I just finished reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink. It was pretty good—a popular science book that doesn’t get too heavy, that covers a lot of ground and digests it for you. However, he does put citations to the various scientific journal papers that he derived the content from in the back—notes here, if you’d like to see the bibliography. (Fairly certain I’m the only one who’s interested in that sort of thing. Party Animal.)
There were two ideas from the book that stuck with me.
One was the idea of chronotypes: the idea that some people are naturally late risers and late peakers, or early risers and early peakers, or more likely something in the big middle of that distribution. That’s fairly obvious, sure—but it does give some basis for not hassling people who are late starters for being lazy. It might just be how they’re tuned. And never mind other people—I’ve been using this insight for letting go of some kinds of heavy work during the middle of the day when gross unproductivity sets in instead of fighting it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Best to recognize it and plan for drudge work that needs to be done anyway.
- Roenneberg, Till, Anna Wirz-Justice, and Martha Merrow. “Life between clocks: daily temporal patterns of human chronotypes.” Journal of biological rhythms 18.1 (2003): 80-90. (pdf)
- Pope, Nolan G. “How the time of day affects productivity: Evidence from school schedules.” Review of Economics and Statistics 98.1 (2016): 1-11. (pdf)
The second idea that stuck is the U-shaped performance curve that you see from the beginning to the end of a task. You see it in running also: the fast start, the lag in the middle, the kick at the end. Again: pretty obvious. But: with citations that explain the extent and some of the psychological mechanisms behind it. This was my secret weapon in running. In high school, in the 800m run, you know that other runners tend to slow down from 400m to 600m. Since I wasn’t all that fast at 800m, I could still do well by pushing that segment of the race, knowing intuitively that many other competitors weren’t. Similarly, in endurance racing, the middle third or the third quarter was a lag for most people after a strong start—my secret weapon there was to start near the back, let the others burn off their adrenaline at a too-fast pace at the beginning, and eat them up over the second half of the race. So I didn’t know about the U-curve, but I knew about it.
- Bonezzi, Andrea, C. Miguel Brendl, and Matteo De Angelis. “Stuck in the middle: The psychophysics of goal pursuit.” Psychological science 22.5 (2011): 607-612. (pdf)
- Ford, Cameron, and Diane M. Sullivan. “A time for everything: How the timing of novel contributions influences project team outcomes.” Journal of Organizational Behavior 25.2 (2004): 279-292.
- Gersick, Connie JG. “Time and transition in work teams: Toward a new model of group development.” Academy of Management journal 31.1 (1988): 9-41. (pdf)
- Gersick, Connie JG. “Pacing strategic change: The case of a new venture.” Academy of management journal 37.1 (1994): 9-45. (pdf)
Six books suggestion by Dan Pink as further reading:
- Laura Venderkam, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
- Robert V. Levine, A Geography of Time: Temporal Misadventures of a Social Psychologist
- Mason Currey (ed.), Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
- Till Roenneberg, Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired
- Edward T. Hall, The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time
- Alan Burdick, Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation