Timing and Science #SXSW Sessions

Post by
Scott Francis
"We believe that timing is an art... But timing is really a science"

As a process geek, I had to check out a session on the Science of Timing at SXSW.

Daniel Pink shared his research and findings on the science of timing, drawing from several disciplines - none of which is explicitly focused on timing, but many of which have noticed aberrations based on timing.? They're asking similar questions, but not collaborating on their findings about the WHEN of doing things. His book is here.

"We believe that timing is an art... But timing is really a science" - this non-intuitive and contrarian insight is what informs the rest of the talk. Daniel breaks it down into three big ideas:

Idea #1: A lot of things we think of as natural units of time, are not *actually* natural units.? For example, seconds, hours, minutes - not natural units.? But the day is a natural unit of time - circadian rhythm and all - based on the time the planet takes to rotate once on its axis. As a result, the pattern and timing of a day has an out-sized impact on human results and performance.

Because of these rhythms, we know that more surgical mistakes are made in the afternoon, for example. And we know that working out in the morning or in the evening has the best results (depending on what you're looking for).? Daniel offers the daily when:

  • Peak time : morning for most of us.? Your vigilance is highest, you're awake, not distracted- so do your analytic and important work in this time.
  • Trough : we're not good for much during this afternoon period, so use it for administrative work but nothing critical if you can help it
  • Recovery : you're in a positive mood but less vigilant - good time to work on creative or brainstorming endeavors because vigilance can work against creativity.

Idea #2: We underestimate the power of taking a break.? Breaks improve performance, and Daniel gives some great examples of this, including how judges decide parole hearings is startlingly correlated with the time that has elapsed since their last break.

The right kind of breaks:

  • ?something beats nothing -? don't sacrifice good for perfect
  • moving beats stationary -? go for a walk!
  • social beats solo - even for introverts
  • outside beats inside - seeing nature
  • fully detached (no phone! not talking about work) beats semi-detached

The key insight was to think of taking a break as part of working, rather than a break or deviation from work.

Idea #3: Endings help us energize because we will kick harder into the finish or ending.? We want to end on a high note, psychologically.? So highlight endings to call positive attention to them.? Give bad news before good news, when you have both.

It was a pretty interesting session and definitely informs us on some ideas for process improvement!

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