Bestselling author Dan Pink has written a compelling book, When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. Pink’s premise is that deciding when to do things is as important as how to do them. There are many ‘how to’ books on bookstore shelves but no ‘when to’ books. Pink has addressed this.
With regards to managing projects, the same issue exists in that there are a plethora of books and courses that address ‘how to’ but none that address ‘when to’. Pink addresses these by writing about project beginnings, midpoints and endings with regards to timing. When – The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing presents nine principles related to life, project management and timing.
- Starting Right – Consider starting projects later in the morning to account for the fact, in the case of the majority of people, it takes quite awhile (just before noon) before cognitive capabilities peak. Pink writes that, ‘Although we can’t always determine when we start, we can exert some influence on beginnings…Starts matter. We can’t always control them. But this is one area where we can and we must.”
- Starting Again – Pink notes that, “Just as human beings rely on landmarks to navigate space – “To get to my house, turn left at the Shell station” – we also use landmarks to navigate time”. We all have temporal landmarks in time that help us identify key moments that can help motivate us later. Thus, we use the first day of the new year as a landmark to make personal resolutions. Other key timing landmarks are birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, Mondays, the beginning of a new month, etc. These landmarks offers “a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past”. This is a great way to kick-start projects that are falling behind.
- Starting Together – As Pink writes, “Everyone does better by starting together”.
It is clear that when we tackle projects, “we need to expand our repertoire of responses and include when alongside what.
“Midpoints can bring us down. That’s the slump. But they can also fire us up. That’s the spark”.
It turns out that, in midlife, it is natural to experience a mild slump. “Happiness climbs in adulthood but begins to slide downward in the late thirties and early forties, dipping to a low in the fifties…But we recover quickly from this slump, and well-being later in life often exceeds that of our younger years…In youth are expectations are too high. In older age, they’re too low”.
“In the middle we relax our standards, perhaps because others relax their assessments of us. At midpoints, for reasons that are elusive but enlightening, we cut corners”.
To combat this, Pink suggests three strategies:
- Awareness – It’s important to be aware of this mid-project reality (the tendency to cut corners), allowing us to temper the consequences.
- The “Uh-Oh” Effect – “When we reach a midpoint, sometimes we slump, but other times we jump. A mental siren alerts us that we’ve squandered half of our time. That injects a healthy dose of stress – Uh-oh, we’re running out of time! – that revives our motivation and reshapes our strategy”. Use the Uh-Oh effect to activate your motivation – not decrease it.
- Being Behind – Pink uses sports to suggest that being a little (not a lot) behind schedule at the midpoint of a game can be highly motivating to teams as they start the second halves of their games. Thus, “At the midpoint, imagine that you’re behind – but by only a little”.
Pink writes, “At the beginning of a pursuit, we’re generally more motivated by how far we’ve progressed; at the end we’re generally more energized by trying to close the small gap that remains. The motivating power of endings is one reason that deadlines are often, though not always effective”.
- Encode -“When we remember an event we assign the greatest weight to its most intense moment (the peak) and how it culminates (the end)…Endings help us encode – to register, rate and recall experiences. But, in so doing, they can distort our perceptions and obscure the bigger picture”.
- Edit – “As we get older, when we become conscious of the ultimate ending, we edit our friends…When time is constrained and limited, as it is in act three, we attune to the now. We pursue different goals – emotional satisfaction, an appreciation for life, a sense of meaning…We choose to spend our remaining years with networks that are small, tight and populated with those who satisfy higher needs”.
- Elevate – “Given a choice, human beings prefer endings that elevate. The science of timing has found – repeatedly – what seems to be an innate preference for happy endings…The best endings don’t leave us happy. Instead, they produce something richer – a rush of unexpected insight, a fleeting moment of transcendence, the possibility that by discarding what we’ve wanted we’ve gotten what we need”.
“Endings help us encode, but they can sometimes twist our memory and cloud our perception by over-weighting final moments and neglecting the totality. But endings can also be a positive force. They can help energize us to reach a goal. They can help us edit the nonessential from our lives. And they can help us elevate – not through the simple pursuit of happiness but through the more complex power of poignancy. Closings, conclusions and culminations reveal something essential about the human condition: In the end, we seek meaning”.
Once again, Daniel Pink has written a research-based book that not only explores the scientific secrets of perfect timing but causes us to think about the human condition.