[Review] When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Dear Reader,

While many of us seek out information on “how to” do something, the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink is all about “when to” do things. This book answers questions such as “when to change careers” and “when is a divorce more likely to happen” among others. While this book did not turn out to be a favorite of mine, I found it interesting in the way that it explained curious trends and events through time-based statistics.


In short, timing is important, more important than you think; think more about timing.

Our Time Clocks

The premise underpinning When is that timing matters. In the first part of the book this point is underscored with a description of the “temporal affective pattern.” This simply means that a person’s mood changes throughout the day. A “positive affect” is marked by emotions such as enthusiasm, confidence, and alertness, while a “negative affect” with emotions such as anger, lethargy, and guilt. Through studies (one prominent one took place on Twitter), researchers determined that universally, humans go through a similar affective pattern. In the mornings, people generally have the most positive affect, in the mid-afternoon affect swings more negatively, and in the evening, there is a recovery to a more positive affect.

You may read this and scratch your head because you know that you’re just not a morning person. The author, of course, recognizes that there is some deviation in productive hours based on whether you are a morning lark, night owl, or third bird (those who do not lean strongly toward either end of the spectrum), however, it is generally agreed that most people follow this daily arc on their own personal time clock. Understanding the changes in our affect from ‘peak’ in the morning, ‘trough’ in the afternoon, and ‘recovery’ in the evening can help us perform better on tasks. To work with (rather than fight against) this daily oscillation, it is advisable to do your more analytical/ cognitive tasks in the morning and your more insightful/ creative tasks in the afternoon/ evening.

The Importance of Breaks

Just because we naturally experience a dip in energy in the afternoon does not mean that we are doomed to be less productive. In fact, research shows that a lunch break that includes a social walk in nature (…granted you are exercising social distancing 😉 ), free from social media, and free from talk about the task at hand can refresh your brain and help you focus better when returning to work.

The book also suggests that 20 – 30-minute breaks before analytical tasks in the afternoon can greatly improve performance. Additionally, for all of you nappers out there – you’re in luck! Naps are generally considered a good thing if they are between 10 – 20 minutes and optimally about seven hours after you wake up in the morning.

When Things Work

The book highlighted interesting research that proves that timing is everything. For example, students who graduate college in a weak economy can be negatively impacted on their earnings in the long term. On average, this student will earn about $100,000 less in the course of two decades than a student who graduated in a strong economy (yikes!). On this same note, in response to the question “when should I change careers,” research shows that lifelong earnings are largely determined by your starting salary. So, if you want to earn more, you should find a job with a higher starting salary. If you are already working, then you should aim to change jobs to find that higher salary within the first 3 – 5 years of employment (this is the optimal time to gain skills that make you more employable without inadvertently moving up the corporate ladder from your meager earnings base).

In response to the question “when is a divorce more likely to happen,” research shows that a divorce is more likely to occur in the summer (many parents will wait out the school year before filing) as well as after holidays (no one wants to sour a perfectly good holiday with a divorce).

…in Conclusion

The above are just a few points from the book. With a full read through of the text, you will also learn about the importance of beginnings and endings, how to overcome stagnation in the middle, as well as the importance of and how to synchronize ‘the boss,’ ‘the team,’ and ‘the heart’ when working in groups. Overall, I would give this book an average rating (3 out of 5, I guess). I think the book excels in its wealth of interesting (statistically-driven) facts, as well as its telling of descriptive anecdotes. However, I feel that this book includes a lot of little points without delivering a real “a-ha” message. To me, the conclusion of the book is that timing is important and that we should consider all of the (very) many variables that affect timing and try to do better to synchronize our actions. In short, this lesson left me without the eureka moment that I have come to expect with self-help books.

In conclusion, if any of the above points interested you, then check out this book! If you are content with just learning the basics, then perhaps just look up a quick summary online. Either way, I hope this post gets you to think a little more about “when” of things.

Happy reading!



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