When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

by Daniel Pink

Visit the Amazon page for details and reviews: When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Rating: 8 / 10

Read: March 2018


This book talks about the importance of timing — how when we do something affects the outcome. Humans have natural, physiological cycles. At certain times of the day we’re more alert and focused, and other times we’re sluggish and tired.

For example:

  • You may want to schedule surgery early in the morning. Anesthesiologists are 3 times more likely to make mistakes in the afternoon.
  • Same with doctor appointments — go in the morning. As the day wears on, doctors are more likely to prescribe unnecessary drugs.
  • Do you have a court date? Judges are less lenient as the day wears on.

Every day contains these cognitive peaks and valleys. The timing may be a little different for everyone, but they exist. And rather than fight it—rather than trying to “push through” the valleys—we can learn to work with them.

Quick Thoughts

I love books that use actual studies to demonstrate all the crazy nuances and quirks that make us human beings. We may have free will and the power of reasoning, but we’re also still animals. And there are forces inherent in our DNA that we still cannot control, no matter how hard we try.

Most of the brightest minds and top performers use routines and habits to their advantage. And a big part of this is timing. We can do the same thing.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is simple to read, but the content is deep and powerful. Pink does a great job demonstrating how our internal, biological clocks work in conjunction with our energy and cognitive abilities.

Highlights and Notes

Alertness and energy levels, which climb in the morning and reach their apex around noon, tend to plummet during the afternoons. And with that drop comes a corresponding fall in our ability to remain focused and constrain our inhibitions.

If you have even modest control over your schedule, try to nudge your most important work, which usually requires vigilance and clear thinking, into the peak and push your second-most important work, or tasks that benefit from disinhibition, into the rebound period.

I knew I wasn’t crazy.

I feel worthless after lunch. And I hate afternoon meetings because my brain isn’t firing on all cylinders.

I’m sharper and more focused in the mornings—this is my peak period. I figured that out a few years ago. So I try to do all of my “deep” work before lunch and save monotonous tasks for the afternoon.

It’s good to know I’m not just lazy.

Detachment—both psychological and physical—is also critical. Staying focused on work during lunch, or even using one’s phone for social media, can intensify fatigue, according to multiple studies, but shifting one’s focus away from the office has the opposite effect.

In my corporate job, I never brought my lunch. It’s expensive eating out every day, but I had to get out of the office for an hour. Getting away from work seemed to make my afternoons a little more productive—it helped with the PM slump.

I notice this with my writing, too. I can focus for 3-4 hours, but then I start to burn out. If I walk away from it for a while—by exercising, eating lunch, or just doing something else—then I have a fresh set of eyes the next time I sit down to write.

Naps, research shows, confer two key benefits: They improve cognitive performance and they boost mental and physical health.

So that’s why many of these “best places to work” have quiet rooms for napping.

I don’t think I’m ready to try this one, though. I always feel lethargic if I nap during the day. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

A psychologist who studies extraordinary performers, Ericsson found that elite performers have something in common: They’re really good at taking breaks.

If taking breaks makes one an elite performer, consider me Michael Jordan.

Being “good” at taking breaks takes planning. It involves time blocks of intense focus and work separated by intentional decompression.

It doesn’t include hours of Facebook.

Years of research show that recess benefits schoolchildren in just about every realm of their young lives. Kids who have recess work harder, fidget less, and focus more intently. They often earn better grades than those with fewer recesses. They develop better social skills, show greater empathy, and cause fewer disruptions. They even eat healthier food.

I’m glad there’s research to back this up.

I have one little boy and another on the way. The first one isn’t even 2 years old, but it’s easy to see how “play” benefits him. He has an endless amount of energy. There’s no way 7 straight hours of reading, writing, and arithmetic will deplete all the pent-up energy in children.

If anything, it makes kids more anxious (and obnoxious). Playing is a key part of learning how to navigate the world.

It’s good for adults, too. We all need a little bit of “recess.”

Happiness climbs high early in adulthood but begins to slide downward in the late thirties and early forties, dipping to a low in the fifties. (Blanchflower and Oswald found that “subjective well-being among American males bottoms out at an estimated 52.9 years.”) But we recover quickly from this slump, and well-being later in life often exceeds that of our younger years.

I can’t help but notice this timeline mirrors the old narrative of having kids, struggling to raise them, and then experiencing complete joy when you get them out of the house and send them off to college.

Or so I hear.

I refuse to let that happen to me. Raising kids should bring the greatest joy in our lives.

Doing a few important things well is far more likely to propel you out of the slump than a dozen half-assed and half-finished projects are.

Thanks, Dan. As if I need one more person pointing this out to me.

I’m a master of coming up with ideas and thinking I have the time and skills to pursue them all. I’ve already moved past the denial stage.

When time is expansive and open-ended, as it is in acts one and two of our lives, we orient to the future and pursue “knowledge-related goals.” We form social networks that are wide and loose, hoping to gather information and forge relationships that can help us in the future. But as the horizon nears, when the future is shorter than the past, our perspective changes.

When time is constrained and limited, as it is in act three, we attune to the now. We pursue different goals—emotional satisfaction, an appreciation for life, a sense of meaning.

No kidding. We see the Grim Reaper on the horizon. We only want people around who really care about us and will protect us from him (or her?).

The most fulfilling jobs share a common trait: They prod us to work at our highest level but in a way that we, not someone else, control. Jobs that are demanding but don’t offer autonomy burn us out.

This is the theme of my blog. I think everyone should design and build a life that makes them completely happy. Can someone boil this down to a 6-word tagline for me? Thanks.

The benefits of thinking fondly about the past are vast because nostalgia delivers two ingredients essential to well-being: a sense of meaning and a connection to others.

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