Daniel Pink: Timing Is Everything

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "When" by Daniel H. Pink. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you intentional about the way you use your time? Why does Daniel Pink say timing is so important?

Time is the unspoken (and often underestimated) force that runs our lives. We set alarms, schedule flights, celebrate annual holidays, and mark our aging year to year. Many of these conventions of time have been invented by humans as a way to organize our lives. 

Keep reading to learn about the importance of timing, according to Daniel Pink.

Your Internal Clock

According to Daniel Pink, timing is everything when it comes to our capacity to be happy and productive. However, we must not forget that time isn’t entirely a human invention. Every organism on Earth has an internal biological clock that controls a collection of circadian rhythms—psychological and physiological patterns that follow a 24-hour cycle of light and dark. Research has shown that our circadian rhythms impact everything from mood to cognitive ability. These fluctuations in mood and ability aren’t only more impactful than most people think, but also more predictable. 

(Shortform note: Not every organism on earth has a circadian rhythm. Babies, for example, don’t develop a circadian rhythm until about 3 months old, and there are animals that lose their circadian rhythm during certain time periods. For example, some mammals, like Arctic ground squirrels, show an absence of a circadian rhythm when in an underground dormant state.

Over the course of a day, most people experience a predictable pattern: a crest (what Pink calls a peak), a slump (a trough), and a recovery (a rebound). In the beginning of their day, at the crest, most people are at their happiest, most alert, and most optimistic. Some time in the middle of the day, people often experience a slump. They feel more negative and more lethargic, and they struggle to be productive. Then, as their day draws to a close, people experience a recovery. Their mood improves, and they often excel in tasks that require more reflection or insight. 

(Shortform note: Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, argues that our daily energy is affected by more than our circadian rhythms. He describes four different energy types that impact our well-being and productivity throughout the day—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Sustaining each energy type requires different strategies. For example, your physical energy requires sufficient sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet, while your spiritual energy requires a sense of meaning and purpose to your life, and the ability to live in alignment with your core values.)

Pink cites several studies that reinforce this pattern, but perhaps most interesting is the Twitter study. In 2011, a global sociological study found a consistent pattern of behavior across 500 million tweets and 2.4 million users. Regardless of race, nationality, or age, there was an increase in tweets with a “positive affect” (active, engaged, hopeful language) in the morning. That number dropped sharply in the afternoon, before rising again in the early evening—a crest, a slump, and a recovery. 

(Shortform note: Further research has also shown a correlation between time of day and the people’s engagement with “vice” or “virtue” tweets. In the morning, people are more likely to engage with content that offers long-term knowledge or emotional benefit (virtue tweets), while toward the end of the day, people are more likely to engage with tweets that offer instant gratification (vice tweets).

The True Nature of Time

America’s “official time” is kept by 21 atomic clocks housed in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, CO. These clocks, which can calculate the time within one-quadrillionth of a second, make up the system that broadcasts time to our computer networks and cell phone towers ensuring all of our devices are in sync.While our economy and society rely on the time according to the NIST clocks, some argue that this precise version of time doesn’t reflect its true nature:

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking explains how relativity shows that time slows down in areas with greater gravitational pulls—for example, due to lower elevation, time moves more slowly for people living in a valley than for people living on top of a mountain. While the impact of gravity on time on earth is negligible, at the edge of black holes, the strong gravitational pull slows down time significantly. 
Daniel Pink: Timing Is Everything

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Daniel H. Pink's "When" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full When summary:

  • How our daily lives and experiences follow predictable patterns
  • How to harness this daily rhythm to work and live more intentionally
  • Why the middle of an experience is the hardest part

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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