When: Summary & Review

when daniel pink book

In When Daniel Pink analyzes the impact that time and the timing of your actions have on our lives.
Pink shows that when you decide to do what you strongly affects the effectiveness of your actions, and your chances of succeeding.

Bullet Summary

  • Our day has a U-shaped curve of efficiency and happiness
  • Our life has a U-shaped curve when it comes to happiness
  • If you want to maximize your efficiency: learn about your circadian rhythm and schedule your da-ys accordingly
  • Take many breaks and take short naps

When – Summary

Daniel Pink is not a psychologist himself, but he does his research well -very well-.
I loved his previous book “Drive” and so I had high expectations for “When”.

Circadian Rhythms Archetypes: Are You Lark or Owl?

When it comes to circadian rhythms Daniel Pink uses the terms “owl” for people staying late and night and “larks” for people waking up early in the morning.

Circadian Chronotypes (that’s the correct word) are not fixed in stone but change depending on age, circumstances, and also gender.

Most of us are somewhat in the middle, which Pink calls “third birds”.

It’s important to know where you fall on the line circadian spectrum because it will affect how productive (or unproductive) you are during certain times of the day.

Circadian Types’ Traits

Owls, or the people who stay up late and wake up late, tend to be:

  • More creative
  • Have a stronger working memory
  • Score higher on intelligence tests
  • Have a better sense of humor

But they are also more prone to addiction, drug use, eating disorder, sensation-seeking, and neurotic.

My Note: No real data here
This is one of those cases in which the author does not quantify those “more likely” and “more prone to”.

To me, this is meaningless because a “1% more likely is insignificant” but a “50% more likely would be highly significant. 

But the author doesn’t provide those statistics.

The U-Shaped Daily Productivity

Every day, for most people, presents a U-shaped chart when it comes to productivity.

We start the day that we are very productive in the morning. Then we hit a trough in the afternoon and eventually we rebound in the early evening.

It’s not just productivity though, the same U-shaped curve affects happiness, emotional balance, and warmth towards others.

This has been proven by several experiments, including:

There Is a Time for Art & A Time For Critical Thinking

What I found most interesting from a psychological point of view is that times of the day which are poor for critical thinking tasks are actually great for artistic pursuits.

This is because our neocortex is less engaged and we can “let go” more easily.

Tips to Maximize Your Day

Here is some good advice to maximize your day:

  • Drink water when you wake up (also read The Miracle Morning)
  • Get some sun on your skin
  • Coffee is OK, but best after 1-1.5h after waking up
  • You can skip breakfast
  • But do get lunch
    • Make the launch autonomous (you decide) and detached (no work-talk)
  • Use micro-breaks (especially before important tasks) 
    • Moving and walking beats remaining seated
    • Taking a break with someone beats staying alone
    • Try to stay tech-free and let go of your phone
    • The company DeskTime calculated 17 mins of break for every 52 mins of work (but this is a meaningless average of course)
  • Do nap (but not long naps: between 10 and 20 minutes is ideal)
    • You can get a coffee right before nap so that the effect will start right after you wake up
    • Around 7 hours after you first woke up is a good time for napping

For more bio-hacking also read “Own The Day, Own Your Life“.

When to Go First, When to Go Last

I have read plenty of books that recommend people to go first or last (one of them: The Social Animal). And many of them got it wrong. 
So I was really glad to read Daniel Pink’s take on it since he says he bases his advice on research.

When you’re in a serial competition (ie: job interviews or candidate seeking votes) go first when:

  • In ballots and elections, the first name gets a boost
  • You’re not the default choice (it helps you get a fresh look from the decision-makers)
  • There are relatively few competitors (“primacy effect”)
  • There are many strong candidates (if people see many strong early candidates they will start looking for flaws in the successive ones)

Go last (or not first) when:

  • You are the default choice (people are less likely to challenge status quo and more likely to stick with the default when they’re tired)
  • There are many competitors of average level (the primacy effect doesn’t hold and by going last you can showcase your uniqueness)
  • You’re operating in an uncertain environment (you can get a hedge by watching what the competition does)
  • The competition is weak (at the beginning of the competition the judges hold an ideal standard of performance, and when it’s not met, they discard the first competitors and the successive ones enjoy the more realistic expectations)

For a more complete guide check:

When to Get Married

  • Way until you’re old enough, but not too old (above 32 the odds of divorce increase by 5% each year for the next decade)
  • Wait until you completed your studies
  • Wait until your relationship is mature enough (waiting at least 1 year before marriage were 20% less likely to divorce; waiting 3 years even better)
  • Don’t spend too much on engagement rings (somehow high spending was correlated with divorce, but this sounded dubious to me because no numbers were given)

At Midpoint, We Relax Standards (& Assessments)

We remember beginning and endings the most. If the ending of a colonoscopy is not painful, we remember it as less painful even if the total experience was longer and more painful (as compared to a colonoscopy that didn’t end well).

What’s also surprising is that most people relax their standards during the middle and that people even judge others less harshly for the middle.

If you’re a president, you should focus on the last year because that’s what matters the most.

By Midpoint It’s Best to Lose (by a little)

Teams that at mid-game were behind by one point were more likely to win. This is because they went into the field with a mindset that they needed to make up and right after the match restarted they accumulated more points.

Psychologically indeed, researchers have shown that people invest the most effort when they were told they were trailing by a little (as compared to when they were told they were winning or they were losing by wide margins).

The effect didn’t hold if they were much behind.
So as Robert Greene says in The 48 Laws of Power: crush your opponents totally.

when daniel pink book

Real-Life Applications

  • Identify your circadian type, identify your peaks and troughs and schedule your most important work during your peak hours
  • During your breaks, green and nature will help (even if just looking at it from a window)
  • Exercise in the morning for:
    • losing weight more efficiently
    • building strength and boosting mood (evening and later afternoon are best for peak performance)
  • End on a high note: people prefer endings on a high note even when the overall sum is lower than the option with a poorer ending but higher overall scores
  • For leaders: when team morale is low it’s best to emphasize the work that has been made; when team morale is high it’s best to emphasize what needs to be done
  • Think about the future: the author makes some fun of author who encourages of to “live in the present” (The Power of Now, wink wink) because cultures who have languages with strongly defined future tenses exercise more, save more for retirement and, it seems, enjoy better lives
  • Doctors and nurses make many more mistakes during the troughs of the day and are much more likely to be sloppy


  • At times the “better” was unquantifiable

There were several instances in which Daniel Pink quantified his “better”, “stronger” or “more likely”.
But many other times where no number or data was given to quantify “better”, “stronger” or “more likely”.

To me, that felt as if the author was trying to make “When” more captivating or as if he describing small changes and avoided to quantify the actual impact or it would otherwise be obvious the change was minimal.

This makes “When”, in my opinion, a wonderful book but more of a pop-psychology title than a heavily scientific one.

  • At time sensationalistic

The author says that people who start working on a bad job market will earn less even decades into their careers.

The long term impact was 2.5% though, and the author says that “in some cases, up to 20%”.
But that “in some cases” makes no sense, because obviously, we are going to have some cases which are larger. But we will also have some cases of people who ended up earning more.

The average 2.5% was all that we needed, really.

When Review

“When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it through and through.

It also reminded me of how hard it was for an owl like me to wake up early morning to go to high school and how unproductive I was simply because of my circadian rhythms (young men also tend to be more owls). 
The author indeed recommends to start schools later, and I couldn’t agree more.

“When” also gave me some new perspectives on psychology (for example when to go first or last and on people’s tendency to relax standards of assessment in the middle).
And I learned loads on bio-hacking (albeit I’m not a fan of that word :).

And, in general, I simply deeply enjoyed reading “When”, so I can once again highly recommend Daniel Pink.

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