20 July 2018

When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing – Daniel H. Pink

Chapter 1

Daily fluctuations for pretty much everything (focus, vigilance, etc.) increases until end of morning, dips after noon and takes up in the evening. Independent of age and culture.

BUT lack of vigilance, called lack of inhibitory control, is necessary for insight-type problems (as opposed to analytic problems). Art and creative writing therefore perhaps better scheduled at non-optimal time of day (specifically the recovery period of the afternoon, not the mid-day trough).

All the above may be true for most people but everyone has a different chronotype (circadian rhythm). Examples: early or late risers/night owls.

Midpoint of sleep:
– before 3am: early risers, 14% of population
– after 6am: late risers, 21%

Genetics explains half of the variability in chronotype. People born in the spring and summer are more likely to be owls.

After genetics, the most important factor is age. Young children and older people are early risers. Teenagers are owls.

Men tend to be owls, women early risers, differences begin to disappear around age of 50.

Consequences on personalities. Owls more open and extroverted but also more neurotic, often impulsive, hedonists... more creative, better working memory, higher intelligence scores...

So owls have inverted periods of focus and vigilance with what's above (which corresponds to early risers and those in the middle of the curve): recovery > trough > peak. Once we know what type we are, put important work that requires vigilance and clear thinking during peak, head in the sky insight during recovery (that's morning for owls), and in any case absolutely avoid mundane tasks during peak.

When to exercise?

In the morning to:

  • lose weight (not eaten for 8 hours, low blood sugar, using fat stored in tissues)
  • boost mood
  • keep to routine
  • build strength (testosterone peaks in the morning)

In the late afternoon to:

  • avoid injury (warmer muscles)
  • perform best (lung function higher, more oxygen, strength peaks, hand-eye coordination best)
  • enjoy workout more

4 tips for a better morning

  • Drink a glass of water when you wake up (since 8 hours without drinking)
  • No coffee immediately after waking up (better 60-90 minutes after because barely any effect right at wake-up)
  • Soak up morning sun
  • Schedule talk-therapy appointments for the morning (more focused, advice absorbed more deeply)

Chapter 2

Afternoons (2-6pm): throughs. Vigilance reduced, more errors and mistakes, happen in all fields (surgeries, nurses washing hands or not, road accidents, exam tests, etc.) – can be counterbalanced by vigilance/restorative breaks e.g. checklist cards to be reviewed before every surgery > never accept a surgery after 12pm.

Exam results after a break increase before declining again (increase is higher than natural decline). Same goes with judging leniency.


  1. Frequent micro-breaks (8:52 ratio)
  2. Moving better than stationary
  3. Social better than solo
  4. Outside better than inside
  5. Tech-free, fully-detached from work, not trying to multitask

Lunch: detachment from work (no evidence that breakfast is the most important meal of the day).

Nap: 20 minutes. If more, sleep inertia and decreased cognitive ability initially.

Coffee (or caffeine in soda) right before 20-minute nap ideal: it takes 25 minutes to take effect (7 minutes on average to fall asleep).

Find your own afternoon through time by empirical evidence.

Regular naps better than infrequent naps.


  1. Micro 20-20-20: 20 minute-timer > every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Use a smaller water bottle to get up more often.
  2. Moving: walk 5 minutes every hour. 2 then 4 then 6 push-ups every day.
  3. Nature, or at least look outside.
  4. Social, even if just sending a thank-you email.
  5. Meditation/controlled breathing.

Chapter 3

Beginnings matter e.g. later start time at school for teens increased grades, decreased depression, etc.

Temporal landmarks allow to "start again" e.g. 1st January, start of a new week, after a bank holiday, personal ones like birthday, wedding, finishing a book, start of a new job, citizenship, etc. > effect on diet, gym attendance, etc.

Starting together e.g. when new doctors graduate: "killing month"... except if embedded into teams of experienced nurses, specialists, etc. New graduates starting in economic downturn suffer long-term lower salaries than graduates starting during healthy economy.

Avoid a false start with a premortem. Before the project begins, ask "assume it's 18 months from now and our project is a complete disaster, what went wrong?".

When to go first?

  • if you're on a ballot, first name on the ballot preferred
  • if you're NOT the default choice e.g. if pitching against a firm that already has the contract
  • if there are few competitors (<5), primacy effect (people remember the first thing better)
  • if interviewing for a job and up against several strong candidates

When NOT go first?

  • if you are the default choice
  • if there are many competitors (not necessarily strong ones)
  • if operating in uncertain environment (not knowing what decision maker expects)
  • if competition is meager (highlights differences better)

Chapter 4

Surveys across countries have shown happiness climbing high in early adulthood, begins to slide downward in late 30s and early 40s, dipping to a low in the 50s, and recovering quickly, well-being later in life often exceeding that of our younger years. Could be explained by unrealised then adjusted expectations. But same U-shaped pattern seen in apes... so biological explanation as well.

People cut corners in the middle: quality drops in the middle of a task before increasing again at the end.

Projects. Most significant progress is during a concentrated midpoint burst ("uh oh we're running out of time").

Midpoints can bring slumps or deliver sparks: being aware of midpoints can help.

  1. set intermediate goals, break things down in smaller tasks
  2. publicly commit to these intermediate goals
  3. stop sentences midway (when writing creatively)
  4. don't break the chain e.g. counting the number of days of writing each day in a row
  5. picture one person our work will help

Midlife slumps

  1. Prioritise top 5 goals, avoiding 20 other goals at all costs (only looked at if first 5 achieved)
  2. Look for career mentoring
  3. Be grateful about the positives
  4. Write self-compassionate words to oneself, forgiving errors and how to improve in the future
  5. Simply wait... until the feeling goes away

Chapter 5: Endings

1. Energise

Despite lack of biological sense, trigger at ages ending in 9 e.g. first-time marathon, cheating, suicide... same with last few moments of a match and scoring.

Often (short) deadlines are effective and increase completion rate vs. if no deadline, but can reduce creativity.

2. Encode

Endings affect our perception of the whole experience = James Dean effect / "peak-end rule" by Kahneman e.g. colonoscopies even if total duration (and total amount of pain) longer (likewise for positive experiences ending badly, regardless of the duration of the positive part)

3. Edit

As the end nears, pruning number of close/less close friends: sense that time is running out and not waste time on diminishing future payoffs of maintaining trivial social connections.

Editing not spurred by age but by endings of any sort e.g. college seniors graduating ("last day") vs. juniors

4. Elevate

We prefer endings that elevate: start with bad news, end with good news.

Poignancy = adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it e.g. "this is your last day at university".

Best endings don't leave us happy but with unexpected insight.


  • pay attention for first... and last lines of novels (to appreciate power of endings)
  • when to quit a job > 2+ 'no' to the following questions: do you want to be in this job on next work anniversary? is it both demanding and in your control? does your boss allow you to do your best work? are you outside the 3-5 year salary bump window? does your daily work align with your long-term goals?
  • workday: finish it by writing down accomplishments of the day; making progress is the single largest day-to-day motivator on the job. On sad days, often shows that more done than suspected. Also lay out plans for the following day.... and send a thank-you email.
  • last day of school e.g. teacher asking students to write a letter to themselves... then emailed 5 years later
  • last day of vacation, ending on a bang

Chapter 6

Group timing. Requires a boss to set the pace, maintain the standards, and focus the collective mind. Also requires a deep sense of belonging for synchronisation to one another – enhanced by shared codes, garb (uniform), touch (teams with high fives, etc. tend to win more often).

Operating in synchronisation expands openness and increases likelihood to engage in pro-social behaviour.


  • sing in a chorus, run together, row crew, etc.
  • promoting belonging to a group: reply quickly to email (single best predictor of whether employees are satisfied with their boss), tell stories about struggle, nurture self-organised group rituals, try a jigsaw classroom (e.g. teams of 5, each team member with a section of a famous person's life, then talks to equivalent people on other teams and finally comes back to initial team to produce cohesive piece – allows to learn structured interdependence).

Chapter 7

Nostalgia – benefits of thinking fondly about the past: sense of meaning and connection to others. Same principle applies to the future.

Value of rediscovering current experiences in the future.