When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing breaks down the science of time so you can stop guessing when to do things and pick the best times to work, eat, sleep, have your coffee and even quit your job.
Here are 3 lessons about timing that’ll help you structure your life in better ways:
- Our emotions run through the same cycle every single day.
- Knowing how you “tick” will help you do your best at work.
- Taking a break or an afternoon nap is not counterproductive,if anything, it helps you save time.
Lesson 1: There’s an emotional pattern each of us follows on any given day.
If I asked you to divide your day into three parts, you’d most likely first think of morning, afternoon, and evening. For thousands of years, humans have lived through this pattern. However, if I asked you to write down the dominating emotion for each of those parts for a week, we’d spot another, much subtler pattern, as a study by Cornell University analyzing 500 million tweets has found:
Morning peak. Whether it’s right after waking up or 1-2 hours later, most people feel pretty good early in the day.
Afternoon trough. You know how it’s tough to stay awake after lunch? This is it.
Evening rebound. Once you knock off work, even the toughest days take a turn, don’t they?
Regardless of age, race, gender, and nationality, we all go through some variant of this pattern on a daily basis. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, confirmed this with the Day Reconstruction Method. This holds powerful implications for how we should go about our day, but it’s also a good pattern to be aware of to deal with your emotions more efficiently.
Lesson 2: Figure out your chronotype to produce your best work.
Keeping our daily, emotional cycle in mind, we can learn even more about ourselves if we combine it with something more familiar: our circadian rhythm. Over time, we naturally come to some insight as to when we have our highs and lows throughout the day. “I just can’t get up before 7,” “I’m a night owl,” and “I love to get up early” are lines we’ve all said or heard before.
While it’s easy to dismiss those as people not being used to certain behaviors, science says there’s some truth to all of them. How you feel at certain times during the day is called your chronotype, and there are three major ones, says Dan:
The lark. People like me, who love to get up early, and have all their emotional highs and lows a few hours earlier than most people.
The owl. If you don’t like getting up early and can really get to work around 9 PM, that’s you.
The third bird. The majority of people, who are neither late, nor early, and just follow the standard pattern.
Over 50% of folks go into the last category, meaning they should do analytical, logic-based work in the mornings, when they’re most alert. The more creative tasks, where it’s helpful if your mind wanders, should be reserved for the late afternoon. Larks should do the same earlier, while owls might want to do cognitive work late at night.
Whichever type you are, doing boring admin stuff in the afternoon trough is always a good idea!
Lesson 3: Regular breaks and nappuccinos help you save time, not lose it.
Public awareness about health has risen dramatically in recent years, so the view that breaks are a waste of time is largely outdated, though still prevalent in some older companies and institutions. The science behind how much we should work and how much we should relax is surprisingly much in favor of chilling out.
Time tracking company DeskTime did a study using millions of data points from their software, determining the ideal break to be 17 minutes for every 52 minutes of work. That’s one hour of down time for every three hours you work! While it’s easy to think that there’s no way this could lead to better results, they found that the quality of the work ended up being higher overall, compared to shorter or less frequent breaks.
But even if your boss won’t allow so much “slacking,” taking five minutes every hour to get up, move around, walk outside, get some fresh air, and have a glass of water, can make a significant difference in your productivity. Lastly, Dan recommends the ‘nappuccino.’ Ideally after lunch, you have a coffee, then set your timer to 20 minutes. If it takes you seven minutes to fall asleep, you’ll wake up a little later, fully refreshed and with the caffeine just kicking in.
Saving time by doing less, what a great motto, don’t you think?
The Five Big Ideas
- Our cognitive abilities fluctuate over the course of a day.
- Innovation and creativity are greatest when we are not at our best, at least with respect to our circadian rhythms. This is known as, “The Inspiration Paradox.”
- Between 60 percent and 80 percent of people are “third birds”—neither larks or owls.
- Lunch, not breakfast, is the most important meal of the day.
- If you’re feeling stuck in the middle of a project, picture one person who’ll benefit from your efforts. Dedicating your work to that person will deepen your dedication to your task.
By Chapter Below:
Chapter 1. The Hidden Pattern of Everyday Life
In one study, positive affect—language revealing that Twitter users felt active, engaged, and hopeful—generally rose in the morning, plummeted in the afternoon, and climbed back up again in the early evening.
An important takeaway from one study on corporate executives is that communications with investors, and probably other critical managerial decisions and negotiations, should be conducted earlier in the day.
Scientists that measure the effect of time of day on brainpower have drawn three conclusions:
First, our cognitive abilities do not remain static over the course of a day. As Pink writes, “We are smarter, faster, dimmer, slower, more creative, and less creative in some parts of the day than others.”
Second, these daily fluctuations are more extreme than we realize. In fact, according to Russell Foster, a neuroscientist and chronobiologist at the University of Oxford, “[T]he performance change between the daily high point and the daily low point can be equivalent to the effect on performance of drinking the legal limit of alcohol,”
Third, how we do depends on what we’re doing. “Perhaps the main conclusion to be drawn from studies on the effects of time of day on performance,” says British psychologist Simon Folkard, “is that the best time to perform a particular task depends on the nature of that task.”
Innovation and creativity are greatest when we are not at our best, at least with respect to our circadian rhythms. This is known as “inspiration paradox.”
Our moods and performance oscillate during the day. For most of us, mood follows a common pattern: a peak, a trough, and a rebound. In the mornings, during the peak, most of us excel at analytic work that requires sharpness, vigilance, and focus. Later in the day, during the recovery, most of us do better on insight work that requires less inhibition and resolve.
According to research over several decades and across different continents, between about 60 percent and 80 percent of us are what Pink calls, “third birds”—neither larks or owls.
People born in the fall and winter are more likely to be larks; people born in the spring and summer are more likely to be owls.
To solve insight problems, type, task, and time need to align—what social scientists call “the synchrony effect.”
“All of us experience the day in three stages—a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order. But about one in four people, those whose genes or age make them night owls, experience the day in something closer to the reverse order—recovery, trough, peak.”
To do better in the morning:
Drink a glass of water when you wake up;
Avoid coffee immediately after you wake up;
Soak up the morning sun; and
Schedule talk-therapy appointments for the morning.
Chapter 2. Afternoons and Coffeespoons
In one study, judges were more likely to issue a favorable ruling— granting the prisoner parole or allowing him to remove an ankle monitor—in the morning than in the afternoon.
Science offers five guiding principles for restorative breaks:
Something beats nothing. High performers work for fifty-two minutes and then break for seventeen minutes.
Moving beats stationary. One study showed that hourly five-minute walking breaks boosted energy levels, sharpened focus, and “improved mood throughout the day and reduced feelings of fatigue in the late afternoon.”
Social beats solo. Research in South Korean workplaces shows that social breaks—talking with coworkers about something other than work—are more effective at reducing stress and improving mood than either cognitive breaks (answering e-mail) or nutrition breaks (getting a snack).
Outside beats inside. People who take short walks outdoors return with better moods and greater replenishment than people who walk indoors.
Fully detached beats semi-detached. Tech-free breaks also increase vigor and reduce emotional exhaustion.
“The most powerful lunch breaks have two key ingredients—autonomy and detachment. Autonomy—exercising some control over what you do, how you do it, when you do it, and whom you do it with—is critical for high performance, especially on complex tasks. But it’s equally crucial when we take breaks from complex tasks.”
Lunch, not breakfast, is the most important meal of the day.
The ideal naps— those that combine effectiveness with efficiency—are usually between ten and twenty minutes.
“Each day, alongside your list of tasks to complete, meetings to attend, and deadlines to hit, make a list of the breaks you’re going to take. Start by trying three breaks per day. List when you’re going to take those breaks, how long they’re going to last, and what you’re going to do in each. Even better, put the breaks into your phone or computer calendar so one of those annoying pings will remind you.”
The 20–20–20 rule: Before you begin a task, set a timer. Then, every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. If you’re working at a computer, this micro-break will rest your eyes and improve your posture, both of which can fight fatigue.
One of the simplest breaks of all: Stand up for sixty seconds, shake your arms and legs, flex your muscles, rotate your core, sit back down.
Take a five-minute walk every hour.
“In [Anders] Ericsson’s study, one factor that distinguished the best from the rest is that they took complete breaks during the afternoon (many even napped as part of their routine), whereas non-experts were less rigorous about pauses. We might think that superstars power straight through the day for hours on end. In fact, they practice with intense focus for forty-five- to ninety-minute bursts, then take meaningful restorative breaks.”
Chapter 3. Beginnings: Starting Right, Starting Again, and Starting Together
Beginnings have a far greater impact than most of us understand. Beginnings, in fact, can matter to the end.
“Although we can’t always determine when we start, we can exert some influence on beginnings—and considerable influence on the consequences of less than ideal ones. The recipe is straightforward. In most endeavors, we should be awake to the power of beginnings and aim to make a strong start. If that fails, we can try to make a fresh start. And if the beginning is beyond our control, we can enlist others to attempt a group start.”
These are the three principles of successful beginnings: Start right. Start again. Start together.
Before the project begins, convene with your team for a premortem. Ask them, “Assume it’s eighteen months from now and our project is a complete disaster. What went wrong?”
“By imagining failure in advance—by thinking through what might cause a false start—you can anticipate some of the potential problems and avoid them once the actual project begins.”
There are eighty-six days that are especially effective for making a fresh start:
- Thefirst day of the month (twelve)
- Thefirst day of spring, summer, fall, and winter (four)
- Yourcountry’s Independence Day or the equivalent (one)
- Theday of an important religious holiday—for example, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Eidal-Fitr (one)
- Yourbirthday (one)
- Aloved one’s birthday (one)
- Thefirst day of school or the first day of a semester (two)
- Thefirst day of a new job (one)
- The day after graduation (one)
- Thefirst day back from vacation (two)
- Theanniversary of your wedding, first date, or divorce (three)
- Theanniversary of the day you started your job, the day you became a citizen, theday you adopted your dog or cat, the day you graduated from school oruniversity (four)
- Theday you finish this book (one)
There are four situations when you should go first:
- If you’re on a ballot (county commissioner, prom queen, the Oscars), being listed first gives you an edge.
- If you’re not the default choice—for example, if you’re pitching against a firm that already has the account you’re seeking—going first can help you get afresh look from the decision-makers.
- If there are relatively few competitors (say, five or fewer), going first can help you take advantage of the “primacy effect,” the tendency people have to remember the first thing in a series better than those that come later.
- If you’re interviewing for a job and you’re up against several strong candidates, you might gain an edge from being first.
There are four situations when you should NOT go first:
- If you are the default choice, don’t go first.
- If there are many competitors (not necessarily strong ones, just a large number of them), going later can confer a small advantage and going last can confer a huge one.
- If you’re operating in an uncertain environment, not being first can work to your benefit.
- If the competition is meager, going toward the end can give you an edge by highlighting your differences.
To make a fast start in a new job:
Begin before you begin (e.g. pick a specific day and time when you visualize yourself “transforming” into your new role).
Let your results do the talking.
Stockpile your motivation.
Sustain your morale with small wins.
Chapter 4. Midpoints: What Hanukkah Candles and Midlife Malaise Can Teach Us About Motivation
“Happiness climbs high early in adulthood but begins to slide downward in the late thirties and early forties, dipping to a low in the fifties. But we recover quickly from this slump, and well-being later in life often exceeds that of our younger years.”
In one study, teams that were behind by just one point were more likely to win. In fact, home teams with a one-point deficit at halftime won more than 58 percent of the time.
According to the researchers, “[M]erely telling people they were slightly behind an opponent led them to exert more effort.”
The best hope for turning a slump into a spark involves three steps. First, be aware of midpoints. Don’t let them remain invisible. Second, use them to wake up rather than roll over. Third, at the midpoint, imagine that you’re behind to spark your motivation—but only by a little.
If you’re feeling stuck in the middle of a project, picture one person who’ll benefit from your efforts. Dedicating your work to that person will deepen your dedication to your task.
Chapter 5. Endings: Marathons, Chocolates, and the Power of Poignancy
“Endings of all kinds—of experiences, projects, semesters, negotiations, stages of life—shape our behavior in four predictable ways. They help us energize. They help us encode. They help us edit. And they help us elevate.”
“Someone who’s forty-nine is about three times more likely to run a marathon than someone who’s just a year older.”
“At the beginning of a pursuit, we’re generally more motivated by how far we’ve progressed; at the end, we’re generally more energized by trying to close the small gap that remains.”
“When we remember an event we assign the greatest weight to its most intense moment (the peak) and how it culminates (the end).” (For more on this, read The Power of Moments by Chip & Dan Heath.)
We downplay how long an episode lasts and magnify what happens at the end. Daniel Kahneman calls it “duration neglect.”
“This “end of life bias,” as the researchers call it, suggests that we believe people’s true selves are revealed at the end—even if their death is unexpected and the bulk of their lives evinced a far different self.”
“Adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it.”
“The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer—a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need.”
If your answer to two or more of these is no, it might be time to quit your job.
Do you want to be in this job on your next work anniversary?
Is your current job both demanding and in your control?
If your job doesn’t provide both challenge and autonomy, and there’s nothing you can do to make things better, consider a move.
Does your boss allow you to do your best work?
Are you outside the three-to-five-year salary bump window?
Does your daily work align with your long-term goals?
Chapter 6. Synching Fast and Slow: The Secrets of Group Timings
“Groups must synchronize on three levels—to the boss, to the tribe, and to the heart.”
“The first principle of synching fast and slow is that group timing requires a boss—someone or something above and apart from the group itself to set the pace, maintain the standards, and focus the collective mind.”
“After individuals synch to the boss, the external standard that sets the pace of their work, they must synch to the tribe—to one another. That requires a deep sense of belonging.”
“Synching to the heart is the third principle of group timing. Synchronizing makes us feel good—and feeling good helps a group’s wheels turn more smoothly. Coordinating with others also makes us do good—and doing good enhances synchronization.”
Chapter 7. Thinking in Tenses: A Few Finals Words
“Research has shown we plan more effectively and behave more responsibly when the future feels more closely connected to the current moment and our current selves.”
Other Books by Daniel H. Pink
To Sell Is Human
Recommended Reading-If you like When, you may also enjoy the following books:
Ego is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
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