February 10, 2018

When should your teams do different work? Follow this research

By Paul Laughlin

As we focus on developing your teams, I’m delighted to share why you need to focus on when?

In his latest book, renowned business writer Daniel Pink, shares his extensive research on timing. In “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”, he makes a convincing case for us all to focus more on when to do different tasks.

Despite being deeply researched, sharing evidence from a wide range of sectors, this is no boring textbook.

In his normal engaging, provocative style, Pink brings out relevant lessons for us all. Ones that are easy to access & we could all start putting into practice.

Not only do I think that many of the lessons from this book are relevant for insight leaders. It is also a great example of a book summarising lots of research based on big data analytics, as a source for quantitative studies. So, it’s an encouraging sign of behavioural evidence being used to reassess how we can be more effective.

When to consider your own biorhythms – plan your day better

There are so many insights in this book, it’s difficult to condense it down to just a few points. But one that stood out, was the amount of research evidence, globally, for us all having 3 stages to our working day.

It appears we all have exhibit the following (in terms of mood, energy levels, focus):

  1. A ‘Peak
  2. A ‘Trough
  3. A ‘Recovery

During our Peak (which for most people is the morning), we are best at analytical tasks, those requiring vigilance & concentration. Our ‘Trough’ is only really good for either resting or doing mundane admin tasks, that don’t require much thought. For most people, this dip occurs toward the end of lunch break & early afternoon.

Our Recovery stage does not demonstrate the same focus & vigilance as our peak, but is a better time for thinking creatively. It is like we are alert again, but our guard is somewhat down; so we are more open to new ideas.

The bad news is that there is a lot of concerning evidence of poorer quality performance in the afternoon, from some very critical sectors. Whether we are considering data on cleanliness in hospitals, accuracy off diagnoses or success rates in surgery. You are much safer going for a morning appointment. Equally, it is bad news for anyone coming up for a parole hearing, if they are being heard later in the day. Chances of being granted parole are much greater in the morning, or soon after a judge has had a break.

It is sobering to think that in sectors as crucial as healthcare & justice departments, we should all pay more attention to timing. I would certainly recommend anyone to (if possible) ensure they visit hospitals or GPs in the morning.

More positively, there is an opportunity here for insight leaders. How can you organise the working pattern for your team (and you), to focus on analytical work in the morning & use afternoons for creative workshops (perhaps after completing emails etc after lunch). Could you pilot such a system?

When to use mid-points, to motivate your project teams

Another interesting finding, from all; the analytics & research that Daniel has curated, concerns ‘mid-points‘. This is the study of the temporal middle of any time duration.

Whether considering the performance of sports teams, activities of students or work within project teams; a pattern is clear. It appears that often the serious work is deferred until half the time available has elapsed. Amusingly this was tested with teams & whether they were given different amounts of hours, right down to only 11 mins, for a task – after thinking & talking, concentrated effort on the challenge started at the mid-point of time available.

It also appears that such mid-points (especially when highlighted, as in ‘half time’ for sports teams) can act as either a ‘damper‘ or a ‘spark‘. In other words, consideration of performance up to that point, either depresses the team (and they go on to fail) or motivates them to improved performance (and they go on to win).

In studies of both project & sports teams, it has been found that the optimal position at the mid-point, is to be just a little behind. Teams in this position at half-time are the most likely to win. In a similar way, you can raise the motivation & performance of your team if you highlight a mid-point & suggest team is just a bit behind time (or others). Worth considering.

When do you take your breaks?

It is fascinating to read how time & time again, timing predicts performance or effectiveness. As Daniel Pink challenges us, we already give plenty of thought to What & How we do our work. Scientific research shows, we need to also give as much attention, to when we do work.

At this point, you may be thinking that you are not in control of your day. There may be important meetings or tasks, that you are forced to do in the afternoon. This book also includes some ideas to help you with that.

Having been a self-confessed skeptic about napping, Daniel has found the evidence supports the opposite to what you might expect. It appears that highest performers take more (short) breaks, it is lower performers (on average) who push on un-interrupted. Whether for a short walk or a nap, behavioural evidence shows a boost in focus & motivation, that is much needed in the afternoon.

My favourite example of napping in this book is the concept of a “nappuccino“. To achieve a refreshing nap, the idea is that optimal timing  is 20-25 mins. That is almost equivalent to how long it takes caffeine from a coffee to get into your bloodstream & wake you up. So, the idea, is that you have a coffee & then settle down for a short nap – with an alarm set for that time period. You should wake up refreshed rather than groggy.

I must try it, but will have to build up my ability to nod off that quickly.

When will you start doing things differently?

I hope this book recommendation is useful to you as a leader. I heartily recommend consuming this book & sharing the evidence with your teams.

As well as recently investing in a standing desk (more on that in a future post), I am also rescheduling my working days. How could you re-jig what you do when, to achieve better performance & greater motivation during your working day?

I’d be fascinated to hear the results of any experiments you or your team try. Please do share & meanwhile, enjoy this fascinating book.