Timing is everything. We’ve heard it our whole lives — but when we talk about timing, we’re often talking about it as though time is something that happens to us, like meeting the right person at the wrong time or putting off starting a new side hustle because “the time just isn’t right yet.”
But with his latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, author Dan Pink is here to say that yes, while timing is everything, we’re totally capable of harnessing the foundations of timing to our advantage.
Follow Ladders on Flipboard!
While he has lots to say about the timing of big life decisions like marriage, career switches, and even when to schedule surgery, he’s also totally transformed our ideas about the timing of our regular, routine workdays.
We chatted with Pink about his findings on productivity in the workplace, Read on to reimagine your nine-to-five timeline.
Brit +Co: Thanks for taking the time (wink, wink) to chat with us. What does “perfect timing” mean to you?
Dan Pink: We make most of our “when” decisions based on intuition, guesswork, and default. That’s a mistake. Across more than a dozen fields — economics, social psychology, endocrinology, chronobiology, cognitive science, and more — researchers are uncovering a huge batch of exciting evidence that allows us to make systematically better “when” decisions. Using that evidence won’t deliver perfect timing all the time, but we can at least make smarter, better choices.
Brit +Co: A big part of your premise on perfect timing revolves around an idea of three distinct parts of a day — the peak, trough, and recovery. Can you walk us through these stages?
DP: Most of us progress through the day in three stages: A peak, a trough, and a recovery. And about 80% of us move through the day in that order. But the exception — and it’s a hugely important one — are people with evening chronotypes. These night owls naturally wake up late and go to sleep late. They’re much more complicated. But the key thing to know is that they reach their peak late in the afternoon and through the evening.
During the peak, which for most of us is early in the day but for owls is the evening, we’re highest in vigilance. That makes it the best time for analytic tasks, those that require heads-down focus and attention. During the trough, which for almost everyone is early to mid-afternoon, we’re better off doing mundane administrative tasks — the sorts of things that don’t require massive brainpower and creativity. And during the recovery, which for most of us is the late afternoon and early evening, our vigilance is lower but our mood is higher — which makes it a good time for creative, iterative, insight tasks.
B+C: So, we’re most focused in the mornings for detail-oriented tasks and loose in the afternoons for creative endeavors — so what should we be working on during our “trough” periods?