Each one of us has the best time of day — and year — to work most effectively. The trick is knowing when that is.

They say timing is everything. Yet when it comes to how we work, it’s often not given much thought at all. We work nine to five (or 7 to 7) not because that’s when our bodies work best, but because that’s when we’re supposed to show up. We spend weeks preparing a pitch presentation for a new client, but give no thought about when we give it. We spend the first two hours answering email in our inboxes rather than doing our most challenging work.

But in Daniel Pink’s latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, timing really is everything. What’s your “chronotype”? When’s the best time of day to do your hardest work? What does research say about giving good news or bad news first?

Pink, the longtime business author and former speechwriter for former Vice-President Al Gore, answers these questions and more in his latest addition to the work-smarter genre, “When.”

Well known for his popular books that apply research from psychology and other social sciences to motivation, creativity and sales, Pink delves into one of the less frequent questions about our jobs: Not just what, how or with whom we do our work, but when – the best time to take breaks, start a new project or compete in a bid for new clients.


Q: Where did you get the idea for this book?
A: I realised I was making all kinds of “when” decisions in my own life. When in the day should I work out — early or late? When should I abandon a project that isn’t working very well? How should I configure my day for maximum productivity?

I realised that there weren’t very good answers — I actually wrote this book so I could read it. There’s a huge amount of research out on this topic, in a whole array of fields: Fields I’m comfortable with, like economics and social psychology, and things like endocrinology where I had to read a paper three or four times to realise what they were saying.

Q: Or “chronobiology” — which is what?
A: It’s the study of our biological rhythms. Some of us rise early and feel energetic in the day and fade out by early evening. Other people are groggier in the morning and take a while to ramp up and hit their peak in the late afternoon or evening. Some of us are larks — some of us are owls. But if you look at distribution, most of us are a little bit of both — what I call “third birds.”
There’s a period of day when we’re at our peak, and that’s best for doing analytic tasks things like writing a report or auditing a financial statement. There’s the trough, which is the dip – that’s not good for anything. And then there’s recovery, which is less optimal, but we do better at insight and creativity tasks.

Q: Many of us don’t have control at work over what time we do things. Are workplaces starting to wake up to this?
A: Not that many. There have been a couple of experiments: A chronobiologist did an experiment with a German industrial company where he allowed people to configure their day based on their chronotypes and, not surprisingly, satisfaction and productivity went up. To me, the bigger issue here is that we have thought of “when” as a second order question. We take questions of how we do things, what we do, and who I do it with very seriously, but we stick the “when” questions over at the kids’ table.

Q: Let’s talk about breaks. There’s all these different theories about the approach. Does the science say one is better than the other?
A: I’m sceptical of any claim that says it should be 14 minutes or it should be 17 minutes. I don’t think the evidence is there for that. What the evidence does tell us, though, is a broader set of design principles, the most important of which is that breaks are much more important than we realise.

Fifteen years ago, someone who pulled an all nighter or got by on two hours of sleep was seen as a kind of a hero. But fewer people today think that not getting enough sleep is a good idea, and that’s largely because the science of sleep started pointing us in that direction. I think breaks are following the same trajectory. Many hard-core workplaces think of breaks as a deviation from performance, when in fact the science of breaks tells us they’re a part of performance.

Research shows us that social breaks are better than solo breaks – taking a break with somebody else is more restorative than doing it on your own. A break that involves movement is better than a stationary one. And then there’s the restorative power in nature. Simply going outside rather than being inside, simply being able to look out a window during a break is better. And there’s the importance of being fully detached, and going outside rather than looking at your email.

Every day I write down two breaks that I’m going to take. I make a ‘break list,’ and I try to treat them with the same reverence with which I’d treat scheduled meetings. We would never skip a meeting.

— Washington Post

Daniel Pink will delivery a keynote at HR Summit and Expo this November in Dubai. To find out more abut the event visit event website.

This article was originally published at Gulf News website on 16 September 2016