Who should read this book: Another great read by Daniel Pink. This one is great for anybody that is trying to figure out a cheap and effective way to hack their biology in order to become more productive in their lives. This book explores the power of doing activities at certain times and how much more effective we can be if we follow certain patterns — from daily to monthly and even yearly.
Through experience you’ve probably realized at what times of day you’re more efficient, but now we have science to back it up. And we’re not all made equal. Some of us are larks and some of us are night owls, and these preferences of “I prefer to wake up in the morning” are not preferences at all — they are anchored in biology, or to be specific, chronobiology, the field of biology that examines periodic (cyclic) phenomena in living organisms and their adaptation to solar- and lunar-related rhythms.
In short, all of us experience the day in three stages—a peak, a trough, and a rebound. And about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order. But about one in four people, those whose genes or age make them night owls, experience the day in something closer to the reverse order—recovery, trough, peak.
Personally, I’m most brave, productive and happy in the mornings. This lulls around 2-4pm and then picks back up after 6pm or so. Most of my writing, then, get’s done between 7-11am or 7-10pm. That’s just me and maybe you’re different. The problem is that the workplace doesn’t take into account simple biology — we’re expected to go to meetings at whatever time of day and produce the same results. For many of us, we’ll be more awake and sharp in our 10am meeting then a 3pm meeting. It makes sense, then, to plan and schedule the most productive activities around the times when we operate most efficiently. Also, not to beat ourselves up too much when we can’t get in the zone for whatever reason; we have to give ourselves some slack, we’re not machines after all.
One British survey found that the typical worker becomes least productive around 2:55 pm. In an analysis of over half a billion tweets, people were more likely to write positive/happy thoughts in the morning and evening, with a big dip in the afternoon (around 1-4pm). This pattern repeats itself at work (the “midday slump”), our creative lives, and life in general. The solution? Taking 2-3 scheduled breaks (preferably in nature) during the dip period has shown to significantly increase our focus and attention. Also, if you’re talking to colleagues during the break, non-work related “chit chat” actually helps reduce stress and clear the mind.
It’s not just about biology, though, and there’s a psychological aspect as well. Our weeks flow in cycles, too. You’re more productive on Monday/Tuesday than you are on Friday. Having a “fresh start,” a period that’s marked by the start of a week, month or year is a good driver for us to start strong.
The science of timing now affirms what the Old World already understood: you’re trying to encourage people to eat healthier, a campaign calling for Meatless Mondays will be far more effective than one advocating Vegan Thursdays. New Year’s Day has long held a special power over our behavior. We turn the page on the calendar, glimpse all those beautiful empty squares, and open a new account book on our lives. But we typically do that unwittingly, blind to the psychological mechanisms we’re relying on. The fresh start effect allows us to use the same technique, but with awareness and intention, on multiple days. After all, New Year’s resolutions are hardly foolproof. Research shows that a month into a new year only 64 percent of resolutions continue to be pursued.Constructing our own temporal landmarks, especially those that are personally meaningful, gives us many more opportunities to recover from rough beginnings and start again.
Big themes and ideas from the book:
“I have good news and bad news, which would you like to hear first?” According to studies people almost always prefer to hear the bad news first — no matter if they are students, spouses or patients. Unfortunately those giving the feedback often make the mistake of giving the bad news last, probably because it’s easier. Remember: Given a choice, humans prefer endings that elevate on a positive note.
Look at Yelp reviews of restaurants, for example, and notice how many of the reviews describe how the meal ended—an unexpected farewell treat, a check with an error, a server chasing after diners to return an item left behind. Endings also affect more consequential choices. For example, when Americans vote for president, they tell pollsters they intend to decide based on the full four years of an expiring presidential term. But research shows voters decide based on the election year economy—the culmination of a four-year sequence, not its totality. This “end heuristic,” political scientists argue, leads to “myopic voting” and, perhaps as a result, myopic policies.
After genetics, the most important factor in one’s chronotype is age. As parents know and lament, young children are generally larks. They wake up early, buzz around throughout the day, but don’t last very long beyond the early evening. Around puberty, those larks begin morphing into owls. They wake up later—at least on free days—gain energy during the late afternoon and evening, and fall asleep well after their parents. By some estimates, teenagers’ midpoint of sleep is 6 a.m. or even 7 a.m., not exactly in synch with most high school start times. They reach their peak owliness around age twenty, then slowly return to larkiness over the rest of their lives
And other practical solutions to being more productive!
After genetics, the most important factor in one’s chronotype is age. As parents know and lament, young children are generally larks. They wake up early, buzz around throughout the day, but don’t last very long beyond the early evening. Around puberty, those larks begin morphing into owls. They wake up later—at least on free days—gain energy during the late afternoon and evening, and fall asleep well after their parents. By some estimates, teenagers’ midpoint of sleep is 6 a.m. or even 7 a.m., not exactly in synch with most high school start times. They reach their peak owliness around age twenty, then slowly return to larkiness over the rest of their lives.
The Coffee Nap: Studies have shown that the optimum length for a nap is 10-20 minutes. No more and no less, otherwise you might feel groggy. Drink a cup of coffee right before the siesta to give you an extra kick when you wake up, as caffeine takes 20-30 minutes to take effect. I understand it might be hard to convince your boss that taking coffee naps and going for strolls in the park will boost the bottom-line, but the science is there, so it’s certainly worth starting with small changes. I encourage you to check out Daniel’s book as it has some great tricks and techniques to do so (and maybe gift it to your boss, too).