I devoured When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink (Amazon) in just a few sittings.
It’s an eye-opening and quick read. And, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time because I have some BIG NEWS to share.
Yesterday marked the end (at least for now) of a 10+ year professional marketing career. Today is day 1 of venturing out into the wild world of entrepreneurship. I’ll be posting a lot more frequently on this site: personal stories, ancient wisdom, modern research, book summaries, you name it. All intended to help you live a lighter life: less busyness and stress—more simplicity, balance, and intentional living.
I literally cannot wait to get started—which is why I’m up bright and early on my first day.
To kick us off on the right foot, this post is a summary of my favorite quotes from the book. I’ve taken the liberty to organize the quotes under my own categories to make it easy for all of us to scan and immediately apply whatever we want to our own lives. As always, emphasis (anything in bold) has been added by me. Even though this book is big on research and data, I think you’ll find it to be delivered in a way that is practical and immediately actionable.
“When” by Daniel Pink: Upgrade from How-To to When-To (Book Summary)
“When” One-Minute Summary
- Daniel Pink is the #1 bestselling author of Drive and To Sell is Human. This book, When, “unlocks the scientific secrets to good timing to help you flourish at work, at school, and at home.”
- “Timing, we believe, is an art. I will show that timing is really a science — an emerging body of multifaceted, multidisciplinary research that offers fresh insights into the human condition and useful guidance on working smarter and living better. Visit any bookstore or library, and you will see a shelf (or twelve) stacked with books about how to do various things…The output is so massive that these volumes require their own category: how-to. Think of this book as a new genre altogether — a when-to book.”
- “At the end of each chapter is what I call a ‘Time Hacker’s Handbook,’ a collection of tools, exercises, and tips to help put the insights into action.”
- Every day includes “a peak, a trough, and a rebound” (a U-shaped pattern). “Positive mood rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises again in the evening.” Happiness, warmth toward others, enjoyment, and emotional balance all follow this U-shaped pattern.
- Lunch breaks, naps, and taking walks are not laziness — in many cases, they are necessities.
- There is real science behind beginnings, midpoints, and ends.
- “I used to believe that timing was everything. Now I believe that everything is timing.”
When (and How) to Structure Your Day
- “The day is perhaps the most important way we divide, configure, and evaluate our time.” — Note: We all get 24 hours a day, and you can really only design your life one day at a time.
- “Remember: What gets scheduled gets done.” — Note: I’m a big believer in time blocking your daily schedule. After all, you can’t do all the life hacks.
- “DRM (Day Reconstruction Method) research, for instance, has shown that during any given day people typically are least happy while commuting and most happy while canoodling.”
- “One British survey got even more precise when it found that the typical worker reaches the most unproductive moment of the day at 2:55 p.m.”
- Most people describe themselves as either morning people (“larks”) or evening people (“owls”). However, it turns out that the majority of us are somewhere in between: “third birds.”
- “What ultimately matters, then, is that type, task, and time align — what social scientists call ‘the synchrony effect.’” — Note: Identify your type (I’m a recovering owl and now probably a third bird), identify the task (is it analytical or creative?), and align the time of the day to maximize your own peak performance.
- “Whatever you do, do not let mundane tasks creep into your peak period.”
- “Those nefarious owls actually tend to display greater creativity, show superior working memory, and post higher scores on intelligence tests such as the GMAT. They even have a better sense of humor.”
- “Thomas Edison was a night owl who enabled other night owls. ‘He was more likely to be found hard at it in his laboratory at midnight than at midday.’”
- Composer Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky — “He believed walks, sometimes two hours long, were essential for creativity.”
- Writer Joyce Carol Oates — “Generally writes from 8:00 or 8:30 in the morning until about 1:00 p.m. Then she eats lunch and allows herself an afternoon break before resuming work from 4:00 p.m. until dinner around 7:00.”
- Don’t drink coffee immediately after you wake up — “Drink that first cup an hour or ninety minutes after waking up, once our cortisol production has peaked and the caffeine can do its magic. If you’re looking for an afternoon boost, head to the coffee shop between about 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., when cortisol levels dip again.”
- Soak up the morning sun
- Apparently the current state of scientific evidence doesn’t necessarily show that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
- “’Lunch breaks,’ the researchers say, ‘offer an important recovery setting to promote occupational health and well-being’ — particularly for ‘employees in cognitively or emotionally demanding jobs.’”
- “Not just any lunch will do, however. The most powerful lunch breaks have two key ingredients — autonomy and detachment.”
- “Making progress is the single largest day-to-day motivator on the job. But without tracking our ‘dones,’ we often don’t know whether we’re progressing. Ending the day by recording what you’ve achieved can encode the entire day more positively.”
- “Now use the other two or three minutes to lay out your plan for the following day.”
- “Bonus: If you’ve got an extra minute left, send someone—anyone—a thank-you email. I mentioned in chapter 2 that gratitude is a powerful restorative. It’s an equality powerful form of elevation.”
- Vigilance breaks — “brief pauses before high-stakes encounters to review instructions and guard against error.”
- “Vigilance breaks can loosen the trough’s grip on our behavior. As the doctors at the University of Michigan demonstrate, inserting regular mandatory vigilance breaks into tasks helps us regain the focus needed to proceed with challenging work that must be done in the afternoon.”
- Restorative breaks — “If you’re looking for the Platonic ideal of a restorative break…consider a short walk outside with a friend during which you discuss something other than work.”
- Something beats nothing — “One problem with afternoons is that if we stick with a task too long, we lose sight of the goal we’re trying to achieve, a process known as ‘habituation.’ Short breaks from a task can prevent habituation, help us maintain focus, and reactivate our commitment to a goal.” “DeskTime claims to have discovered a golden ratio of work and rest. High performers, its research concludes. work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes.”
- Moving beats stationary
- Social beats solo
- Outside beats inside — “Nature breaks may replenish us the most. Being close to trees, plants, rivers, and streams is a powerful mental restorative, one whose potency most of us don’t appreciate.” — Note: If this interests you, check out the benefits of forest bathing.
- Fully detached beats semidetached — “Relaxation breaks (stretching or daydreaming) eased stress and boosted mood in a way that multitasking breaks did not. Tech-free breaks also ‘increase vigor and reduce emotional exhaustion.’” — Note: Digital minimalism, anyone?
- “Start by trying three breaks per day. List when you’re going to take those breaks, how long they’re going to last, and what you’re going to do in each. Even better, put the breaks into your phone or computer calendar so one of those annoying pings will remind you.”
- Swedish fika — “a full-fledged coffee break that is the supposed key to Sweden’s high levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.”
- Between 10-20 minutes — 10 minute naps had positive effects that lasted nearly 3 hours.
- Really want to maximize a nap? Drink a cup of coffee beforehand. “Since caffeine takes about 25 minutes to enter the bloodstream, they were getting a secondary boost from the drug by the time their naps were ending.”
- “Coffee-then-nap combination known as the ‘nappuccino.’”
- “Naps, research shows, confer two key benefits: They improve cognitive performance and they boost mental and physical health.”
- “An afternoon nap expands the brain’s capacity to learn, according to a University of California-Berkeley study. Nappers easily outperformed non-nappers on their ability to retain information.”
- “Napping even increases ‘flow,’ that profoundly powerful source of engagement and creativity.”
- “Naps also improve our overall health. A large study in Greece, which followed more than 23,000 people over six years, found that, controlling for other risk factors, people who napped were as much as 37% less likely as others to die from heart disease, ‘an effect of the same order of magnitude as taking an aspirin or exercising every day.’ Napping strengthens our immune system. And one British study found that simply anticipating a nap can reduce blood pressure.” — Note: I wonder if Dan is referencing the Blue Zones because one is in Ikaria, Greece and it mentions the health benefits of napping.
- “‘Siesta’ derives from the Latin hora sexta, which means ‘sixth hour.’ It was during the sixth hour after dawn that these breaks usually began.” — Note: A siesta is a key part of the story of the Tourist and the Fisherman.
- Your optimal nap time is about 7 hours after waking.
- It takes most people about 7 minutes to fall asleep
- “Exercise is one of few activities in life that is indisputably good for us — an undertaking that extends enormous benefits but extracts few costs. Exercise helps us live longer. It fends off heart disease and diabetes. It reduces our weight and improves our strength. And its psychological value is enormous. For people suffering from depression, it can be just as effective as medication. For healthy people, it’s an instant and long-lasting mood booster. Anyone who examines the science on exercise reaches the same conclusion: People would be silly not to do it.”
- Exercise in the morning: to lose weight, boost mood, keep your routine, and build strength.
- Exercise in the late afternoon or evening: to avoid injury, perform your best, and enjoy the workout a bit more.
The “When” Science Behind Beginnings, Midpoints, and Endings
People can strategically (create) turning points in their personal histories. — Wharton researchers
- “Three principles of successful beginnings: Start right. Start again. Start together.”
- “The first day of the year is what social scientists call a ‘temporal landmark.'”
- “Daniel Kahneman draws a distinction between thinking fast (making decisions anchored in instinct and distorted by cognitive biases) and thinking slow (making decisions rooted in reason and guided by careful deliberation). Temporal landmarks slow our thinking, allowing us to deliberate at a higher level and make better decisions.”
- “But the effects of beginnings on a large swath of the workforce is more troubling, especially since the early data on those who entered the job market during the 2007-2010 Great Recession look especially dim.” — Note: Hey, that’s me! I wonder if Millennials will ever be able to retire?
- “Recession graduates, the research found, also have more conservative management styles, perhaps another legacy of less certain beginnings.”
- Times you should go first: If you’re on a ballot, if you’re not the default choice, if there are relatively few competitors (“primacy effect”), if you’re interviewing fo a job and you’re up against several strong candidates
- Times when you should not go first: If you are the default choice, don’t go first, if there are many competitors, if you’re operating in an uncertain environment, if the competition is meager
- To make a fast start in a new job: Begin before you begin, let your results do the talking (“concentrate on accomplishing a few meaningful achievements, and once you’ve gained status by demonstrating excellence, feel free to be more assertive), stockpile your motivation, sustain your morale with small wins (“the single largest motivator was making progress in meaningful work”)
When the Universe grabs your shoulders and tells you ‘I’m not f—ing around, use the gifts you were given. — Brené Brown on midlife
- “In the course of the development of the individual, there are critical phases which have the character of change points, or periods of rapid transition.” And, around age 35 the least familiar but most crucial of these phases occurs, “which I shall term the mid-life crisis.” — Elliott Jaques
- “Subjective well-being among American males bottoms out at an estimated 52.9 years.” — Blanchflower and Oswald
- “But why? Why does this midpoint deflate us? One possibility is the disappointment of unrealized expectations.”
- “Over time we adjust our aspirations and later realize that life is pretty good. In short, we dip in the middle because we’re lousy forecasters. In youth, our expectations are too high. In older age, they’re too low.”
- “Groups didn’t march toward their goals at a steady, even pace. Instead, they spent considerable time accomplishing almost nothing — until they experienced a surge of activity that always came at ‘the temporal midpoint’ of a project.”
- The ‘uh-oh effect’ — a new sense of urgency at the halfway mark
- “When we reach a midpoint, sometimes we slump, but other times we jump. A mental siren alerts us that we’ve squandered half of our time. That injects a healthy dose of stress — Uh-oh, we’re running out of time! — that revives our motivation and reshapes our strategy.”
- “Ernest Hemingway published 15 books during his lifetime, and one of his favorite productivity techniques was one I’ve used myself (even to write this book). He often ended a writing session not at the end of a section or paragraph but smack in the middle of a sentence. That sense of incompletion lit a midpoint spark that helped him begin the following day with immediate momentum. One reason the Hemingway technique works is something called the Zeigarnik effect, our tendency to remember unfinished tasks better than finished ones.”
- “Jerry Seinfeld makes a habit of writing every day. Not just the days when he feels inspired — every single damn day. To maintain focus, he prints a calendar with all 365 days of the year. He marks off each day he writes with a big red X. ‘After a few days, you’ll have a chain. Just keep at that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.’”
- “If you’re feeling stuck in the middle of a project, picture one person who’ll benefit from your efforts. Dedicating your work to that person will deepen your dedication to your task.”
- Prioritize your top goals (the Buffett technique) — “He’s pledged his multibillion-dollar fortune to charity. He maintains a modest lifestyle. And he continues to work hard well into his eighties.” — Note: Warren Buffett may be the epitome of voluntary simplicity.
Anyone can deliver a happy ending—just give the characters everything they want. An artist gives us the emotion he’s promised…but with a rush of unexpected insight. — Screenplay guru Robert McKee
- “Peak-end rule” — “When we remember an event we assign the greatest weight to its most intense moment (the peak) and how it culminates (the end).”
- “End of life bias” — “We believe people’s true selves are revealed at the end.” “People are willing to override a relatively long period of one kind of behavior with a relatively short period of another kind just because it occurred at the end of one’s life.”
- “When time is constrained and limited, as it is in act three (later life), we attune to the now. We pursue different goals — emotional satisfaction, an appreciation for life, a sense of meaning. And these updated goals make people ‘highly selective in their choice of social partners’ and prompt them to ‘systemically hone their social networks.’ We edit our relationships. We omit needless people. We choose to spend out remaining years with networks that are small, tight, and populated with those who satisfy higher needs.”
- “When endings become salient — whenever we enter an act three of any kind — we sharpen our existential red pencils and scratch out anyone or anything nonessential. Well before the curtain falls, we edit.” Note: Don’t wait to edit the nonessential. Become an essentialist now.
- “Given a choice, human beings prefer endings that elevate. The science of timing has found—repeatedly—what seems to be an innate preference for happy endings. We favor sequences of events that rise rather than fall, that improve rather than deteriorate, that lift us up rather than bring us down. And simply knowing this inclination can help us understand our own behavior and improve our interactions with others.”
- “Every Pixar movie has its protagonist achieving the goal he wants only to realize it is not what the protagonist needs. Typically, this leads the protagonist to let go of what he wants to get what he needs. Such emotional complexity turns out to be central to the most elevated endings.”
- “‘Poignancy,’ the researchers write, ‘seems to be particular to the experience of endings.’ The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer — a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we wanted we’ve gotten what we need.”
- “Closings, conclusions, and culminations reveal something essential about the human condition: In the end, we seek meaning.” — Note: Don’t wait for the end. Create your purpose now.
- “In literature, opening lines bear a mighty burden. They must hook the reader and lure her into the book…The final words of a work are just as important and deserve comparable reverence. The last lines can elevate and encode—by encapsulating a theme, resolving a question, leaving the story lingering in the reader’s head.”
- “The very end of an experience seems to disproportionately affect our memory of it…You’ll enjoy the vacation more, both in the moment and in retrospect, if you consciously create an elevating final experience.” — Note: Here’s an interesting thought experiment on experiences vs things.
- “Like poignancy, nostalgia is a ‘bittersweet but predominantly positive and fundamentally social emotion.’ Thinking in the past tense offers ‘a window into the intrinsic self,’ a portal to who we really are. It makes the present meaningful.”
“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” — Miles Davis
Thanks – this is great!
You are welcome, gen!
Thanks so much Kyle. Reading this brought me a greater sense of peace this morning! I think you might enjoy my book, “The Joy of Plork”. Find it on amazon. Thanks! Tim
Thanks, Tim! I’ll check it out.
What a great summary for this book. I was looking for something quick to tell others about why to read this and found your summary perfect. Thanks for writing and sharing
Wonderful! So glad you enjoyed it, Don.