Book Notes: When

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are natural rhythms in daily life which we tend to ignore – instead believing that all times are good time for everything. In reality humans have an approximately daily rhythm which if taken advantage of can have a huge impact on people’s well being and performance.

Taking the midpoint between falling asleep and waking up results in a near gaussian distribution – for most people this point is around 3:30am, but it can be much earlier or later. For people whose midpoint is before 3am these 14% of people are considered Larks, the midpoint for the 21% of people considered Owls being after 5:30am and the remaining 65% of people being “Third birds”. Part of the reason for the natural midpoint is nature and part nearture with age being a significant factor.

The daily rhythm tends to be a peak followed by a trough followed by a rebound, for Larks and “Third birds” but for Owls the pattern is the opposite. As such – all times are not created equally and not all people experience it the same.

LarkThird BirdOwl
Analytic tasksEarly morningEarly to mid morningLate afternoon and evening
Insight tasksLate afternoon / early evening Late afternoon / early evening Morning
Making an impressionMorningMorningMorning
Making a decisionEarly morningEarly to midmorningLate afternoon and evening

Doctors are people too, and it’s been seen that morning exampinations have an increased detection rate for issues compared to later in the day.

People love to get on with things, however taking a proactive “vigilance break” to take stock and review things before jumping in can have huge benefits, including saving peoples lives.

Brakes have a huge benefit, some research has found 52 minutes work the a 7 minutes break to be the optimum. You can boost brakes by including movement and also other people – as long as your not discussing work, ideally outside. Research shows the importance of a break for lunch and naps of 20 minutes or less prevents you feeling drowsy – you can achieve this by having a coffee before a nap, around the 20 minute mark the caffeine will kick in.

Start at the right time – an early start does not mean more productive and research for students has shown that as late as an 11am start time to be vastly more beneficial than the regular pre-8am start times.

Start a project with a pre-mortem. Imagine some point in the future and come up with the things things which could go wrong, use this to understand why these things “went” wrong and use this as a guide for things you can try to reduce or mitigate.

People struggle with the middle – the start is exciting and so are achievements but its the middle which is tough, pushing through this to achieve the results can be the most painful part. The midpoint can be a slump but it can give us a push – at the start there is lots of time but at the middle highlighting that time is escaping and there is a lot to do in less time can provide motivation to get things done before the deadline.

You can make the most of midpoints by setting public intermediate goals which pushes things forward, stop the day with work still to do (e.g. an unfinished sentence) will pull you to want to continue the next day, build an unbroken chain (e.g. marking off days you write) as this puts pressure on yourself to keep working so as not to break the chain, think about what you are doing can help others also helps you get through the midpoint blues.

Endings can be positive, using the term “here is your last chocolate” boosts enjoyment compared to “here is your next chocolate”, giving good news first and bad news second results in better happiness as the other way round people dwell on the bad news when receiving the good. Use endings as a positive – such as noting down at the end of the day the things which you have achieved, making a special end event or experience such as a chocolate at the end of a flight.

People naturally synch with others as part of a group – naturally this can be breathing or even heartbeats. You can use this to boost your well being such as singing in a choir, running together, etc. Improv can provide useful techniques for a group to synch, some techniques include:
– a mirroring exercise where you follow another person’s actions
– a mind meld where on the count of three a pair shout out to each other a random word, then on the second count they shout out a word which joins the two until you both come up with the same word
– a clapping exercise where the aim is for one person to look at another and for them to clap at the same time, this second person then chooses the next person etc
You can also promote belonging to a group by replying to email quickly, telling war stories and nurture self organising rituals.

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