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When: the science of perfect timing

MyTaskPal Book Club: January 2019


“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel H. Pink

This month we’re reading Dan Pink’s book, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” Because we were impressed with what Dan Pink had to say about motivation we thought his research findings on perfect  timing would be similarly useful. We weren’t wrong.

What’s the book about?

The big idea is that perfect timing isn’t an art, but a strategy backed by science. Pink brings together research and data from biology, psychology, sociology and economics to summarise how best we can use aspects of timing to improve our lives. Illustrated with compelling stories, packed full of practical advice and decorated with brain-popping ideas and facts, the book explains many time-related phenomena, some which we’re already aware of – such as our post-lunch uselessness – but don’t (yet) know the reason why.

The book gives us a framework to create a daily schedule that works for us, not against us; it helps us understand why breaks are vital; why it’s best to get an anaesthetic in the morning; why endings are important and when’s the best time for us to start something.

Our best bits:

A strategy for planning our most productive day ever

According to Pink, We move through the day in three stages; peak, trough, recovery. The stage we’re in influences how effective we are at different types of tasks. For most of us:

  • Our peak is in the morning and this time is good for cognitive work – thinky work where we’re vigilant, focussed using things like our powers of analysis.
  • Our trough is in the early afternoon, and this time is good for breaks or routine admin work where we don’t need to think too hard.
  • Our recovery is in the late afternoon, and this time is good for creative work or ideation, such as brainstorming.

The exact timing depends on our chronotype. For night owls the stages may be reversed, with their cognitive peaks in the middle of the night. But, as a rough guide, we know now that we work with our body if we schedule in tasks that suit the stage we’re at. Pink suggests that time of day explains about 20% of the changes in our cognitive performance and why anesthesia errors are four times more likely at 3:00 p.m. than at 9:00 a.m.

Breaks are vital

Breaks are for winners. Breaks are for people who want to perform at their peak. These people take their lunch break. These people take naps. Pink suggests that science has bust wide open the value of the traditional 24/7 work ethic, where busy is good and busier is better. It’s not rocket science, either; it’s obvious that fatigued doctors make more life-threatening mistakes than well-rested doctors. Pink suggests that regular, intentional breaks are vital our productivity, creativity and well-being. Pink himself schedules two breaks in the early afternoon, and recommends that breaks:

  • Involve movement: walking is better than sitting.
  • Are social rather than solo (even for introverts).
  • Are detached from work. Switching off means leaving your phone behind.

Use temporal landmarks for a fresh start

Temporal landmarks give you a chance to reboot, using something called the fresh start effect. Temporal landmarks are dates in the year that have meaning for society (e.g New Year, a religious holiday, Mondays, the first of the month) or you (your birthday, wedding anniversary, divorce anniversary, first day of college etc). They are time hooks on which to hang new behaviours. One common example is a new year’s resolution. Another example is that we tend to prefer to start things on a Monday, which we feel is a more meaningful day than a Wednesday to start something, although there’s no real difference between the days. It’s a society/mind thing.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” is a good, informative read with practical stuff you can use from day one. For a taster, watch Pink’s RSA talk

This month’s book: “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.

Author: Daniel H. Pink
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Published: January 9, 2018

Got a recommendation for the MyTaskPal book club? Tell us what it is and why you like it!

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