Understanding natural rhythms can make for a smoother journey, but it can also make us more productive and happier at home or the office. As New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink points out in his latest book “When,” there’s an ideal time for everything. Here are 3 takeaways from his recent talk at the Startup Grind event in Washington, DC.
Savvy travelers like you understand the importance of timing. If it’s evening rush hour in London, don’t try to take a leisurely stroll down Oxford Street: it’ll be packed elbow-to-elbow with fast walkers. If you’re planning a summer getaway in Europe, June is a little less frenetic since schools are not out yet. If you get up to watch the sunrise, you’ll have the hotel pool to yourself (but please don’t hoard the lounge chairs).
What if you’re cajoling the almighty gate agent for an upgrade? Or asking your boss for a raise? Knowing the optimal time to do so can help your chances.1. Know your own flow.
Are you an early bird or a night owl? Many of us have a general idea about our “chronotype,” but Pink’s book draws upon scientific studies to offer a simple calculation. First, find your sleep midpoint. Divide your average hours of sleep in half (so if you usually sleep 8 hours and wake up at 7 am each day, your midpoint is 3am). If your midpoint is 3am or earlier, you’re a morning person. If it’s 5am or later, you’re likely a night owl. Between 3-5am? You’re in the middle.
Regardless, each of us goes through a daily cycle of what Pink calls “peak, trough and recovery.” During peak times we are our analytical best (e.g. finding the right flight deals). Troughs are lower-energy lulls ideal for routine tasks like email or checking in online. Recovery times are when our brains are more loose and creative. For most of us, peak times are in the morning. Night owls have it in reverse.
So what if you can’t control your schedule to optimize your peak performance times? Pink suggests a 20/20/20 rule to stay focused and refreshed mentally. Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away (new product idea: selfie-sticks mounted with picture frames!) Ideally though, you’d take a 10-minute break…or even a nap.
2. Don’t just nap on vacation
When we’re traveling, our natural patterns can get disrupted. How do we often get back on track? We take naps. That’s easy to do on vacation or holiday but studies show that even a short break or nap at work can counter the effects of being off our natural schedule.
Just 10 minutes away from the office, without your phone and without discussing business can help. Ideally it’s outdoors, with someone you like. Kind of like a mini-vacation, right?
Pink says a 10-20 minute nap is like a “Zamboni for the brain,” clearing our mind to prepare us for the next task. Taking the Italian metaphors further, he swears by a technique called a “Nappucino.” Che cosa? You block out 30 minutes, sit down in a comfortable chair or couch and…guzzle a cup of coffee.
Yes, you heard that right. It takes about 25 minutes for caffeine to kick into the blood stream, so doing this before your nap ensures you will be ready to go when you wake up!
3. Fire when ready.
Sometimes it’s hard to know the right time for any significant action. Often we’ll go with our gut, stay glued to weather forecasts or check the latest research. Pink found that our natural rhythms could help.
In any situation where the default reply is “no” – like pitching an investor or new client – you’re more likely (but not guaranteed, he’s quick to add) to get a favorable result if you make your case early in the day or after a break.
If there are a number of competitors (like a casting call) there is a big advantage going last. Similarly, if you’re not the incumbent you should also try to go last if you can. If the criteria for evaluation are very clear, go first – you’ll set the bar for everyone else. If the requirements are vague, then go last so you’ll have an opportunity to persuade.
For more details on how to optimize your timing, get the book. Just please don’t use it to reserve a lounge chair by the pool 😉