Advance Performance | When? How Can We Plan Our Time to Perform at Our Best?
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When? How Can We Plan Our Time to Perform at Our Best?

When? How Can We Plan Our Time to Perform at Our Best?

If we’re making an important life decision, what we decide obviously requires careful consideration. But what about when we decide? Could the time of day that we make a decision be significant? Could our schedule affect how well we learn or work to our potential?

How can we ensure that WHEN we pursue our major work and personal goals we can achieve our optimum success?

In his new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Daniel Pink reports on the scientific research on performance at different times during the day. Did you know your operation is more likely to be successful if it is scheduled in a morning? Or that students tend to have better exam results in morning exams, and you are more likely to have a positive result in a court case in the morning than in the afternoon?

Pink explains that all of us has a chronotype or body clock which causes us to experience the day in three stages: a peak, a trough and a recovery . Around 75 to 80 per cent of us experience it in that order as most of us peak during the morning (larks or close to larks). However, one in four of us, the night owls, experience the day in the reverse order: recovery, trough, peak which means they can have difficulties in a society organised around larks.

During the peak we perform at our best, can concentrate and focus most effectively on analytical work, make clearer decisions, and work out calculations. Our mood is more positive and we have more energy which rises to a peak either around midday for natural larks and late afternoon or early evening for owls.

The trough is when we have low energy and concentration, and crucially not the time to schedule our important meetings, tasks which require logical and analytical work, or the time to make life-changing decisions. Research has shown that students have poorer results in exams taken in an afternoon, and health care research proved that staff wash their hands less in the afternoon than in the morning. Overall, we are most likely to have a car accident between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.during the day.

However, our recovery time is when we have another boost of energy and rising mood, and tends to be our most creative period as we are less inhibited. Our exercise performance tends to reach its peak in late afternoon (when it has been proved a much higher or athletics records are achieved) – when our lungs function better and is the natural recovery time for most people. (Also, athletes tend to fit in their schedules with early morning training following the “lark” chronotype.)

Pink says: “To make the best for yourself, work out your own habits and try to do your most vital work when you’re at your peak.”

The author also explores the importance of taking breaks during work to enable us to maintain energy and focus. We do need to move away from our desks and computers, and leave our phones or laptops, walk outside and have a change of scenery to boost our focus, energy and creativity.

Pink says: “my view always was amateurs take breaks; professionals don’t. And it’s the exact opposite. Professionals take breaks. Amateurs don’t. Breaks are part of performance. They’re not a deviation from performance.”

In addition to how we should schedule our day according to our chronotype, Pink explains research on timing during the year and our lives overall to enable us to make effective decisions on changing jobs, committing to a partner,  the best time to start new projects and when we can have a trough in long term projects. He also provides us with specific dates during the year that are proven to boost our success!

The book explores the optimum time to remain in a job and then pursue promotion (around three years), the best time to start a new job (in a strong economy) in order to earn more over a ten year period, and even the optimum ages to run a faster marathon (it is proven to be when the number ends in a 9! The entrants for first time marathon runners also rise by 48% for people whose ages end in a 9.)

Although there are many factors to consider which will determine our success in achieving a goal during a day or over a longer period, Pink’s research and advice suggests we should consider more on the question of “When” we pursue our work, exercise, make decisions, or apply for new jobs. Applying the research and advice to ensure we work at our optimum performance dependent on our chronotype could make a significant difference to our successes as well as overall perseverance.

Take time to consider “When” you pursue your goal, as well as your “Why” and “How” to achieve your potential and perform at your best.


You can watch Daniel Pink being interviewed about his new book on Face The Nation or read the following interview to find out more.