How Science Can Get Your Timing in the Pink

What we don’t know about timing can hurt or help us

Do you love a good behavioral science book that you can apply in your work and life? Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors in this field. “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” is a great encouragement to creative thinkers. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” is required reading for anyone managing anybody. (Spoiler alert: It’s autonomy, mastery and purpose that motivate — not money or fear.)

Pink’s latest is “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” We use intuition or guesswork to decide when to do what, but science can show us a better way. Pink synthesizes research studies and stories to help us use timing to our advantage.

We make timing decisions constantly. There are the BIG timing questions: When should I start a family? When should I change jobs or launch my business? And then there are the dozens of daily timing questions: When should I start that new project? What’s the best time for that meeting? When should I exercise? When is lunch?

Pink’s “when-to” guide makes a great case to recognize and respect the role of timing — whether it involves which tasks to tackle first thing in our day, how to take the most refreshing nap or why synching actions with others is critical to the emergency room and the basketball court.

Here are a couple of my favorite takeaways from the book:

  • Don’t fight the funk
    Universally, each day has a peak, a trough and a rebound. Our mood and ability to focus go up throughout the morning, plunge in the afternoon and rise again later in the day. This has huge implications for what work to do during the peak and what to save for your lower-energy time. It’s also useful for when to schedule your surgery.
  • Lunch is the most important meal of the day
    The evidence supporting breakfast as the most important meal of the day is based on correlation verses causation. But taking a decent lunch break has proven advantages for overcoming the midday trough. Wolfing down a sandwich at your desk will not do it. To deal with the stress and exhaustion for the remainder of the day and be productive, you need to detach from your work physically and emotionally. (Lunch is for everybody, not just wimps!)
  • Respect the middle
    Our lives, our projects, our vacations have a beginning, an end — and a middle. Pink says midpoints are peculiar in that they can create a slump or a spark. A study of project teams revealed that they don’t make steady progress toward the goal. Rather, they tend to accomplish very little until they hit the halfway point from the deadline. He calls it the “uh-oh effect”: when teams kick into gear in the middle and get the work done. Very useful to know for your next project.

These examples just scratch the surface. I highly recommend Pink’s book if you want to better organize your day and your projects. Plus, the insights on timing can help us sync up with what makes life rich and rewarding.

We’d love to hear what discoveries you’ve made about the importance of timing!

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