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?