worked!

  8. In my case, I use alarm if I have an important commitment or event that I never want to miss. In most days, my body clock pretty much knows when to wake up. I also use an alarm when I want to finish a certain task in a certain time frame like when I tell myself I have to finish a blog post in 1 hour or so. It worked for me. 🙂

    1. I love anything that works! Setting an alarm to let you know it is time to be wrapping up a project is a great idea. It is easy to lose track of time when we are really focused.

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