When I saw Daniel Pink’s book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, I knew I had to read it.
Science telling me when the best time to do things for the best results? Gimme, gimme!!
To keep the posts on this book a little shorter and easier to read, I’m going to break it up over a series of blog posts.
Today I’ll cover his general topics on timing, breaks, and how to have good beginnings. In a later post, I’ll go into how to have good midpoints and endings.
Hidden pattern: U-shape
Daniel Pink starts out with a study that drives his a large portion of his book.
Michael Macy and Scott Golder looked at 50 million tweets and ran them through a text-analysis program, LIWC (Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count), to determine the emotion that each word conveyed.
They found that our tweets start out positive in the morning, plummet in the afternoon, and then become more positive again in the early evening.
This held up regardless of ethnicity, gender, location in the world, or day of the week.
It turns out that our emotions, bodies, and minds have a time-based pattern of peak, trough, and rebound that can be used to maximize how we live our days.
Note: This pattern has emerged in other studies that he goes through in the book. I won’t cover those other studies here, but wanted you to know that all this info isn’t based just off this one Twitter study.
What type of bird are you?
Pink spends a lot of time talking about your chronotype (whether you are an early bird, night owl, or what he calls “third birds”).
Your bird type can be used to predict when your peak, trough and rebound happen.
He argues that most people are third birds and make up 60-80% of the general population. So, if you don’t want to take the time to figure out your bird type, it’s pretty safe to assume you’re a third bird.
Interesting chronotype tidbits
Your birthdate may play into what type of bird you are:
- If you were born in the Fall or Winter, you’re more likely to be a lark.
- If you were born in the Spring or Summer, you’re more likely to be an owl.
Your age may also be a factor:
- Children tend to be larks. (Oye! Every parent is painfully aware of this tendency.)
- Teens and young adults morph into owls. Peak “owliness” hits around 20 years old.
- After age 20, we slowly become more “larky”.
- Then at around age 60, we become so “larky” that we are more of an early bird than when we were kids.
How gender plays in:
- Men tend to be more “owly”.
- Women tend to be more “larky”.
But, these gender differences disappear around age 50.
My two cents: With all these loose correlations and trends that weigh in on your bird type, it tells me that your bird type is more of a tendency rather than a hard fact. It’s loose. It changes depending on many factors. So, maybe factor that in when you apply this information to your life.
To find your bird:
- Look at your sleep window of your days off from the weekly grind.
- Find the midpoint of your sleep cycle. If it is:
- 3:30 a.m. or earlier = Lark
- 5:30 a.m. or later = Owl*
- Somewhere in between = Third bird
*If you’re an owl, your day has the opposite shape of larks and third birds. Your pattern is to have a rebound, trough, and then peak at night.
Guidelines for your day
- Know your chronotype (bird type) so you know your daily pattern: Peak-trough-recovery or recovery-trough-peak.
- Do your most important work that requires analytical thinking, vigilance, and clear thinking in your peak. Keep the mundane tasks that you can do without thinking in your trough.
- Beware of the trough. About all it’s good for is reading email and taking naps. Pink says that 2:55 pm is the most unproductive moment of the day.
- Save your secondary tasks for your rebound timeframe.
Impressions, decisions, docs, and judges
When scheduling a job interview or anything else where you are trying to make a good impression, try to schedule it in the morning because that’s when most people are happiest and that’s when it’s easiest to make a good impression.
If you have a tough decision to make, make it in your peak.
See the doc in the morning and avoid the trough (afternoon slump) at all costs. They’re more likely to wash their hands and make the right diagnosis in the morning.
Judges are more likely to give a favorable ruling in the morning or after a break.
Fun fact: Judges give out sentences that are 5% longer on the Monday after Daylight Saving Time than any other Monday.
When to exercise
The best time to exercise depends on your goals.
Exercise in the morning to:
- Lose weight (fasted workouts may burn 20% more fat).
- Boost mood (you can enjoy the mood boost that comes from exercise all day).
- Keep to a routine and form a habit.
- Build strength (testosterone peaks in the morning, helping you build more muscle).
Exercise in the afternoon or evening to:
- Avoid injury (muscles are warm and less prone to injury).
- Perform best (sprint faster and lift more – this is the time you have peak lung capacity and strength).
- Enjoy the workout more (you feel like you’re doing less work).
4 Tips to a better morning
- Drink a glass of water when you wake up.
- Wait 60-90 minutes before you have your first caffeine boost. (Cortisol, a stimulant, is highest in the morning. Wait for that to come down first to get better efficacy of your morning coffee.)
- Get some sun on that face!
- Learn in the morning (high cortisol = high learning because you can focus and absorb more deeply).
Take your breaks!
Breaks are essential to keep you on your toes.
If you take a break, you’ll be more productive when you come back to work, even in the trough.
How to take the best break
- Something beats nothing.
- Frequent and short are more effective than occasional ones.
- The golden ratio is: work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes.
- A quick walk will sharpen your focus and boost your energy and mood throughout the day.
- “Microbursts” are more effective than a longer break.
- Talk with others about something other than work. It’ll reduce your stress and improve your mood.
- Use nature to get more restoration.
- If you can’t get outside, get by some plants or other greenery.
- No email or phone checking!
- Taking a tech break reduces your stress and boosts mood.
- Know when you’ll take your breaks, how long they will last, and what you’ll do during them.
Lunch = the most important meal of the day
The idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day isn’t really panning out with subsequent studies.
It looks like we’ve been had. The initial studies that tout the value of breakfast were done by food industry groups that have an interest in selling you cereal.
Myth buster: Eating breakfast has no discernible effect on weight loss.
Lunch, however, can have a huge impact on your day. So, if there is a “most important meal of the day,” it looks like it’s lunch.
If you eat your lunch at your desk, you’re going to be more exhausted and less vigorous than that “slacker” that gets out for lunch everyday.
For the best lunch break
- Choose what you do over lunch. Mandatory team lunches are not that restorative nor are lunches where you’re told what to do in general.
- Get away from your desk and your work environment.
- Detach from work completely.
Take a nap
Naps are a great way to take a break and counterbalance that dreaded afternoon trough.
- NASA found that pilots that napped up to 40 minutes had a 34% increased reaction time and a 2X increase in alertness.
- Nappers are twice as likely to solve a complex problem than non-nappers.
- Increase your chances to get into flow.
- Boost your mood, alertness, and cognitive performance.
- Expand your brain’s capacity to learn.
- Improve your physical and mental health (nappers are 37% less likely to die from heart disease).
- Strengthen your immune system.
And, if you habitually take naps, you’ll get more benefit from your naps than infrequent nappers will from theirs.
The ideal nap
The ideal nap is a “nappaccino”:
- Drink a cup of coffee.
- Nap for 10-20 minutes.
This works because it takes caffeine 25 minutes to enter the bloodstream.
Take a nap, wake up to a caffeine boost. #winning
When you start out is important. Here are some tips on how to have the best beginnings.
When to start a new habit or goal
When we start a new goal or habit, it is often tied to a specific day.
- “I’m going to start exercising regularly on Monday.”
- “I’ll start setting money away with my first paycheck starting in January.”
The days we pick to start are often “temporal landmarks“. They signal to us that a new beginning is about to happen.
Temporal landmarks can be social (recognized by everyone like holidays, Mondays, of the start of a month), or personal (birthdays or anniversaries). So, don’t feel like you need to hang your hat on January 1st. You have many opportunities in a year to “start over”.
When starting a new habit, pick your landmark and stick to it.
When to go first
There are times in your life when you have the choice to go first or wait.
Here is when you want to be first:
- You’re on a ballot (the 1st name listed is chosen most often).
- You’re not the default choice (for example, you’re competing against a firm that already has the account you’re seeking).
- There are relatively few competitors (take advantage of the “primary effect” – they’ll be the most likely to remember the first in a series).
- You have a job interview. (“Narrow bracketing” occurs when you assume a small set of candidates represents the entire field. A good candidate up front means they’ll look harder for flaws in later candidates.)
Don’t go first when:
- You are the default choice (they’ll be more likely to stick to the defaults later in the day).
- There are lots of competitors. (On American Idol, the last singer advances to the next round 90% of the time. This may be because at first the standard of excellence is high, but with time, the standard becomes more realistic.)
- You’re operating in an uncertain environment.
- The competition is meager.
When to get married
Disclaimer: These are just trends, not hard and fast rules, so don’t panic if you didn’t get married at the “right” time.
- Shoot for somewhere around 25-30 years old to get married. If you get married too young or after the age of 32, you’re more likely to divorce.
- Wait until you’re done with school.
- Date for a year or more before getting married.
And, when you do get married, do it on the cheap. The more money you spend on your ring and wedding, the more likely you are to divorce.
That covers the first chunk of When!
I hope you learned some things and will try some of these ideas out. If you do try any of these ideas, let me know in the comments.
Also, let me know what you think of your bird tendencies. I’m curious to hear more.
Next time I’ll cover how to have the best midpoints and endings, according to Pink.