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Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

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Daniel Pink

Transcript of the video:

What we see here are these three kind of stages; peak, trough and rebound, and what seems to be the best remedy here, the best thing to do is to move certain kinds of tasks to certain times of the day.

So let’s talk about our peak. Now, most of us go through it and people who are morning people, what are called morning chronotypes, meaning they wake up early; go to sleep early, that’s about 14 per cent of the population. You have about 20 per cent of the population that are evening types, night owls, they rise late; go to sleep late. And then you have a bunch of people in the middle as of a lot of these things what I call third birds. They’re, you know, a little bit of both and there are big changes in our chronotype as we age, etc. etc.

But what we see is this pattern peak, trough, recovery. For most of us we follow it in that order. Owls, late night types, actually often go in the reverse direction. But regardless of what direction you go in,  we have a peak. The peak is when we should be doing our analytic tasks. Tasks that require heads down, focus and vigilance. And vigilance is the word here. When we’re at our peak we’re vigilant. We can keep out distractions, so this is the time when you should be analyzing a financial statement, writing a report. The things that require that kind of locked in, heads down focus where you’re capable of pew, pew, pew, batting away distractions. You're vigilant in that period.

The trough, this period down here that’s not very good for much. You see a lot of, there’s a remedy for this which I’ll talk about, they see a lot of bad stuff happening for instance in healthcare. Dale’s colleague, Katie Milkman has led some of this research about errors in hospitals for instance. You see anesthesia errors in hospitals, over four times more likely in procedures that begin at three p.m versus procedures that begin at nine a.m.

All kinds of bad stuff. A doctor is more likely to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics in afternoon exams rather than in morning exams. I don’t know, it’s 8:20 on a Friday morning, let’s talk about colonoscopies. Colonoscopies, you take colonoscopies done in the afternoon versus colonoscopies done in the morning, doctors typically find, there’s research showing doctors find half as many polyps in afternoon exams versus morning exam.


So the trough isn’t good for very much. So what we should be doing in our trough, that trough period of a few hours is our administrative work, right. Answering your routine e-mail, filling out your TPS reports. And one of the things that comes up, one of the things that happens is both at the organizational level and the individual level is so our bosses make us go to useless meetings during our peak and so, we squander that time when we should be doing our heads down at work or we sabotage ourselves and we say oh, I’m just going to check a few e-mails, but what’s on Twitter? Oh, I got to check on Facebook. Oh, I need to make a quick call and suddenly our peak is squandered and we start doing our heads down work during the trough which is a mistake.

Now, the third period, the recovery period is actually really interesting. I think it’s interesting because what we have is an interesting combo platter. What you see here is recovered mood, recovered mood, but we’re less vigilant and that’s actually an interesting combination because when we have a higher mood our mood is improved, but we’re less vigilant. It’s not a bad time to do creative kind of work.

And so, the researchers, so what some researchers found is that we’re better doing creative work during our non-peak time, they call this the inspiration paradox, lovely term there because you have this combo, higher mood and less vigilant. And so, if you’re brainstorming you don’t want to be super vigilant. I mean we’ve been in those sessions. That’s a stupid idea, that’s a stupid idea, that’s a stupid idea and you want to be a little bit looser, so that’s when we should be doing our inside work.

 [4.16 minutes]

This video was filmed as part of the Big Ideas Speaker Series at Rotman on January 24, 2018.

Daniel Pink is the author of six books about business and human behaviour. His books include the long-running New York Times bestsellers When and A Whole New Mind — as well as the #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. His books have won multiple awards, have been translated into 40 languages.