You know that sluggish feeling you get right after lunch? When all you want to do is take a nap? Turns out, that’s just your natural rhythm.
Our energy goes through a natural cadence throughout the day. There are some hours when you feel invincible, and others when you can barely motivate yourself to respond to an email. Understanding these highs and lows allow you to structure your day in the most productive way.
That’s the premise behind best-selling author Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. He draws on research from psychology, biology, and economics to pinpoint the best times to do almost anything.
Daniel recently shared some of his findings in an article by Forbes.
When to schedule meetings
According to Daniel, 80% of us move through the day in three stages: a peak, a trough, and a recovery. During the peak, which is usually early in the day, our mood is higher and we’re more vigilant. This vigilance helps reduce distractions, making it the ideal time for analytic work.
During the trough, which occurs in the early to mid-afternoon, we’re at our worst—both in terms of mood and cognitive abilities.
And during the recovery, we’re in a better mood, but less vigilant. This is the best time for insight tasks like brainstorming.
“The ‘when’ of meetings isn’t a purely logistical decision. It’s also a strategic one.”
You can leverage these stages to schedule meetings at the most strategic, productive times.
“People spend a huge amount of time in meetings. But the only criterion organizations use in scheduling them is availability. That’s a big mistake,” said Daniel. “Figure out what kind of meeting it is. Do the people attending need to be locked down and analytical? More open and freewheeling? Or is the meeting purely administrative? The ‘when’ of meetings isn’t a purely logistical decision. It’s also a strategic one.”
When to take breaks
We should all step away from our desks and take more breaks, especially in that afternoon trough. And, taking a break from staring at your computer screen, but still sitting at your desk is not a real break (sorry). Instead, take a walk around the block or go grab a cold brew from down the street.
Daniel also recommends taking these breaks with other people, saying that they “are more restorative than breaks by ourselves.” These kinds of social breaks also help your network, offering “a chance to get to know someone in a slightly different context and deepen familiarity and connection.”
“We should all be taking more breaks.”
When to read or digest new information
Mornings or immediately after breaks are the best times to take in new information.
When to quit a job
While this varies from person to person and depends on the job market in your city, Daniel does think there are some general guidelines.
First, people usually leave jobs around their one-year, two-year, and three-year anniversaries, so plan ahead and take some time to reflect around these milestones.
Then, ask yourself questions like: Am I still learning? Am I still contributing? Do I find value in what I’m doing? If the answers are “no,” it might be time to start looking.
— Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) June 23, 2018
When to “edit” friendships
When we reach the end of something—a life or even four years in college—we usually focus more on meaning and purpose. Most people find that value with an inner circle of friends, rather than a wider network.
“Having a wide and varied network is extremely helpful professionally, though, so one might want to think twice before editing out too many people,” said Daniel.
Timing is everything
You can’t be “on” the whole day, so map out your work to coincide with your peaks. For example, focus your energy on complex, deep-thinking work in the morning and save your meetings for the end of the day.
“Map out your work to coincide with your peaks.”
And, the next time you feel unproductive or unmotivated, embrace it. Stop trying to force creative work during your troughs. It’s okay to have some quiet time or prioritize administrative tasks.
Sometimes all you need is a reset to get back on the right schedule.
Emily has written for some of the top tech companies, covering everything from creative copywriting to UX design. When she's not writing, she's traveling the world (next stop: Japan!), brewing kombucha, and biking through the Pacific Northwest.