In India, we have always been sensitive to notions of time. Be it scheduling a marriage, starting a business, buying a new vehicle or even getting a haircut, people have relied on traditionally defined “good times" and “inauspicious ones" while making both significant and mundane life decisions.

The more rational may dismiss all this as mere superstition but apparently what you do and when you do it can make a difference. In his book When: The Scientific Secrets Of Perfect Timing, released in January, author Daniel Pink tells us that timing does matter. Instead of relying on astrology, however, Pink bases his argument on data and comes up with some fascinating insights. He explains how temporal rhythms affect our mood, test scores, and decision-making skills. Three takeaways from the book:

Set tasks according to your body clock

Are you a lark or an owl or a “third bird", who is neither an extreme morning nor night person? According to Pink, if you are born after September, you are more likely to be a lark, whereas owls are more likely to have a spring or summer birthday. For most of us, except the extreme owls, our ability to perform analytic tasks peaks in the late morning, or, latest, by noon.

So, should we save our toughest tasks for the mornings, while relegating more humdrum chores for the lazy afternoons? The answer isn’t as simple. For, we tend to do better on tasks that require creativity and insight in the late afternoon, when we are not at our peak. This may be due to the fact that creative work requires us to be less judgemental and vigilant, at least in the early stages. So, scheduling analytical work in the morning and creative tasks in the afternoon makes sense for most of us.

However, night owls, about one in four people, experience their peaks at night.

Author says breaks have a positive impact on performance.
Author says breaks have a positive impact on performance.

Take breaks to maximize productivity

The author says breaks have a positive impact on performance. Don’t feel guilty about taking short breaks to recharge yourself and don’t begrudge your team their tea breaks, as short bursts of downtime will probably add to productivity.

Monitor your momentum at the end of each workday

Pink cites the instance of Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, who analysed 1,200 daily diary entries of hundreds of workers. She found people were most motivated when they tracked their progress at work. So, Pink exhorts us to write down what we have achieved since morning. Often, we are so caught up in work that we aren’t really aware of whether we are making headway. Ending the workday by checking off our accomplishments can spur and give direction to the next day’s work.

Aruna Sankaranarayanan is the founder and director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties in Bengaluru and Chennai.

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