Two-science backed lessons on perfect timing

Do you know that simply knowing how to accomplish your goal isn’t sufficient for achieving top performance?

Well, it isn’t. And that’s according to new research that revealed another critical factor that often goes overlooked when considering how to achieve our desired results: timing. 

“In his book, When: The Scientific Principles of Perfect Timing, Dan Pink synthesizes cutting-edge research into a compelling narrative that highlights the power of leveraging timing to amplify performance. 

On a day-to-day basis, we face a never-ending stream of “when” decisions – when to change jobs, when to buy a house, when to exercise or even, when to end a relationship. Most people make these decisions by relying on unsubstantiated systems like intuition or guesswork. Worse, most tasks are scheduled based on nothing more than our availability; we give minimal thought to the kind of task we’re doing and how timing might affect our performance, and instead pencil in our to-dos whenever our schedule allows. In so doing, we are undoubtedly leaving peak performance on the table.”

Timing is everything, and it will always be a crucial part of our lives. So, here are two lessons from Dan Pink’s book that will guide you in making better when-to decisions: 

Lesson 1: Honor your chronotype 

Everyone has a chronotype, that is, a person’s natural inclination about the times of day when they prefer to sleep or when they are most alert or energetic.

Knowing your chronotype is key to understanding how you experience the day and when you are most active at various tasks. 

Each day is divided into three experiential stages: a peak, a trough, and a rebound. Larks and third birds experience the day in precisely that order, while owls experience the reverse. Use the research-backed chart below to determine better when to take different types of action:

To determine your chronotype, take the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire at https://www.danpink.com/mctq.

Lesson 2: Use Restorative Breaks to Boost Your Performance

Something happens during the trough, roughly seven hours after waking, that makes it far more perilous than any other time of day. For example:

  • Sleep-related vehicle accidents peak twice a day: between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. (middle of the night, makes sense) and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. (middle of the afternoon, hello trough!).
  • Taking a test 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.

Becoming more aware of the trough is an essential first step in learning to avoid making poor decisions due to bad timing. 

Research shows that the best way to combat the dangers of the trough is by taking restorative breaks. While there’s no single answer on precisely what those breaks should look like, Pink says science offers five guiding principles:

  1. Something beats nothing: Even short breaks from a task can help us maintain focus and reactivate our commitment to a goal if our motivation is waning. 
  2. Moving beats stationary: “Microbursts of activity” like hourly 5-minute walks have been shown to boost energy, sharpen focus, increase concentration, enhance creativity and improve mood. 
  3. Social beats solo: It is believed that spending time alone can recharge us, but much of the research points toward the higher power of being with others, particularly when we’re free to choose with whom we spend time. 
  4. Outside beats inside: Although people can recognize they’d be happier taking a break outside, they underestimate how much happier being close to trees, plants, rivers, etc. is a powerful restorative and allows people to return to their tasks in a better mood (Nizbet and Zelenski, 2011).
  5. Fully detached beats semi-detached: Resist the urge to multitask. Step away from all work-related material and engage in something completely different (all of those office ping pong tables are starting to make sense—they’re social, active, and fully detached!)

We spend countless hours researching and strategizing about how to tackle our daily tasks, but so rarely do we strongly consider when we tackle our tasks. When we fail to use timing to our advantage, we short-change ourselves and limit our potential.

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