I have assembled a Time Chart to determine the best times to do certain things during the day, or during one’s life. The chart is based on a series of interdisciplinary studies about time and its improbable effects on decision-making processes, emotional performance, lifestyle choices, sociological trends, and more. The importance of time, in many frightening ways, is discussed and distilled in a new book by Dan Pink, entitled When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
Let’s start with a disturbing, real-life example of time’s unconscious power over fate — at least for a prisoner facing a parole board. When, would you say, during the course of a day, is the best time to be judged by a panel of one’s peers? Would the answer be 9:00 am? 11:45 am? Or 4:30 pm?
Judicial studies in Israel show a clear-cut answer: 9:00 am, by far. For the vast majority of people, the morning brain offers a fresher mind and a sweeter heart. Also, the time after a break period can similarly reduce the severity of one’s verdict. On the other hand, for someone who’s tired or hungry, mood and judgment are likely to become significantly more impaired and irritable later in the day.
The differences can be startling. The Israeli research revealed that potential parolees were sentenced back to prison six times more often than their earlier-in-the day peers. The fact that a seemingly-arbitrary statistic — time of day — was found to exert such far-reaching consequences on a prisoner’s chance of parole seems grotesquely depressing. When it comes to the elusive fabric of human choice and cognition, we seem too often like mindless automatons rather than volitional beings. The news is sobering.
Countless studies of this type have been performed in recent years and offer strange clues on the human nature of so-called free will. Time appears not the only unconscious influencer of human events. All kinds of invisible puppet strings appear to guide our clueless prefrontal cortex, ranging from subtle environmental cues (like the size of a food dish on dieting) to rampant social and gender biases. Without delving into the philosophical ramifications of these findings, I will admit that the more we discover about psychology and neuroscience, the more uncomfortable I sometimes become. Whilst fascinating, the facts often seem heartless.
According to the studies gleaned from reading Pink’s book on this subject, I would recommend consulting the chart below as a rule-of-thumb guide to enhancing one’s lifestyle and important decision-making goals. Please note that the chart reports basic universal trends, not rigid principles; for example, Night Owls will find the facts inapplicable, in many cases.
Time Table (For more info, check out Dan Pink’s podcasts)
When to drink coffee: An hour or 90 minutes after waking up. Not just after waking up! (Caffeine interferes with the production of cortisol, a stress hormone which kick-starts the waking-up process.)
The best time of day to exercise: It depends. Early in the morning to lose weight or to experience a longer mood boost throughout the day. Exercise later in the day (or early evening) to avoid injury and to enjoy a more effortless workout and better performance.
When to make important decisions: After a break or nap. Usually in the morning, as opposed to the afternoon.
When to quit your job: After four years, when you have reached the top of your learning curve and thereafter risk becoming less engaged.
Undergo surgery: Choose the morning, not the afternoon. (Surgeons are more focused in the morning.) Choose a month that is not July or August. (New surgeons often begin their surgical trials in the summer after graduation.)
When to share good news and bad news: Start with the bad news, and end with the good.
The ideal time to enter a successful marriage: When you’re 32.
Graduation: Do not graduate during an economic recession. Choose a “boom” period instead. (Difficult to choose a graduation date on the basis of such factors, but the lifelong financial aspects to the student are profound.)
Perhaps the best defense against the truth are more facts. It’s time to crack the ignorance barrier and to learn more about the maddening sponge inside our heads. Forewarned is forearmed.