In “When: the scientific secrets of perfect timing”, Daniel Pink answers questions like: Why do students score higher at tests earlier in the day?  Why should we avoid making big decisions in the afternoon?  And when should we take breaks to optimally restore our energy?

We’re faced with so many “when” decisions every day, with the power to change our lives, yet we leave timing to chance or intuition… big mistake!

What’s the big idea?

The big idea is that our days consistently go through a predictable peak, trough, and rebound.  3 out of 4 people’s daily lives follow this pattern.  And the rest – the so-called nigh-owls – they experience the reverse pattern.

So how does this help you?  First, figure out your “type” by calculating the midpoint between the time you go to bed and the time you wake up.  If you’re in the most common type, save analytical tasks for the morning and insight tasks for the late afternoon or early evening.

When should you take a break?

Even if you’re allocating the right tasks at their optimal time, you still shouldn’t try to power through them in one sitting.  Breaks are critical!

But when should you take them?

Based on data collected from a time-tracking app, the most productive people tend to work for 52 minutes straight, and then take a 17-minute break.  Leave your desk, move around, take your mind off work…

How to avoid bad decisions with a “nappuccino”

Above all, you have to beware of your natural “trough” period, which usually comes about 7 hours from waking up.  That’s when you tend to make your WORST decisions.

So what can you do about that?  How about taking a “nappuccino”?

That’s no ordinary nap…  Sleep for more than half an hour and you’ll go into what’s called “sleep inertia” and you’ll wake up groggy.

Research shows that if you sleep for 5 minutes or less you get no benefit.  But if you sleep for 10-20 minutes you’ll wake up much more alert and your energy levels restored.

And if you want to jumpstart your productivity, drink a strong coffee right before taking a nap.  It takes 25 minutes for the caffeine to enter your bloodstream, so when you get up from your nap you’ll get hit with a dose of caffeine and you’ll be off to the races.


The book is filled with evidence-based tactics to help you figure out how to map out the different tasks, decisions, and breaks on your daily routine.  But on a more macro perspective, it also answers questions around when to start a new career, or why you should re-start if you had a poor start, and how to avoid false starts altogether.

Each chapter culminates in a “time hacker’s” cheat sheet with practical how-to’s and takeaways to make all the ideas in the book applicable, so you can become the master of YOUR “when”.