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Why timing matters (and how to get it right)

October 22, 2018  |  Kinzie Jensen

Why timing matters (and how to get it right)

You've heard about time management and performance management, but few people consider how timing affects their performance. That's what Dan Pink tackles in his book, "When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing," and it's full of useful tips.

Some background: Time of day affects your mood, which impacts your work performance. Most people's moods -- affected by biology and rhythms of being awake and asleep -- are pretty good in the morning, improve until about noon and then drop off and become less happy midday. We recover in the evening, happier once again.

Our work performance follows this peak-trough-recovery pattern, too. Most people do their best analytical thinking and precision-based tasks in the morning and are better at "insight" thinking (which involves thinking creatively or innovatively) in the afternoon and evening.

The midday trough? It's not good for much because we're tired and at our low point happiness-wise. Our mental guards are down, distractibility goes up and we're more likely to make mistakes.

So, what can you do about it?

Assuming you're in the majority (there are outliers who don't follow this pattern), here are some tips to structure your day:

  • Dive into those tough tax returns, financial analyses or important decisions in the morning, when you're less likely to make blunders.
  • Don't leave critical decisions, tough mental tasks or analysis for the afternoon, when you're more likely to make mistakes and unethical decisions.
  • Use the midday trough for easy, administrative tasks. Reply to straightforward emails or organize your workspace. Better yet — take a break!
  • When you need creative ideas or inspiration, the late afternoon and evening are your best bet. Inhibitions are down and we're more likely to think, share and accept ideas that rock the boat.

That being said, you can't always prioritize tough work for the morning -- some days are just chock full of taxing mental tasks. Or maybe your daily biological clock skews later, which doesn't jive with typical working hours. In these situations, the most important thing you can do is take a restorative break, which is critical to boosting your performance and your mood.

The emphasis here is on restorative. You won't enjoy any benefits if your "break" involves a sad desk lunch and spreadsheets.

The ideal break involves some movement, with someone else, outside and totally detached from work. A quick walk with a co-worker chatting about sports or movies will help you return to work re-energized and ready to perform closer to your peak.

In fact, taking a break can compensate for the adverse effects of poor timing, so make sure to build restorative breaks into your day -- even if it's just 10 minutes.

The book contains many other timing tidbits, from when to drink your coffee and when to schedule a surgery, to the macro-effects of graduating college during a recession. I recommend it if you're interested in science-backed ways to make the most of your day. Happy reading!

Topics: Personal Development , Work-Life Balance

Kinzie Jensen

Kinzie Jensen is the MNCPA senior CPE marketing coordinator, working to ensure members know about the wide variety of CPE options available through the society. She spends her working hours writing and brainstorming ideas while quietly jamming out to the music of Steely Dan, The Avett Brothers, John Mayer, Genesis and The Black Keys. Kinzie lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two daughters, and fills her free time with yoga, running and struggling to play the acoustic guitar. Her other obsessions include coffee, llamas, IPAs and sunshine. Kinzie can be reached at 952-885-5515 or kjensen@mncpa.org.

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