There's an old saying that we're all very familiar with: timing is everything. In his new book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, bestselling author Daniel Pink explains that not only is this old saying right, but that good timing is the secret for success at work, school, and home.
According to Pink, he got the idea for the book when he realized that many of the most common decisions in his life were "when" decisions -- like when should he do certain tasks to be most productive, or when should he stop working on a project that isn't going well and turn his attention to something else?
The problem for many of us, however -- especially at work -- is that we don't have a lot of flexibility to decide exactly when we're doing to do something. When a report is due to your boss at 12 noon today, then you can't exactly tell her, "Sorry, but the timing isn't good for me -- I'll get it to you next week."
The key, says Pink, is to become aware of when your mental processes are at their peak, and when they're not. In that way you can schedule your tasks to take advantage of these natural ebbs and flows in your ability to get certain kinds of work done well. In an interview in the Washington Post, Pink explains,
"There's a period of day when we're at our peak, and that's best for doing analytic tasks things like writing a report or auditing a financial statement. There's the trough, which is the dip -- that's not good for anything. And then there's recovery, which is less optimal, but we do better at insight and creativity tasks."
As you take on different tasks during the course of a day, note when you feel the most energized (is it when you first arrive at work, or maybe right before lunch, or mid-afternoon?) and when you feel the most rundown. Arrange your work so that you are doing the things that require the most mental power during the energized times, and those things that require the least mental power when you're naturally down.
But don't forget to take some breaks during your workday. And, whenever possible, take breaks with one or more of your coworkers -- not all by yourself -- and make it an active break instead of an inactive one. Says Pink,
"Research shows us that social breaks are better than solo breaks -- taking a break with somebody else is more restorative than doing it on your own. A break that involves movement is better than a stationary one. And then there's the restorative power in nature. Simply going outside rather than being inside, simply being able to look out a window during a break is better. And there's the importance of being fully detached, and going outside rather than looking at your email."
So, instead of running headlong into your workday, take some time when you first arrive to plan out your tasks and schedules -- taking advantage of your natural ups and downs. You'll be far more successful -- and happier -- as a result.