The scientific secrets behind perfect timing

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Daniel H Pink, in his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing explores cutting-edge research on timing and provides compelling insights into how we can live in tune with our energy and mood peaks, allowing us to live more self-aware and engaged lives.

The study

The book explores a 2011 study by Michael Macy and Scott Golder. The pair from Cornell university gathered around 500m tweets, posted by more than 2 million users in 84 countries over the period of two years. They conducted an intense analysis into the tweets in order to understand if any patterns arose in correlation to feelings and the times of the day.

To assist with their research, they used an analysis program called Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC), they attempted to measure the emotional states revealed by individuals in the electronic texts they sent. The patterns that were uncovered were striking.

Results on timing

Macy and Golder found that with interesting and remarkable consistency, irrespective of the time of the year – people’s positive emotions were stronger when the morning started and as it progressed and then fell significantly in the afternoon, before coming back fighting in the early evening. The study also showed that it did not matter, in what part of the world the subject was born or lived the results remained consistent, globally. In other words, regardless of culture or differing daily rituals or even weather, our moods follow a rigorous pattern that is hugely influential, revealing and to this day largely outside of our knowledge.

Interestingly several other studies support these findings. In one Danish study, children’s results for exams in the afternoon were significantly lower than those being tested in the morning.

Essentially, what the results mean for us, is that the morning time is the best time for critical decision making. We should therefore not be trying to make judgements or decisions in the late afternoon, as evidence shows this can be to our disadvantage.

In the words of Pink “First, our cognitive abilities do not remain static over the course of the day. And second, these daily fluctuations are more extreme than we realise,”

Why is our internal timing like this?

The reason for us being sharper in the morning is due to our body temperature. When we wake up our body temperature is relatively low and then starts to rise. That rising temperature starts to boost our energy levels and we feel a significant increase in our alertness which in turn “enhances our executive functioning, our ability to concentrate, and our powers of deduction”.  As the morning develops, the more focused and alert we become, until we reach our absolute peak, after which our energy levels decline and our alertness decreases, only to be restored in the early evening.

 

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