I have just finished reading Daniel Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing and I would like to share with you the insights he has given me.
As with all his books, Daniel Pink did meticulous research over several years to uncover his information. For example, one study used all the words from 500 million Tweets of 2.4 million users, from 84 countries, over a period of 2 years to measure the emotional content of those words matched to the time of day.
The Time of Day
What they found was a pattern of everyday life where most people’s positive mood rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon and rises again in the evening. This pattern remains true whether you live in a large, diverse country like the USA, or a small more homogenous country like the United Arab Emirates.
You probably already know whether you are a lark, an owl or, as Pink says, a third bird. This world-wide “peak, trough, and rebound” of daily life has led to many more research studies. And some interesting implications for our brains and our minds.
If you are a lark or a third bird (as 75% of us are), do your most demanding, difficult or analytical work early in the morning. This is also a good time to take exams. Expect a trough in your mood and productivity about 7 hours from the time you usually awaken in the morning. This works for owls, as well, who, if they had a choice would go to sleep closer to midnight and wake later in the morning than most people.
Taking a break after each hour of concentrated work – where you move, chat, at least look outside but, even better, go outside – will help you be happier and more productive, according to scientists.
Napping at least once a day is also recommended, so long as you do it properly. Pink recommends that you drink a strong cup of coffee first (the caffeine takes about 25 minutes to actually get into your bloodstream). Then find a quiet, comfortable place to sleep with a timer to wake you 20 minutes later. You will awaken refreshed and, as the caffeine kicks in, you will be full of energy.
By the way, Pink recommends that you schedule doctor, dentist and other therapist appointments as early in the morning as you can. Not only is your health professional more alert and in a better mood, but you will be more focused and will absorb advice more deeply.
A study done by some New York scientists is of particular interest to me. They studied the emotional content of corporate executives’ earnings report calls to stock exchange analysts. They surveyed 26,000 calls from 2,100 companies over a period of 6.5 years. This is what they found: Afternoon calls “were more negative, irritable, and combative . . . leading to temporary stock mispricing for the firms hosting earnings calls later in the day.”
As an important part of my business is to talk to my clients about their training needs, I think I will arrange those discussions for mornings in the future.
Give Your Kids a Break
“In Finland, a nation with one of the world’s highest-performing school systems, students get a 15-minute break every hour.” (page 85) Let your children choose their own activities during their breaks, so long as it is away from their screens and their desks.
Find ways to encourage your children to get outside, preferably several times a day. Running, climbing and jumping in the sunshine (and even in the rain or snow) gives their eyes, their bodies, and their brains a health-promoting break. Even better if you go outside with them.
As any parent knows, young children are larks and teenagers are owls. “Considerable research finds that delaying school starting times (for teenagers and young college students) improves motivation, boosts emotional well-being, reduces depression, and lessens impulsivity. . . . .the optimal time for most college classes is after 11.00 am.” (page 91)
Starting Right, Starting Again, and Starting Together
These “starts” are all timing markers in our lives that can help or hinder our progress. The key point is that if something in our lives did not start right, like graduating from university and looking for a job during a recession, look for the opportunity for a new beginning.
Time spent trying to get a good job during a recession might be better spent starting your own business. There are always opportunities in difficult times.
The first day of the year, the first day of the month, even the start of a new week is a great time to end one period in your life and begin another with a clean slate. Other times are the day after your birthday, the day after Easter, or the first day of the school year. People start again by relegating their old selves to the past and being confident about their new, superior selves.
Pink even found a noticeable increase in the number of people who ran their first marathon at ages 29, 39, 49, and 59. Coming to the end of a decade in their lives often triggers people into starting something new.
Here are two examples that Pink shares about the benefits of starting together:
Many teaching hospitals in the USA receive their newly graduated doctors in July. Traditionally, these young doctors were immediately given considerable responsibility. Research has shown a 10% spike in medication errors, an 18% greater chance of surgery problems, and a 41% greater chance of dying during surgery in July and August each year. Over the last ten years, in response to these horrifying statistics, US teaching hospitals now put their new residents with experienced teams of nurses, physicians, and other professionals, and have dramatically reduced the July effect.
When District Nurses regularly visited new mothers, especially young, single mothers, and helped get their babies off to better beginnings, the improved outcomes included reduced infant mortality, better health and learning, increased vaccination rates, and increased chances that the mothers would seek and keep paid work.
If you want to know how much of a lark or an owl you are, you can take the Horne-Ostberg Morning-Eveningness Questionnaire at https://www.danpink.com/MCTQ/