One of my favorite authors is Daniel Pink. He’s written about how right-brainers will rule the future, the surprising truth about what motivates us, and how to move and motivate others. His latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, just came out and I just read it. Like the others I’ve read, it is immediately practical and well worth your time.
The book has three main parts. The first covers the importance of timing in the rhythm of our days (as in actual days, morning, afternoon, evening). The second examines larger aspects of timing such as beginnings and endings, as well as the in-between (and the pitfalls it might have in store). The final part wraps up by showing the importance of group timing and our overall thinking when it comes to time.
Each of these parts has at least two chapters, with the middle part having three, and in between each chapter is a “time hacker’s handbook.” Pink has done this in previous books, but it is a nice touch. The chapters themselves present his research and lay out the main concepts. Then, these in between sections offer practical steps for applying the principles into everyday life.
For instance, the first chapter, “The Hidden Pattern of Everyday Life,” explains why you’re probably not productive during the afternoon hours. Pink explains the concept of “chronotype,” and helps you figure out what you are. There are “larks” (morning people), owls (night people), and what he calls “third birds” (what most people actually are). The short version for figuring out what you are is to ask when do you wake up on free days? (usually weekends). If it’s the same as work days, you’re probably a lark (that’s me). If it’s a little bit later, you’re a third bird. If it’s more than 90 minutes later, you’re an owl.
Further on in the chapter, Pink explains that most of us experience the day in three stages: a peak, a trough, and a rebound. For larks and third birds, the day unfolds in that order, which is why afternoons are disastrous for certain productivity tasks. Owls however experience the day almost in reverse: recovery, through, then peak. This explains why my 12th Grade Bible class is mostly zombies when we meet at 8:20 am, but the 9th Grade class is bouncing off the walls 2:20 pm (well, it’s not the only explanation).
Then, in the time hacker’s handbook for this chapter, Pink helps readers figure out their daily “when.” For people like me, analytical tasks are best done in the early morning, while insight tasks work better in the late afternoon or early evening. Decisions are best made earlier rather than later, lest I want to fall prey to some of the lapses of afternoon judgment that Pink chronicles so well in the introduction and first chapter.
The second chapter goes into more detail about how for many of us, the afternoon is a sort of Bermuda triangle of the day. The time hacker handbook offers tips for the perfect nap (hint: drink coffee right before, and then set your phone alarm for 25 minutes from when you close your eyes), as well as the best practices for breaks in general throughout the work day.
I found the rest of the book similarly helpful, and resonate with Pink’s closing line: “I used to believe that timing was everything. Now I believe that everything is timing” (218). While maybe overstated, this book makes a clear and concise case that when we do things is equally important as what, why, and how. It also represents the best kind of book. That is, it is well written and marries the theoretical to the practical. In my typical genre of reading, I wish there were more books like this. One day, there might be. But in the meantime, I’d highly recommend reading this book and taking the insights to heart.