I spoke to Dan Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, about why he decided to write the book, the most interesting findings from his research, the best time to ask for a raise, building the ideal schedule, how to get ahead in your career and the best time to quit your job.
Pink is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestsellers Drive, To Sell is Human, and A Whole New Mind. His books have won multiple awards and have been translated into 35 languages. Pink was host and co-executive producer of “Crowd Control,” a television series about human behavior on the National Geographic Channel. He also appears frequently on NPR’s Hidden Brain, the PBS NewsHour, and other TV and radio networks in the US and abroad. For the last six years, London-based Thinkers 50 named him, alongside Michael Porter and Clayton Christensen, as one of the top 15 business thinkers in the world.
Dan Schawbel: Why did you decide to research and write about the topic of timing and what were the most fascinating findings you uncovered?
Dan Pink: I realized that I was making all sorts of timing decisions myself — but I was doing it in a haphazard way. I started doing a little investigating and realized that there was this rich body of research on timing that could help us make systematically smarter, more evidence-based decisions about when to do things. As for the most fascinating findings, there are many. But among my favorites is the research on singing in time with other people. Choral singing, it turns out, is as good for mind, body, and soul as physical exercise.
Schawbel: When is the perfect time, and worst time, to ask for a raise or promotion?
Pink: I’m not sure there’s a perfect time. But there are ways to up the odds. In general, people’s moods are better during the mid-t0-late morning than during the afternoons — a phenomenon researchers have detected by examining 500 million tweets and hundreds of corporate earnings calls. So that will help. Also, other research shows that we’re more likely to get people to say yes if we ask people after they’ve taken a break than before.
Schawbel: How can we use the hidden patterns of the day to build the ideal schedule?
Pink: Most of us progress through the day in three stages: A peak, a trough, and a recovery. During the peak, which for most of us is the morning, we’re better off at analytic tasks, those that require heads-down focus and attention. During the trough, which more most of us is during the early to mid afternoon, we’re better off doing mundane administrative tasks. And during the recovery, which for most of us, is the late afternoon and early evening, we’re better off doing creative tasks. The reasons for all this are somewhat complicated, but that’s the basic structure. However, if you’re a night owl — that is, you wake up late and go to sleep late — you’ll likely pass through these stages in the reverse order.
Schawbel: What is the best time to quit a job or completely switch careers?
Pink: It depends. But one insight the research has uncovered is that we’re most likely to leave a job on our one-year anniversary. The second most likely time? Our two-year anniversary. So if you think about your next work anniversary and can’t imagine yourself continuing much longer after that, start looking now.
Schawbel: Professionals desire instant gratification and are impatient when it comes to learning new skills and building a strong career foundation. What do you recommend to people who want to move up but aren't ready yet?
Pink: Focus less on your own advancement. Instead, concentrate on learning more, sharpening your skills, and serving customers and clients more brilliantly. Not only is that an effective strategy, but very few people use it — so you’ll stand out.