Review of Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Review of Daniel Pink’s new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing
by Kevin Smith

After hearing Daniel Pink as a guest on a podcast recently, I bought his new book When. Now, I’m not a rush-out-and-buy-a-new-book kind of guy. I’m a cheapskate from way back and I’m comfortable on the library waiting list for a while. There’s always plenty on my table to read. But the way Pink talked about this material struck a chord with me. The subtitle of the book is: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. As a consultant who works at home alone, I’m more than happy to tell you that I am fully in charge of my own schedule and I attend very few meetings. It works for me, but it’s not for everyone. One of my challenges is how to orient my day in order to be most effective. Busy isn’t the issue. Effective is the issue. The stories that Pink began describing about what he found sounded incredibly helpful. I think it will be, but it’s too early to tell.

Pink digs into the research of timing in a variety of interesting ways:

  • “The Hidden Pattern of Everyday Life.” The best time of day to tackle certain tasks. (The answer of course is “it depends” but it’s not the copout that it sounds like. It’s simply a more nuanced answer.)
  • “The Power of Breaks.”
  • The influence of “Beginnings, Endings and In Between”, for days, events, meetings, lives etc.
  • “Synching and Thinking.” How to synch groups and get your ideal “when” together.
  • And more.

There’s plenty in here for professionals of any field to consider. For example, most of us tend to have our peak performance for analytical stuff in the morning, and for our creative stuff in the afternoon (unless your personality fits in the category of “night owl”). This means how we schedule meetings for peak performance has everything to do with what the goal of the meeting is. Are you brainstorming? Are you doing administrative tasks? Do you need critical analysis? If you are doing these things at the wrong times then your teams are not as effective, or efficient as they could be. Most of us, he reminds us, are scheduling meetings based on availability, or worse, based on the convenience of the most senior person involved.

“Alertness and energy levels, which climb in the morning, and reach their apex around noon, tend to plummet in the afternoons. And this that drop comes a corresponding fall in our ability to remain focused and constrain our inhibitions. Our powers of analysis […] close up.”

Pink analyzes the peak, trough, and rebound of our daily grind. This is no secret to any of us who have facilitated a whole day of training to see the after-lunch slump. Keeping people motivated and focused is no mean feat. But Pink’s insights into the research give some suggestions beyond getting people up guiding them through a good stretch to get them going. By consciously arranging the creative and brainstorming activities in the afternoon you can harness that lack of inhibition for the benefit of the team.

And my favorite part is the description of the perfect nap. Too short doesn’t get the job done. Too long makes it waking up groggy part take too much time to rev back up. Here’s his secret:Do this between 2 and 4 in the afternoon. Drink a cup of coffee. (You heard me right.) Set your alarm for 25 minutes and settle in. On average it takes people 7 minutes to fall asleep. And it takes about 25 minutes for caffeine to take effect in the body. Sleep for about 20 minutes when your alarm goes off, the coffee is starting to kick in and you get a higher “rebound” and productivity for the afternoon.

Yes, some of what Pink addresses is familiar, intuitive territory. The interesting value that he brings is his analysis of the scientific research that’s out there AND he provides a “Time Hacker’s Handbook” at the end of each chapter with practical advice and concrete steps that we can use to implement the findings for higher productivity and effectiveness.

Some Interesting Implications for CU Board Members

Of particular interest to credit union board members is chapter 6, regarding team synchronization particularly as it relates to developing trust with a new CEO or new board members, (which is a pretty common concern these days). Pink reminds us of the time involved for creating trust. There is a gradual release akin to what happens with a toddler, a child, a tween, and a teenager for parents who gradually give their kids a longer leash. (Please don’t anyone quote me as saying that you should treat your new CEO like a toddler!) This also reminds me of my teaching days and the research of Vygotsky who talks about providing scaffolding for a learner, not just instruction. Board members in this circumstance will need to dedicate themselves to a different kind of oversight for a while as the relationship builds.

Board members must reset expectations after having long serving CEO where there’s deep seated rapport. They must be more in tune to red flags, which means you might need to spend some time re-honing that skill after having a higher level of trust with a long serving CEO. Consider also the change in environment in the years since your previous CEO earned your trust, a simpler, less complicated time. Your current CEO doesn’t have that luxury and will be doing things differently. The trust and learning curve will be different. If you are a long serving board member who spent years with the long serving CEO, consider what impact that history will have on newer board members as well. Now the dynamic is further complicated.

Here are some suggestions for making this work better:

  • Schedule time for developing rapport (team development) with and without the CEO.
  • Reset how much leeway that you give the new CEO, how much leash you give them, for now. This will probably need to be in the form of policy, as in stricter governing policy guidelines for a time until the CEO is able to demonstrate results, prove him/herself and show you they are willing to take appropriate steps, appropriate risk and yes, show failures and lessons learned.
  • The new CEO is going to want to establish him or herself and set the tone of their leadership with the staff. Stay out of their way when there doing that. Your governance policy doesn’t need to, nor should it interfere with the CEOs style, approach and efforts towards creating a culture and motivating the staff.
  • The experience of a newer board member getting used to the new CEO will have a different arc than that of a long serving board member who is getting used to a new CEO. Board members should acknowledge this and discuss it in order to be able to come to consensus about the policy steps needed for establishing trust with the new CEO.
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