A Summary and Review of When by Daniel Pink
When by Daniel Pink is a fascinating read about the science of perfect timing. Before reading this book, I hadn’t thought much about how significant the role timing plays in my own life. Timing is easy to overlook, but crucial to outcomes that impact our livelihood.
The book is broken down into 3 parts:
- the day
- beginnings, endings, and in between
- synching and thinking
Throughout the book, the cyclical nature of many aspects of our lives are discussed. Our moods and emotional balance are impacted by the time of day. Across continents and time zones, it was found that positive mood rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises again in the evening. Our emotional balance generally also rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises in the evening. While these two examples are internal states, they have an external impact on our lives.
We all have daily high points and low points. Our energy and cognitive abilities aren’t static over the course of a day. At certain times of the day, we’re smarter, faster, dimmer, slower, more creative, or less creative than we are at other times. These daily fluctuations are extreme. The performance difference between our high point and low point can be equivalent to the effect on performance of drinking the legal limit of alcohol. The best time for us to perform a given task depends on the nature of the task.
The implications that this has on our education system are alarming. In research on the correlation between exam performance and time of the exam, students who tested in the afternoon scored significantly lower than students who tested in the morning. For every hour later the exam was, students’ average scores dropped. This is completely unfair. As students, we have little to no control over what time we have what class. Things should be changed so that all students are on a level playing field with regards to when they take their exams.
For certain tasks, we aren’t at our best when our cognitive abilities are at their peak. When we’re looking to accomplish goals involving innovation and creativity, we often do better when we aren’t most cognitively capable with regards to our circadian rhythms. In these types of tasks, a lack of inhibitory control can serve us well. Our moods and performance significantly oscillate throughout the day. It’s important to track your physical energy and mental alertness throughout the day so that you can try to optimize your schedule around your capacity to do the task at hand.
Each one of us has a chronotype or pattern of circadian rhythm that influences our physiology and psychology. Some of us are larks (early birds), whereas others are owls (night owls). In reality, about 65% of us are what Daniel Pink calls third birds. Third birds fall between these two extremes. They don’t rise particularly early or stay up particularly late.
The sad reality is that our corporate, government, and educations systems are seriously flawed. These systems are configured to work for 75–80% of people who are larks or third birds. Owls are forced to live in this world that is designed in a way that goes against their nature. We all experience the day in three stages: a peak, trough, and rebound. As a result of the way our society is designed, owls are often forced to work when they’re not at their peak.
Many outcomes are dependent on when an appointment is. Afternoon low points in our circadian rhythms impair physical vigilance and impact human performance of complex tasks. In research at Duke Medical Center, it was determined that the probability of a problem occurring during surgeries at 9 am was about 1%. At 4 pm, the probability of a problem occurring was 4.2%. If your surgery were scheduled at 4 pm as opposed to 9 am, it’d be over 4 times as likely that there’d be a problem. The number of car accidents on the road also appears to be directly related to the time of day.
As a result of these terrifying findings, Pink generally recommends that you schedule all medical appointments in the morning. Hospital staff seem to be functioning at their best in the morning, according to research.
Pink goes on to discuss the importance of taking breaks to restore our cognitive capabilities. He brings up research revolving around court judges’ decisions. In court, judges were found to be more lenient after taking a break. The consequences of these findings are alarming: if one happens to appear before a parole board just before a judge took a break, they’d likely spend a few more years in jail than if they were to appear after a judge took a break. Daylight saving also impacted prison sentences: on the Monday after the switch to Daylight Saving Time, judges gave prison sentences that were 5% longer than the sentences they gave on average Mondays. For better or worse, the time of day of important events can tangibly impact our lives.
Pink offers 5 guiding principles for taking restorative breaks:
- Something is better than nothing: short breaks are better than no breaks. High performers tend to work for 52 minutes and take a 17-minute break, according to researchers.
- Moving beats stationary: taking a 5-minute walk every hour can improve mood, reduce feelings of fatigue, increase motivation and concentration, and enhance creativity.
- Social beats solo: there’s a power in being with others when you take breaks.
- Outside beats inside: nature breaks seem to replenish us most.
- Fully detached beats semi-detached: 99% of individuals can’t multitask. When we take a break, it’s important to fully take a break rather than check text messages or talk about work. Psychological and physical detachment from work are both crucial.
Pink also discusses how lunch breaks and naps can boost creativity. Naps are a good way to take a break and get out of the trough of our day. If you’re going to nap, Pink recommends sticking to 20 minutes or less, as hard as that may be.
- I would give When by Daniel Pink an 82/100.
- I found the book to be both fascinating and informative. I had never considered how something like time of day can impact my life in significant ways.
- Pink was able to deliver actionable recommendations that improved my life. As a result of reading this book, I also gained a better understanding of how we’re each unique with regards to when we function at our best.