ThinkPieces

Timing is everything!

I have just read one of those books that I can’t ignore. In fact, I need the insights it reveals to niggle me until I do something about them. As W Clement Stone puts it, ‘Truth will always be truth, regardless of lack of understanding, disbelief or ignorance.’ I can’t claim any of those now!

The book is the latest offering by Daniel Pink, and is called When. It’s all about time, how we see it, and how we use it.

 

For example, have you ever thought about how your mood shifts during the day, and how that affects your productivity and problem-solving ability? For most of us, mood is great in the morning, degenerates a bit in the afternoon, and then improves again in the evening. So what? Well, the internal reality of our mood has a distinct effect on how we show up externally: in our social and work environments. That means our flexibility, our attitude towards problems, and our judgment of people quite probably varies significantly through the day. Ouch!

Timing isn’t just relevant to our mood; it also affects our cognitive abilities. Our alertness, creativity, and problem-solving capacity fluctuates more through the day than we realise – in fact the variance can be as much as 20%. Pink introduces the idea of ‘chronotypes’ – explaining that we each have personal circadian rhythm patterns that influence our mental and physical energy: whether we like it or not. He labels the three types as Larks, Owls, and Third Birds, saying each type experiences a peak, a trough, and a rebound in cognitive capacity.

So what’s the fuss about here? The main points for me are responsibility, and awareness – especially self-awareness. How does my emotional energy shift through the day? Do I curate my mood and monitor my responses, or do my colleagues and family have to ‘hope for the best?’ Furthermore, I should be acutely aware of when in my day I am at my peak, and I should protect that time for my most demanding tasks – come hell or high water.

Pink introduces some other fascinating insights in the book about optimum times to do things. Exercise is an interesting one. Early morning exercise is best for weight loss and strength building, but you will perform better, and enjoy yourself more later in the day (and you are less likely to get injured). What about that early morning routine and that first injection of caffeine? The truth is, water is best when you wake up, due to the dehydration your body experiences through the night; and that first Americano should only feature around an hour after you are up and about.

One of the most sobering set of stats from the book reveals how much more can go wrong in hospitals in afternoons. That flat spot after lunch (conference speakers and facilitators call it the ‘graveyard shift’ for good reason!) appears to lead to more fatal doses, more undetected cancers, more unnecessary prescriptions, and poorer hygiene than would happen in the morning.

The value of short breaks in mitigating these lapses in concentration cannot be emphasized enough. Even if my job focus or lack thereof doesn’t put lives at stake, I ignore the need to step away and refresh at my peril. And when I take breaks, I should ideally be moving around a bit (not sitting on social media!). If I can do this outdoors while chatting with others: even better! Oh, and what about the supreme luxury of being able to nap during the workday? Yup, you read correctly. Organisations such as Google and Zappos now provide ‘nap pods’ for their employees to rejuvenate during working hours. Interestingly, the recommended way to do that is through a ‘nappuccino’ – a cup of coffee, followed immediately by a 25 minute (maximum) nap – the cumulative effect of which is a fresh and alert mind for a few more hours of productivity!

Pink also introduces valuable ideas around ‘temporal landmarks’ in our lives – and how to harness them effectively. Our perceptions of beginnings, middles and endings determine how we show up in so many key moments in our lives: why not frame these psychological time milestones in a way that helps us bring our best selves to the table?

Space doesn’t allow for too many more learnings gleaned, but I do hope these little snippets have whet your appetite for more. Daniel Pink’s book When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is available at a bookstore near you or on Amazon for your kindle. The ISBN number is 9781782119883. Grab it if you are keen to know more, but I am personally with Pink, who sums it up at the end of the book, ‘I used to believe that timing was everything. Now I believe that everything is timing.’

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