Summary Written by Jill Donahue
“I used to believe that timing was everything. Now I believe that everything is timing.”

- When, page 218

The Big Idea

Larks, Owls and Third Birds

"We are smarter, faster, dimmer, slower, more creative, and less creative in some parts of the day than others."- When, page 22

We all experience the day in three stages – a peak, a trough and a rebound. About three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order and one in four people who are night owls, experience it in the reverse – recovery, trough, peak.

People feel increasingly happy, warm toward others and enjoy themselves more increasingly throughout the morning, less warm in the afternoon and warmer again in the evening. Research has also shown that time-of-day effects can explain 20% of the variance in performance on cognitive undertakings. For example, students scored higher in the mornings than in the afternoons.

How can you use this knowledge to your benefit?

First, figure out your type:

  1. What time do you usually go to sleep?
  2. What time do you usually wake up?
  3. What is the middle of these two times?

If that numbers falls between 12am and 3am you are a Lark. If it’s between 6am and 12pm you are an Owl. Most people are not an Owl or a Lark but fall into the Third Bird category. If it’s between 3:30am – 5:30am you are a third bird.

Now that you know your type, you can identify the peak hours you may want to protect for your most challenging work. Perhaps you will want to book that appointment with a tough customer for their peak time.

The trough is the tough time. You may not want to book your surgery (yikes! The stats are staggering) or take a test during this time. More creative endeavors may be better suited here. But you don’t always have a choice. We’ll talk more about what to do to protect yourself from the dangers of the trough in Gem #2.

Insight #1

Let them sleep!

"More frequently than we realize, the most potent answers lurk in the realm of when."- When, page 89

When we begin the school day has tremendous implications beyond what time the gym is available for extra-curricular activities. Why?

The timing described above changes throughout life. After genetics, the biggest predictor of what type of bird you are is your age. You know young children are usually Larks; waking up raring to go early and petering out in the early evening. Around puberty however, those larks morph into owls. They wake up later, experience their best energy in the late afternoon and evening and fall asleep well after parents.

Beginning the school day for teens before 8:30am can impair their health and hobble their grades. The evidence is so overwhelming that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement calling for middle and high schools to begin no earlier than 8:30am. The CDC concluded that “delaying school start times has the potential for the greatest population impact” in boosting teenage learning and well-being.

For example, car crashes and depression go down while attendance and grades go up! In one study of 30,000 student across seven states, high school graduation increased by 11%! Wow! A proven, free way to make significant change. Why aren’t all school boards onto this? (When you grab your copy of When, check out pages 90 and 91 for evidence that shows we must run not walk to our school board offices to demand this change.)

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Insight #2

Afternoons and Coffeespoons

"You probably have a to-do list. Now it’s time to create a ‘break list’, give it equal attention and treat it with equal respect."- When, page 75

I still felt guilty about it: the day, when, as a pharmaceutical sales rep, I pulled my car over mid-afternoon and (deep sigh) took a nap. But not anymore!

The statistics Pink shares are staggering. Bottom line, the overall benefits of napping to our brain power, productivity, and overall health are massive. And breaks, contrary to popular belief that they are wasteful, actually contribute to our productivity in significant ways!

For example: taking tests in the afternoon without a break produces scores that are equivalent to spending less time in school each year, and having parents with lower incomes and less education. But taking the same test after a twenty or thirty-minute break leads to scores that are equivalent to students spending three additional weeks in the classroom and having somewhat wealthier and better-educated parents. Whoa. That puts the proposal to cut recess out the window!

By studying the most successful people in the world and sharing their secrets, Pink shows us how much more productive we can be when we strategize naps and breaks to avoid the dreaded afternoon slump. For example:

  1. Have a napuccino – about seven hours after waking, drink a cup of coffee and set your timer for 25 minutes; five minutes to fall asleep and 20 minutes to sleep. Repeat as necessary each day.
  2. Walk – Set your timer every hour and take a five-minute walk.
  3. Get outside – nature replenishes us.
  4. Be social – talk to someone about something other than work. Better yet, thank someone.
  5. Shift gears – meditate or just focus on your breathing, or listen to a funny podcast.
  6. Lunch break – don’t eat at your desk, try to include any of the above suggestions in the break you take for lunch.

The highest performing people work fifty-two minutes and break for seventeen. The highest performing schools have fifteen-minute breaks every hour. But even micro breaks can help.

If you introduce more breaks into your organization or just into your own day, you too will enjoy increased motivation, concentration and enhanced creativity.

The ideal plan to ward off the afternoon slump? Consider a short walk outside with a friend during which you talk about something other than work.

What am I going to do differently? I am going to take down time much more seriously. I am going to share this book with my school board. I am going to surf the waves of the day more intentionally instead of abiding by my old adage ‘nose to the grindstone’.

Read the book

Get When on Amazon.

Daniel Pink

Daniel H. Pink is the author of six provocative books — including his newest, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. His other books include the long-running New York Times bestseller A Whole New Mind and the #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. His books have won multiple awards and have been translated into 35 languages. Pink lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and their three children.

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