Daniel Pink's 'When' Shows the Importance Of Timing Throughout Life
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Here's a question. Are you thinking of changing jobs or maybe a different radical life change like getting married or getting divorced or something more mundane? Maybe you want to ask your boss for a raise. Well, there is a right time and a wrong time to do all of these things, argues Daniel Pink. Pink's new book is titled "When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing." And he's here to share some of those secrets. Daniel Pink, welcome.
DANIEL PINK: Thank you, Mary Louise - great to be here.
KELLY: Glad to have you with us. There's a thread that runs throughout this book, and it is that the time of day that we do things matters - matters a lot. And you argue that for most of us, most of the time, we are more productive in the morning. Why?
PINK: Well, we do certain kinds of work better in the morning. What we see from the research is that we tend to move through the day in three stages - a peak, a trough, a recovery. And most of us move through it in that order. Those of us who are strong night owls go in the reverse order. But during the peak, we're better at analytic work, work that requires heads-down focus, vigilance, attention, batting away distractions - auditing a financial statement, writing a legal brief. During - and for most of us, that's the morning.
You also see a pattern of mood that follows the same sort of trajectory where we have an elevated mood in the morning. It drops considerably in the early afternoon and then rises again late in the day around the time that ALL THINGS CONSIDERED comes on the air.
PINK: And so that pattern of mood affects our performance. And so we're better off doing the analytic task during the peak, administrative stuff during the trough. And then actually during this third period, the recovery, we're actually pretty good at more creative things 'cause we're in a slightly better mood, but we're less inhibited.
KELLY: OK, well, so stay with me in the peak for a minute.
KELLY: In the peak, I mean, as a way of measuring this, you were tracking students taking tests.
KELLY: They score better if they're taking their exams in the morning. You tracked CEOs making quarterly...
PINK: Oh, yeah.
KELLY: ...Earnings calls. What did you find?
PINK: Oh, yeah. That was incredible to me. This is research out of NYU that found that - and this is one of the great things about the research here - is that a lot of it's being done with big data. So what these researchers did is they took the transcripts of 26,000 earnings calls - quarterly calls that executives make with analysts to report on earnings and give guidance for future quarters.
PINK: And they took these transcripts of 26,000 calls, put them in this piece of software that measures the emotional content of the words that were used. And these researchers found that calls in the afternoon were more negative and irritable in the afternoon than in the morning regardless of what the fundamentals were of the numbers being reported to the point where it affected the price of the stock temporarily.
PINK: They - wow is indeed the point. And so this means that public companies should probably schedule their earnings calls in the morning rather than the afternoon because stocks are being mispriced not by any fundamental economic factor but simply by time of day.
KELLY: One other practical piece of advice - since most of us, alas, are never going to be CEOs scheduling our earnings calls, you start a chapter in a place you call the hospital of doom.
KELLY: And it's a fictional place, but the takeaway you find is if you're going to schedule surgery, do not schedule it in the afternoon. Go for morning. Why?
PINK: Well, what you see in - like in a lot of this research and big data, you see systematically poor performance in health care settings in the afternoon. Example - the incidence of handwashing inside of hospitals dramatically drops in the afternoon. You look at colonoscopies - endoscopists find half as many polyps in colonoscopies in afternoon exams versus morning exams even with the same population - doctors more likely to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics in the afternoon than in the morning. So for me...
KELLY: And why? This is all...
KELLY: ...Back to our body rhythms and this...
KELLY: ...Peak you identified.
PINK: The why is actually more complicated. Our problem I think is that we focus very much in our lives. We're very intentional. What are we going to do? How are we going to do it? Who are we going to do it with? But we give short shrift to the question of when, and it has a big role. It has a big role in health care, as you say. It has a big role in education. Even in sort of the day-to-day performance on the job, time of day explains about 20 percent of the variance in our performance on workplace tasks. So timing isn't everything, but it's a big thing.
KELLY: Well, I'm sorry, Daniel Pink, that we have booked you here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED instead of Morning Edition, which it sounds like from your research would have been a vastly superior and more productive interview (laughter).
PINK: But we're having a much more creative interview at this time of day because our mood is better, and we're less inhibited.
KELLY: But this - I mean, this is my question. For those of us who can't control...
KELLY: ...What time of day we're being asked to be productive or creative...
KELLY: ...Are we doomed? I mean...
KELLY: What should we do about it?
PINK: No, not at all. There are a lot of steps you can take. So a lot of the negative effects of the afternoon on health care has been mitigated by breaks - certainly handwashing.
PINK: Oh, yeah.
KELLY: Just 'cause they're more focused and...
PINK: Because human beings are not inexhaustible supplies of energy. We need that recharge. And it's - actually ends up being really important. And the whole idea of brakes I think especially in the United States where we have this sort of, you know, puritanical tradition of work where you power through, where you don't relent is counter to the science. People who - and I've changed my ways on this.
KELLY: And by breaks you're talking taking a lunch break? You're talking naps.
PINK: It could be short naps, a short lunch break. Take 10 minutes. Go out for a walk without your phone. We're talking about those kinds of breaks - end up being enormously important. And one of the things that I've discovered and in fact changed my own behavior on is that 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.
KELLY: You've mentioned studies. You've mentioned things that we can measure. And I want to play skeptic...
KELLY: ...A little bit here. There was an example that I read. You open the book with the anecdote about the Lusitania, which sank back in 1915. And the why has never really been solved. We know that a German U-boat hit it, but we don't know why the very experienced captain of the Lusitania put the ship in harm's way and in the path of the German sub. You posit a theory that maybe it was about the time of day. This happened in the afternoon. Maybe the captain wasn't making good decisions. Really? I mean, we'll never really know, right?
PINK: We'll never really know.
KELLY: So how solid is the science on any of this?
PINK: We'll never know. But what we do know in this particular case is that that captain the night before didn't get any sleep, and he was making decisions - analytic decisions, life-and-death decisions - at the exact worst time of day following a night of sleep deprivation. And he made some tactical errors. Now, I'm not saying this conclusively says this is why it happened.
But what's - to me what's interesting about that is that when we speculate on the reasons for things, we focus on these giant geopolitical issues and conspiracies about smuggling arms and all that when in fact it could be something just simply time of day. And we never take these questions - these temporal questions into account. We always think of them as second-order issues, third-order issues. But they're not. They have a huge effect on what we do, how we do it, how we feel. And the good news in all of this is that we can make small changes in our life to do a little bit better.
KELLY: That's Daniel Pink. His new book is titled "When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing." Daniel Pink, thanks so much for stopping by.
PINK: My pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN MY TIME COMES")
DAWES: (Singing) When my time comes, oh, when my times comes, oh... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.