top of page

When by Dan Pink - 3 Big Ideas

Updated: May 28, 2019

If you are an entity whose experiences are constrained by the temporal fourth dimension, you’re gonna wanna watch this.


Hey everybody, you're here to improve your life, tactically and philosophically, through books with us and this week's book is:

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Dan Pink

Dan Pink starts us out by presenting us with quite the peculiar question:

Did the Lusitania, of WW1 infamy, sink because of a misunderstanding? Because of politics? Or because it was the afternoon and the captain was tired…

Dan Pink says this book is not a how to – it’s a when to.

In this review we’ll see:

  • Why getting tired randomly is perfectly normal

  • How to beat your afternoon slump

  • How time shapes the meanings in our lives

So, what are three things we can use from this book?

3 Things You Can Use

1. Circadian Rhythms, Chronobiology and... Birds

This first thing, is kind of long – but you gotta stay with me here because it’s pretty cool.

What a pretty flower.

This particular flower blooms when the sun is out. But one day, you shut the blinds because you don’t want it to bloom that day. But, in the darkness, and as if the sun was shining straight on it, it blooms again.

The flower doesn’t react to the sunlight, it follows it’s biological clock, instantiated evolutionarily into it’s million years ago predecessor’s biological functions. I.e. flower opens for sun even when sun not there.

That is a circadian rhythm.

Almost all living creatures have a circadian rhythm. Humans, to pick an example at random, have a 24 hour circadian rhythm cycle that affects our mental and physiological processes throughout the day.

Generally, you will be alert in the morning, have a slump of energy and brain power in the afternoon and have a rebound period in the evening.

Though it’s a little more wiggly than that. We’re all individually on a circadian rhythm spectrum.

Some people have their energy in the morning, slump and then rebound. And some people have more of a recovery, chill period, slump and then boom with energy late into the night.

Whichever category you fall into is called your chronotype and is influenced by your chronobiology.

The two chronotypes are Larks and Owls. Early birds are larks and late birds are owls. But, like I said, it’s a spectrum, so lots of people are arranged at points in between, third birds Dan calls them.

But the important part of all of this is recognizing this biological circumstance and then using it to your advantage.

But I’ve got to explain one more part of this before we can do that.

Following along the circadian rhythm of your day, you’ve got alertness, early for the larks and late for the owls, and you’ve got the slump, in the middle of the day. You are much more mentally capable in math, logical reasoning, deliberation, and so on… in your alert phase and they’ve shown you are much more subject to bias, suggestion, stereotyping and all sorts of other mental lapses, throughout your slump.

But weirdly, there’s a benefit to the slump

As the analytical mind doses off, transitioning to the slump, the inhibitions in our mind we command in order to stay vigilant, alert and focused, relax, giving our intuition free reign and more room to play.

In a slump, we’re more intuitive and are much more subject to what Malcolm Gladwell might call a “blink” moment of insight.

So while the slump is the opposite of the alert phase, it’s not all bad – in fact, it presents us with a paradox.

“The inspiration paradox: the idea that innovation and creativity are greatest when we are not at our best -- at least with respect to our circadian rhythms.”

And here’s where we get to the practical part.

So everyone has their own particular chronotype and is located somewhere on the circadian rhythm spectrum – and -- during that circadian rhythm cycle you have distinct periods of intellectual capability and bumbling moments of insight and creativity.

So what should you do?

Well, you figure out your circadian rhythm and assign particular types of tasks accordingly. If you need to be working on math, logic, problem solving or on the jury bench – do it in your alert phase. And if you need to be more free-minded, creative and insightful, do it during your slump.

You can figure out your chronotype by either taking a test I’ll link up in the description or by observing when you are most awake, in the mornings or at night and observe when you feel your energy slump.

At the least, once you figure out your circadian rhythm, do your best to avoid doing important, intentional work during your slump. Unless, that is, you decide that you’re going to defeat your afternoon slump.

2. How to Keep That Afternoon Slump from Making You Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's

The gavel strikes and the course of another life is determined.

Too bad it’s 1:30 PM and not 10AM – or this person might have had a more desirable outcome.

During the afternoon slump, Juries go from fair and balanced to racially biased and suggestible, nurses and doctors are 4x more likely to make a mistake while drugging you, car accidents are at their highest and judges give fewer chances at parole hearings.

The medical cost of the afternoon energy trough, extracted out and multiplied across all the US hospitals is: 600,000 unnecessary infections, $12.5 billion in added costs and up to 35,000 unnecessary deaths.

This is not good.

It’s bad.

But there’s a way to shield ourselves from the evil mind control of the slump during our moments of import…

To avoid those accidents, car drivers need a break.

There are three kinds of breaks you can take, and these breaks have been proven to revamp capability and lead the afternoon slump away on a fool’s errand, at least for a while.

A vigilance break

In one hospital, they take breaks at certain intervals to read out things they’ve written on bright green cards. They’ve got the names of the patients they’re working on, the drugs they’re prescribed, the procedures, the ailments, the family member’s names…

These card breaks refocus them on the important aspects.

They are vigilance breaks. Vigilance breaks massage the mind in the right direction -- tagging the important components and aspects to hone in on giving you a few important factors to work with, helping you, and your decreased mental capacity, stay focused.

Restorative breaks

Restorative breaks are the sighs of relief amid the exhaustive relentlessness of work and upkeep.

These breaks give you a… well… break -- recharging your executive function for more fulfilling work afterwards.

Good restorative breaks are guided by a few different concepts:

Move around (for good blood flow and energy)Be social (for a mood boost)Hug a tree (for a nature effect. You can even pretend to be a plant – that actually works. Well, he said pretend you were seeing a plant -- but I think pretending to be a plant works too.)Fully detach. Don’t think about the work you’ll be getting back to (so that you can actually recharge)

He says for the full restorative break effect, “take a short walk outside with a friend, during which you discuss something other than work.”

And finally my favorite kind of break:

The siesta

The infamous, lazy person’s hideaway from responsibility – the productivity ignorer for babies and children – the responsible worker’s most condescended activity:

A nap.

An afternoon nap expands the brain’s capacity to learn, boosts short term and associative memory, benefits mood, alertness and cognitive performance, strengthens the immune system and even anticipating a nap can reduce blood pressure.

No wonder Google has nap pods.

Dan Pink says he has figured out the perfect nap – and if you’ll let me, I’ll describe it for you here.

For the perfect nap:

  • Sleep for 10-20 minutes (five minutes doesn’t do much and 30 or more makes you groggy)

  • Set your alarm for 25 minutes, because it generally takes people seven minutes to fall asleep

  • Take your nap seven hours or so after waking to time it relatively well with your afternoon slump

  • Take your nap at the same time each day (habitual nappers get more out of their naps)

  • Drink a cup of coffee right before your nap, because it takes caffeine twenty minutes to become active in your bloodstream, when you wake up, you’ll be blasted with alertness by what Dan Pink calls “the nappachino”

These effects will last for approximately three hours, which may be all you need to blast by that afternoon slump’s henchman.

With the day to day under control – how do we handle time more broadly?

3. Spunky Starts, Motivational Middles and the Flat Out Finish

Whether you’re running a race, working in a team with a deadline or making your way through a decade, you’ll be contending with a beginning, a middle and an end.

So let’s go through the process, seeing how these intervals affect our psychology, starting with starts.

It’s the new year! What have we all done? Decided to make some resolutions to our lives. We have a chance for a fresh start. A new us.

Not really. We’re the same person we were yesterday… there’s only 24 hours difference really, but psychologically, we’ve ripped the page out and started on a new, blank one.

Beginnings switch on our motivations for a fresh start. Dan Pink says we should take advantage of this psychological phenomenon. He says there are 86 different days in a year that we could potentially use as a fresh start day if we need one.

If you falter on your resolutions, hit that fresh start button again on Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Groundhog Day and succeed, propped up by your clean slate.

Now middles.

You’re halfway through the week and realize you’ve barely started on your paper. You had all week and you’ve hardly done anything!

But you put your nose to the grindstone and you crank it out with a new-found sense of urgency, provided to you by your halfway point realization.

Dan says that when people realize they are at the midpoint and they’re a little behind, it provides them with an “uh oh” effect. Recognizing they are short on time, they experience a concentrated midpoint burst.

Do this on purpose.

“Make it an uh oh, not an oh no. Imagine that you’re behind, but only by a little.” And propel yourself toward completion.

And finally, finales.

In the maze they have a path with multiple finish lines. On each finish line is a piece of cheese. They let the rat loose and they all lean in and stare overtop the maze.

The rat runs. The closer the rat gets to the cheese, the faster he goes. Just like with humans, he sees the finish line and is extra energized.

Dan Pink notes that at the end of each decade of life we are prone to a reenergized pursuit of significance. Lots of 9enders, though not all, decide to run marathons. To finish their 20’s, 30’s and 50’s strong.

So run through the finish line and end strong.

Endings always come. How you feel about a memory is made up of the peak experience combined with the ending experience and results. Endings are usually poignant. Bittersweet.

It was made up of a lot of good memories -- and we learned a lot. But now, it’s over…


Figure out what bird you are and you can soar, by assigning your tasks to their optimal times.

Give yourself a break and you'll not only feel better, but do better.

And take advantage of the psychological power of starts, middles and ends to make your dreams real.

What a book! Really unique and useful. I generally only write down practical things while I'm taking notes for a book and I swear, during this one, my pencil caught fire at one point.

I can never include everything from the book in these reviews - and man was there a lot in this book. Much more about circadian rhythms and chronotypes, research on when to get a job, how to get a fast start in your new job, when to get married, when to get a divorce, synchronicity, as similarly described in the book, Stealing Fire,  how to alter some of our cultural systems with respect to our collective circadian rhythms... and much much more.

If you want to get the book yourself, there are plenty of links around I've provided for you.

Sorry I got trigger finger and made the longest review of all time.

If you did like the show there are two things you can do. You can like it, so more people will be prompted to watch it, or you can subscribe, so you don't miss next week's video. Thanks for watching with us and--

we'll see you next week!


Want to Read it?

Audible Free Trial (get this book for free)


Physical Copy

(These links give me a little bump if you decide to use them. Thank you!)

Take the test to know your chronotype:

More info on this book at


Punching Sounds by: Mike Koenig

Music from

Gavel Sounds: Odditonic

Outro music: Otis Mcdonald

Images/Vectors from:

16 views0 comments
bottom of page