If you examine any of the decisions you have made in your life, there’s no doubt that timing had a role to play in the most successful (or unsuccessful) outcomes. Buying that stock before a huge run-up, or selling it before a collapse; meeting your future spouse; making that move to a new city; taking that promotion or new position with another company. In each event, timing, as they say, is everything. But why do we automatically assume that timing is an art? Are some people born with an innate sense of timing? Or is it a skill that can be developed over time? Daniel Pink examines these questions in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, arguing that timing is really a science that has the potential to “transform how you think about your past, your present and your future.”
Larks, Owls and Third Birds
The author begins by challenging our assumptions about “natural” units of time, pointing out that they are really “fences our ancestors constructed in order to corral time.” If seconds, hours and weeks are human inventions, is there a natural unit of time? The “cyclical monotony” of a day –– one rotation of the planet from sunrise to the following sunrise –– impacts us more than we realize. Each of us has a “chronotype,” or “a personal pattern of circadian rhythms that influences our physiology and psychology.” You may already be familiar with the extremes of these chronotypes as the “larks,” who start early in the morning, and the “night owls,” who prefer to work late into the night, but research has shown that there is a third category: “third birds,” where your internal clock is neither a lark nor a night owl.
The science of chronobiology may be fairly young, but the data has led researchers to the proposition that we experience our days as three phases: a “peak” of focused productivity, a “trough” of fatigue and clouded judgment, and a “rebound” to a peak state. If you are curious as to where you belong in this classification, the book allows you to complete the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire (MCTQ) to arrive at a numerical score for your chronotype.
Productivity and Restorative Breaks
Peak performance may seem like a logical goal, but Pink argues that we should be more concerned about the dangers of the “trough.” From poor decisions that may have led to the sinking of the Lusitania, to potentially fatal errors in dosages of anesthesia, When offers evidence that the “lack of vigilance” that is present in these troughs is changing how we think about our decision-making skills. For example, accurate diagnosis has traditionally been measured in terms of the experience of the physician, the type of patient and the nature of the problem. Chronobiology research is now leading us to question when the appointment occurred. A growing body of research on restorative breaks –– in laymen’s terms a siesta –– is suggesting that they may be the most effective means of combating the lack of vigilance that can be so threatening to effective performance.
Beginnings, Midpoints and Endings
While When challenges the assumption that timing is an art, the author does recognize that certain assumptions about time are valid. Time (as we currently understand it) is linear. That temporal line leads us through birth, life and death, and we may or may not experience a midlife crisis along the way. That stereotype of a major change in life choice (usually involving a red convertible) may have more credibility as a “temporal landmark” than first thought. Research on these landmarks is challenging the assumption that the best time to start is “now!” A New Year’s resolution may be an obvious choice for the start of a new project, but the data shows us that connecting the start or end of an important event to a significant date can make a positive difference.
When delivers a compelling narrative, balancing cutting-edge data with irresistible stories. To fully appreciate the potential of better understanding the hidden pattern of your day, take the MCTQ and go from there.