So how did Dan go from shifting career focus multiple times to deciding to become a writer with relative ease?
Connecting The Dots of your career isn’t obvious… Until afterwards
If you’ve ever heard the famous Steve Jobs commencement speech for Stanford University, he says,
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
It turns out that this was true for Dan too. He went to law school without ever spending time with a lawyer to find out what they did or ever learning what law school was like. He then went into politics all the while writing on the side because he enjoyed it, many times staying awake until midnight trying to get a piece finished for the unpaid writing gigs he had.
At the time it wasn’t obvious that he should be doing this side work as his main thing, it was only afterwards that he connected all the dots and realized that writing was where he should be spending his time.
What do you do?
I get so many emails about finding your passion. It’s a confusing and ambiguous.
Here are Dan’s thoughts on passion:
“Passion is the wrong word. I think professionals care about challenge and contribution.
Passion is about you. Contribution is about other people.
What do you do that makes a contribution.?
A much better question than “what is your passion” is what do you do?
What do you do already but you’re not getting paid for?
What did you do in your past roles that you gravitate towards event though it’s not really a part of your job?
What do you do that is only a small portion of your time right now that you wish you could make a much larger portion of your time?
If you want even more help click here to get on our waitlist for one to one custom coaching in our signature Coaching program!
Transcript from Episode
Scott Barlow: Welcome back to the Happen to Your Career Podcast. I have with me today someone whose work I’ve admired for years now. In fact I remember back when I was working in HR leadership buying several cases of his books and running around the office putting them into the hands of anybody who I could get to read them. But he’s written several more since then including his latest which is called “When The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” But that’s not the only reason we have him here. He’s also had a very interesting varied career including being a speechwriter for Al Gore and other policy and politics positions. Welcome to the Happen to Your Podcast Dan Pink. How are you?
Dan Pink: I’m very good thanks for having me.
Scott Barlow: Yeah absolutely thrilled to say the least. Hey I know that what you do right now is write books and you’ve written six at this point. I believe if I if I remember correctly right.
Dan Pink: Good counting Scott six books.
Scott Barlow: Well I have never been good at math but I managed to somehow make this one work. I want to talk about those here in a little bit because I have been a fan and have been following those and reading for a while now. But I would actually love to go back before the books, predating the books. In fact I’d love to go all the way back to law school because you’re not a lawyer at this point, as it turns out. So take us back there. And I’m super curious why on earth did you even decide to go to law school in the first place?
Dan Pink: OK fair question. I don’t want to torture your listeners too much, but in order to answer that question I think you have to go back into my upbringing. I grew up in the American Midwest,middle class kid, son of parents who were very deeply concerned about economic security. And throughout my childhood this message was understandably beat into me about you got to do something you can fall back on. You got to make sure that you take care of your economic security. And what that meant in the time that I was growing up was things like going to be a doctor, or becoming an engineer, becoming an accountant, becoming a lawyer and having that kind of skilled profession. And because the nature of what my parents said basically just I just assumed that my whole childhood that’s what I would do. It’s really weird I’ve recognized that in retrospect and so I did. And in kind of a mindless way. And I got there and I really didn’t like it and I left for a little while and I ended up going back partly through risk aversion more than anything else. And not only am I not a lawyer now. I’ve never been a lawyer. I graduated from law school and never practiced law never clerked for a judge. Never did anything like that. Instead I started working in politics because at the time that’s what I was interested in.
Scott Barlow: So what prompted you to go through the rest of law school and then not not become a lawyer? There was probably a bit in between there I suppose.
Dan Pink: Well yes and no. I mean there are two parts of that question. I mean part of it was. I mean so what prompted you to go through and what prompted you not to be a lawyer. To me at some level those are two different questions. One of them is what prompted me to go through is probably just a sense of bad reasoning saying oh my god I’ve already sunk this much time into it I might as well finish or probably at another level, Wow I really look like an idiot if I started and didn’t finish. So that’s it. And then in terms of not practicing to think that was actually an easier decision because here’s the problem Scott that I made and if there’s a lesson that other people can learn on this it’s that you know you got…I think what a lot of times we make assumptions about how the world works or how careers go or what professions are like. And a lot of times your assumptions are wrong. I mean truly I feel like an idiot in retrospect. I had no idea what lawyers actually did and like I never spent any time in a law office. I never actually spent a day with a lawyer. I never talked to a lawyer about what she did for a living. I actually never even went to a law school class to check it out before going to law school. And that’s a huge mistake. I just assumed what it was going to be like. And and once I realized that what lawyers actually did my view of it was OK great. This is a skilled profession. But this is a bore I don’t want to do this the rest of my life. And so that was actually an easy decision not to practice not to practice law. Because it was you know in the same way that I wouldn’t want to spend the next 30 years of my life cleaning gutters you know like to us that’s not interesting. That’s how I felt about the practice of law.
Scott Barlow: So what happened post law school then. It Was an easy decision but then then something happened post law?
Dan Pink: Well I graduated I graduated unemployed and I was one of the very very very few people who graduated from law school unemployed in my law school class. And again the way that sort of the anthropology of law schools is it’s a haven for people who are deeply risk averse. And as a consequence a lot of people have jobs and post graduation plans lined up like literally over a year in advance. Almost everybody had a job either clerking for a judge or working for a law firm or working in government or working for a public interest group or whatever. And I did not and I graduated unemployed. And at the time I was deeply interested in politics so I started looking for political jobs. And I ended up working on some campaigns, political campaigns where I was getting paid a ridiculously small amount. I had massive student loans, massive student loans. I was fortunate that my law school actually had a loan forgiveness policy for people who made very little money. So I was well beneath the threshold of that. And so that took a little bit of the sting out of it. And so that’s what I did sort of working in politics working on campaigns.
Scott Barlow: Why then? Why was that interesting to you at that time?
Dan Pink: You know I’m not sure why but it was it was really deeply interested in. I was really deeply interested in it. I was interested in it on two different levels. One was that it was a way to make an impact to do something that affected the world. But equally I have to say it was also really exciting and interesting and it was like a sport it was like a game it was like exciting that’s because it’s a contest it’s your strategizing you are trying to win. And so the sporting aspect of it I liked a lot.
Scott Barlow: As you got into it how is it different than what you anticipated?
Dan Pink: That’s a great question and I think that’s one of the things that had me leave eventually as I got into it what I realized is that the you know I looked at those two things but those two parts are the sporting aspect the game aspect to it and then there is the impact aspect to it. And what I found is that it was mostly about the sporting aspect and that actually for me at least lost its thrill after a while and you wonder like it what’s the point of this exercise. The tactics and it was all tactical. There’s very little strategy. You know the tactics are all in the service is basically all let’s just do things for some short term tactical advantage and after a while that loses its appeal. If you’re not doing something in the service of something bigger and found that the service of something bigger ended up getting crowded out not because of the people I worked with you know the politicians I worked for necessarily but because of the system is just is designed for that. It’s the system you know. It’s a system designed to prize short term tactical rather than long term strategic and designed to prize the quick small fleeting victory rather than the harder more enduring victory.
Scott Barlow: So I’m super curious about that for those folks that haven’t worked in politics or been around politics before. What’s an example that you experienced of that?
Dan Pink: Think of an example, basically. I mean you know I worked back in the days when people read newspapers. So you know somebody would write an article about something that somebody I was working for said or did. And in the seventh paragraph there was a sentence that was ambiguous about whether it was positive or negative. And we would have to have an hour long conversation about whether it was positive or negative. And then another hour long conversation about how to respond to it. You know when in fact it’s like OK this is really meaningless it’s really short term no one’s going to care about this in three hours let alone three days or three years. Why are we wasting our time on this? Or even things like that used to drive me nuts. And fortunately in some of my jobs I didn’t have to do this but first I became a speechwriter and you know the principled politician is going to go up before a group of people in some kind of speech. So who has to be acknowledged? All right. You know and should we acknowledge so-and-so, meaning that you know Hello it’s great to be here at the National Association of rutabagas. I’d like to thank National at Rootabaga association president Jean Fernandez and you know. Like who do you have to thank and acknowledge from the podium? I mean that just struck me as like the most absurd amount of time spent on that kind of nonsense. it was just absolutely absolutely absurd. So those are two those are two those are two small examples from that part of my life.
Scott Barlow: And I’m guessing elements of that caused you to leave but I’m super curious then what as you became a speechwriter. What were some of the elements that you really truly enjoyed out of that experience?
Dan Pink: Oh what I liked about it was that that’s something actually happened a femoral though it was so you know you would write something and then you would see something that you came up with and it was quoted in a newspaper or seen on TV. And people responded to it that’s super cool. Every once in a while in the policymaking process the policy was delayed and delayed and delayed and sort of not being finalized and what ended up finalizing it was the fact that somebody had to give a speech announcing it. So there was a tiny insight into policymaking and a tiny impact on on policy-making and also is just you know it’s a very very fast paced environment. It’s it can be exciting at times. You know you turn on the TV and they’re talking about stuff that you’re involved in which is cool.
Scott Barlow: I’m super curious because in some ways at least on the exterior it seems like the fast pace of that is drastically different in some ways than life is as a writer and author maybe not.
Dan Pink: Oh god yes like totally totally totally different. It’s totally different. I mean for speech writing at a certain level. You know once you get to the Cabinet level and the presidential vice presidential level the best analogy is it’s like being a doctor. It’s like working in an inner city emergency room. You’re always on call what you’re trying to do is stitch up the bodies so they don’t die on your watch. Yeah. You know that’s what that’s like. It’s that kind of atmosphere which is you know it can can be exhilarating it can be exhausting but it can also be exhilarating.
Scott Barlow: So what caused you to leave that? Because you’re having some of that exhilaration. Certainly there were elements that they didn’t like what actually took place to caused you to move down the road or to take those actions to leave?
Dan Pink: It was a few things. Number one well there were several things. So number one was that I mean not even I’m honest I don’t even want to rank them because it’s not like they’re linear it’s like they all they all worked together so it’s one thing was you know looking you know at the time I was in my early 30s. Toward the end I was in my early 30s and I looked down the road 10 years 15 years 20 years. And the people who were doing what I was doing like what were their life’s like in 10 years 20 years? And I didn’t like that at all. I didn’t like what I saw myself and what I saw potential of my becoming you know which is basically a person who is a career political professional deeply deeply deeply deeply cynical and entirely tactical. I didn’t like that at all. That’s one thing. The second thing is that it’s a very demanding job. And again this is such a long time ago he was really pre widespread use of mobile phones; I had a pager. I said that that pager was like being tethered to to the job and I think that the people who you’re working for need that kind of commitment, they need the kind of commitment that you’re always going to be ready to help. You’re always going to be on call. I think that’s the kind of people you should hire. And because my wife and I had had a baby. I was thinking you know I don’t know if I want to be on call all the time. So that was a factor, that was a factor in it. Another factor was that again it was not to do with politics, but, well I mean another factor was that what we’re talking about before the balance was so much on short term little tactical advantage and nothing on anything more enduring. You know and then even more important I sort of you know as you learn about yourself I was very fortunate in that I had some good bosses but I realized that I didn’t really like having a boss period. There was not very much autonomy in that kind of work.
And then another factor was that, and this is where it sort of makes a little bit more sense in retrospect, like so many things from a very early age from the time I was in college, I was always quote unquote writing on the side. I was writing magazine articles newspaper op eds that kind of thing. I did it in college.In college I was a pretty hard core social science person, pretty dedicated hard core student. But on the side I wrote – I actually believe it or not or want a short story prize in college completely antithetical to the hard core mathematical social science that I was doing. In law schools I was writing articles for newspapers and magazines on the side, probably spending more time and that than on my actual law school work. When I got into the workforce I was also I was writing book reviews for magazines and even when I got into other kinds of jobs where I wasn’t allowed to get paid, understandably because of ethics concerns I was still writing for magazines and newspapers on the side.
And that’s when I began ever so slowly thanks to my wife in part I began to realize that what I was doing quote unquote on the side is what I should be doing for real. I never thought. I mean I actually became a speechwriter in a pretty random half assed way and that I just started doing it. you know somebody asked me to do it once and it did an OK job and then they asked me again and it did an OK job and then suddenly that was what I was doing. Yeah but I think I think that’s common in a lot of enterprises. I never set out to do that and but I never sort of when I was growing up or when I was in college or I’m going to grow up and become a writer. There are plenty of people who are like that. There are plenty of people who know from a very early age that they’re going to be writers and I think I discovered that a little bit later in life. Not in an ancient age but at a later age than most people I think you know early 30s where I said maybe this is what, I realized and this is what I do. Like here I am killing myself at midnight working on an article that I’m not going to get paid for. This might actually be something that I like doing.
Scott Barlow: Here’s my question about that Dan, because I think it’s always obvious in retrospect but I love digging into people’s stories because there always seems to be some element that is there it’s never like I had this epiphany and I was going to be a beekeeper. And you know that is it. I’m a beekeeper now. Boom everything was great. There’s always some element there so what point. I heard you say that your wife was critical to that but was there a particular point in time where you had that realization or that or the switch flipped or what was that really got it?
Dan Pink: I’m with you Scott. I don’t have epiphanies. I mean I just don’t think life generally doesn’t work that way. I think it’s a slow hunch it’s a gradual realization. It is taking three steps back and looking at your pattern or behavior and say holy smokes this is what I do. And I think that’s what happened. I think that’s what happened. I think that’s what happened with me. You know it goes to something I’ve mentioned before in other I think I mention this in some other interviews or in some speeches or whatever it is that this question about that people tend to ask younger people like What’s your passion. What is your passion? I really dislike that question because I think when you face I question there’s sort of this obligation to give a really profound answer and I think it’s a hard question to answer. And I think it’s the wrong question.
I think the real question is what do you do? You know look of your own behavior. What do you do? So go back to your beekeeper example. I don’t think people wake up one night or wake up one morning and say oh I’m going to be a beekeeper I think what they do is they say why do I spend so much time like following these bees around and like when a bee is in my backyard I take a picture of it I look at it why do, why am I reading this article about about bees. Why do I look linger in the grocery store and look to see where the honey comes from, you know I just don’t think it’s it’s like a; If it’s a switch it’s more like a dimmer switch is not like an off on. If not binary at 1 0. It’s more gradual and I think that at a certain point when you take a step back and watch what you do I think that reveals clues. So even now after spending you know a long time as as or as a writer. If you were to say to me you know is writing your passion. I would say I don’t think so because writing is really fricken hard. There are some days that I hate it but it’s what I do.
Scott Barlow: So let me ask you about that for just a second. Then two questions here. And maybe they’ll take us two completely different places but I’m curious do when you say. And I completely understand that but I’m not sure that is always obvious what is beneath the layers of that like my impression of everything that you’ve said so far is that overall you enjoy writing and being an author and the byproducts of that and what goes into that and it’s something that you’ve done for a very long time. Even when you weren’t getting paid. Break down some of those layers for me a little bit in terms of you know what do you mean when you say no it’s absolutely not my passion. It’s really freaking hard. Help us understand a little bit more of that because I do think that there is this misconception out there that it is when you find the thing or you are the beekeeper or whatever it might be then you’re just going to enjoy absolutely every element of it. And I know you actually talk about this in one of your when your books to, Drive, but break that down for me a little bit in terms of what you mean by that.
Dan Pink: Yeah well I mean it really depends what we mean by enjoyment and what we mean by passion. I think passion is just the wrong word. I really do, I think. I think that passion is a sort of emotion a sort of state that is very very hot and not enduring not something that’s sustainable. I think that what you really know what gives people satisfaction in their work is a sense of challenge and challenge can be frustrating because sometimes you’re not up to the challenge. So I think it’s a sense of challenge and I also think that it’s a sense of contribution as well. So if I if I get an email from reader or see a reader at an event, like that and they say I had a good experience last week I was in Nashville a bookstore and these two people came up to me, man and woman you know maybe in their late 50s or early 60s and they said you know we read a book of yours a book called “Hold Your Mind.” And it really changed the way the conversation we had in our house with our son. We realized that he was you know the fact that he wasn’t this hard core left brain quantitative person was OK and that he had these other skills and now because of this book he decided to go to the Rhode Island School of Design and he went to the Rhode Island School of Design and now he’s in his late 20s and has a flourishing career as a designer and everything and I don’t know if that would have happened without your book. OK. So that basically kept me in the writing business for two additional weeks you know. And so I think that’s a better way to look at it. What is challenging? What you do because it’s part of who you are and what you do that makes a contribution?
Scott Barlow: I love that. So now that you’ve been doing this for a while we know that you don’t enjoy every single element . Yeah no way. And I don’t think that’s true for any career.
Dan Pink: I mean I like baseball OK. I bet it’s super cool to be a professional baseball player. But you know what. There’s a lot of being a professional a major league baseball player. That’s a total pain right. You’re playing 162 a year. You have 162 games every season you finish game at 12:00 at night and go take a shower and then you have to take a plane to the west coast and play another game. Your body takes a beating you year.You have to concentrate every single night. You have to stand up there every single night as if you’re a hitter and face somebody throwing a projectile at you. Ninety five miles an hour and some days like you’re just not in the mood to do that but what do you do. You get up and do your job. And you know and so if you look at like a major league baseball player or an NBA basketball player it’s like is baseball your passion. Well I don’t know but it’s my job and it’s what I do it’s my challenge it’s what I do it’s what I care about. So again I don’t want to split hairs here but I think you know I think professionals care about challenge and they care about contribution and they care less about passion. At some level passion and contribution are are focused in very different directions. Passion is all about me and contribution is all about other people. I really don’t think that that professionals care about passion.
Scott Barlow: Love that perspective I don’t think I’ve heard it put quite that way before.
Dan Pink: And believe me there are plenty of people who are going to be emailing you saying this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’m a professional, I’m passionate about you know bird bird watching or whatever, You know I’m a professional surf boarder and I’m passionate about surfing. But my guess is that professional surfers there are many many days when surfing even though they like surfing. It’s who they are is a total pain.
Scott Barlow: I don’t think that that is dissimilar from a lot of what a lot of what we we teach on this podcast at all. However I still find that as people listen to the show I do continuously get those e-mails so I appreciate very very much you breaking it down in that that particular way. And I love especially the piece about your contribution versus passion that is super interesting to me and I think I think that’s probably true for many things in life when you’re focused on other people as opposed to just yourself. Those are the kinds of the things that carry you forward and those are the kinds of things that make you feel connected to it. Those are the kinds of things that give you meaning. Those are the kinds of things that ultimately get you where many people want to go in a lot of different ways to so that that absolutely resonates with me. Here’s another question for you that I’m curious about.Well let me put it this way. I get e-mails all the time about Johnny Bunco. Actually it makes sense that considering the context of our you know what we do our company and our podcast and everything else along with it. I’ve heard you say in a couple of different places and read a couple of different interviews where you have said things like hey this is I think a came out before it’s time in some way or I really didn’t consider this book to be a very large success. But I find that the e-mails that I’m getting about it, the people that are like hey have you read this. They listed as you know their top 10 books many many many times so one. I’m curious how you think about this book now. I wanted to ask you about that?
Dan Pink: So I’m very proud of that book because I think it’s incredibly original and I think it’s an original book and I think it’s a book that’s been helpful to people. You know if you look at the raw numbers it hasn’t sold as many as my other books. But I don’t consider it a failure. I consider it a like a really inspired experiment that I’m proud of and that I enjoy doing. But that didn’t put the same numbers on the board as other books which suggests other parts which suggest that you know maybe it’s the format of that book it somehow has less of a wide appeal than other formats.
Scott Barlow: It does seem the way that people put it to me in email format or talk about it to me in conversation. I would almost equate it to like cult following a little bit. Almost a movement.
Dan Pink: I like to hear that. So it’s like Office Space or Arrested Development. Yeah. I’m happy to be in that troika there, Office Space, Arrested Development and The Adventures of Johnny Bunco.
Scott Barlow: Perfect. Let’s put it into that category. That is very much seems where it probably should be. I like it quite a bit. I would like to spend a few minutes talking about “When” though because I’ve read the whole book. I thought it was amazing. It wasn’t. It was interesting to me. it had a different feel than some of your other books. In a few different ways and I’m curious you know as you were writing how did you approach this book differently than some of your past?
Dan Pink: Well this book is about the science of timing and the idea behind it is that we tend to think that timing is an art. We make our timing on when decisions based on intuition and guesswork but what we should be doing is making them based on evidence and science. And so the way I approach this was by doing a very deep dive into the science and it turns out that across dozens and dozens of fields from the social sciences like psychology and anthropology and economics to t the biological sciences, molecular biology, medical sciences, anesthesiology, chronobiology, endocrinology that you have all the scholars in different fields are asking very very similar questions unbeknownst to each other. So they’re asking you know what is the effect of time of day on what we do and how we do it how do beginnings affect us, how do midpoints effect and endings affect us. And what I found is that if you go wide enough and deep enough into this research you can begin to piece together the evidence based ways to make better smarter surer decisions about when to do things. So the way I approach this book was very much through the lens of science and or even more broadly Scott I guess on this book. I really begin this book with a question. I didn’t really have a theory of the case so you know well like in other books I’ve sort of I’ve had an argument in mind before I went out and went whole hog on the book based valid argument said well wait a second I’m going to write a book that’s gonna make this argument whereas in this case I came in with a question because I because I was just frustrated myself it’s like basically I wrote this book because I wanted to read it because I wanted to make better when decisions my own life. And so I went in with a question and the science led me to the answer.
Scott Barlow: You know that’s that’s very interesting because as I read through it it felt very much like back to back to back to back answers stacked up of questions that I had about this or are questions that I didn’t even know that I had but was immediately curious about. So I really appreciated that in reading through it and it was felt very I think stacked is the right word. It felt like every single every single chapter that I got to I had ten other things maybe not literally ten but a number of other things that I could use immediately. And that was that was fantastic.
Dan Pink: Well thanks I appreciate that and it also you know what I’m trying to do here is I’m trying to, and in the other books as well, are some of the other books is give people some insight into the science but also try to use those insights to give them some tools to do something different in their own lives. And for me one of the frustrating things about some books is that you read a book about big ideas or science or whatever and it’s interesting and it’s worth reading. But then you say OK so what can I do with this. And the author doesn’t stoop to tell you what to do. Because because he or she will say oh no I’m not going to sully myself by giving you advice. And on the other hand you have a lot of these really really really empty calorie books that are all about advice and exhortation and they’re thin. And you say OK how do you actually know this. What’s this based on. And so for me the ideal is can you give people some insights into the science into the human condition but then can you. But can those insights yield things to actually live your life a little differently. And so that’s what I tried to do in a lot of my previous and a lot of my recent books.
Scott Barlow: I think that especially, and when you’re very much succeeded in ,that I have always appreciated how you translate the science into something that’s usable. One of the things I want to have you share a bit with our listeners because I found it so incredibly useful and I have always been fascinated by this and some of the studies I’ve read in the past too but even I think it’s in the very first chapter if I remember correctly where you’re talking about when you’re essentially most effective for lack of a better phrase but how to find your daily when. One can get a little bit of context around that and then two, you go into what you call I think you call it that Time Hacker’s Handbook in each chapter. And can you share a little bit about what you prescribe to find your daily when.
Dan Pink: Oh sure. So what we know about the day is and it’s very obviously a very important unit of time. It’s something that is natural that it’s physical we were on a planet that is turning and so unlike a second which is something that human beings have made up or a week that is something human beings have made up, a day is actually a real thing. And so and each day has a rich body of science tells us that the day has a hidden pattern. In general we knew through the day in three stages a peak, a trough, a recovery – a peak, a trough, a recovery most of us moved through it in that order. Peak in the morning, trough in the early to mid afternoon, recovery late afternoon and early evening. Now people who are strong night owls, at about 20 percent of the population. It’s more complicated. They tend to move in the reverse order recovery, trough, peak. But what we know from a whole range of studies is that’s pretty much the pattern of peak, trough, recovery and then you go one layer into the science and what you find is that our cognitive abilities don’t stay the same throughout the day they change throughout the day. That’s a big deal. And the best time to do something depends on what we’re actually doing.
So let me unpack that because that goes to the Time Hacker’s Handbook which is a section of the book that has all the tools tips and takeaways. So during our peak which for most of us is morning that’s when we should be doing our analytic work. And what I mean by that that is work that requires heads down focus and attention. Writing a report, analyzing data, the work that requires that lockdown focus during the peak where most vigilant. And that means that we can knock away distractions and so we should be doing. So for me as a writer I should be doing, and as someone who’s who has a not an owl I should be doing my writing in the morning and getting rid of the distractions doing my writing in the morning.
During the trough which for most of us is the early to mid afternoon. That’s not good for very much and actually there’s a lot of data showing it’s a very danger like the early to mid afternoon. A lot of bad stuff happens. You have an increase in traffic accidents you have a massive increase in errors and problems in medicine. You have kids scoring far lower on standardized tests and that time of day than in the morning. It’s really a massive drop off in performance in the early to mid afternoon. So instead of trying to do our analytic work then we should be doing our administrative work that you know answering our routine emails or you know that kind of thing.
And then finally the recovery is actually a pretty interesting period. The recovery again which for most of us is the late afternoon early evening our mood is higher than in the trough. However we’re less vigilant than during the peak and that actually is an interesting and powerful mix when we have an elevated mood and less vigilance that makes us better at what social psychologists call insight tasks those are tasks that require more conceptual thinking, less mathematical thinking a little bit more kind of wider scope kind of thinking something like brainstorming. And so what we find is that if you move your analytic work to the peak, your administrative work to the trough, and your recovery work to your inside work to the recovery you’re going to do a little bit better and in fact there’s research showing the time of day this time of day alone explains about 20 percent of the variance in how people perform on workplace tasks. So that’s a pretty big deal. And that’s the problem Scott is that we don’t… The science is pretty clear on this.
That’s fine because it’s very clear guidelines that it doesn’t say hey Scott you should start working at 8:13 in the morning and work for 43 consecutive minutes. It doesn’t say that. All right. But it gives us these broader design principles and we don’t do anything with that. People like me who do their best analytic work in the morning and then spend the morning answering routine emails and watching ESPN highlights and then get to the the trough and try to do their harder work and it’s really hard for them or you have organizations that schedule meetings and without any thought about what kind of meeting is this. This is an inside meeting this is an analytic meeting. Who is going to be there morning people afternoon people. And so the big big problem here is that the science is very clear that when it matters, it matters significantly. And yet in our decision making as individuals and inside of organizations we’re completely unintentional and neglectful about issues of when.
Scott Barlow: That is amazing and it’s been helpful to me in particular to as I’ve been experimenting with schedule and different task different times I have so appreciated that and I wanted to thank you for taking the time. Speaking of time, and since we’ve been talking about contribution your contribution in the books that you have put out to the world. So even though you were trying to answer a question for yourself I still found it very very beneficial.
Dan Pink: I appreciate your saying that and let me just add one more thing about that on my book writing here, because I really appreciate your saying that and it’s the reason I jumped in is that I think it’s a lesson for entrepreneurs. I think it’s a lesson for managers. I think it is a lesson for writers. And I think something else you said at the very end of it Scott was also really important and ties into this. You mentioned this idea that you’ve been experimenting with schedule’s. You’re on schedule. Right. And that’s like in some ways the Meta takeaway of this book which is that what we should be doing is we should be we should be much more, much better observers of our own behavior.
William James who was essentially the father of modern psychology. He has this line that’s always haunted me. In one of his books where he says most of us go through life and here’s this phrase only half awake, only half awake and that’s always haunted me. And I think that the solution to being more awake is to be just as you’re doing, observe our behavior better and try stuff like experiment with stuff that in some ways we need to take a more scientific approach to our own lives. And so what we can do in terms of the day to day rhythms is like pay more attention how am I feeling at this time of day. How am I? How good am I getting this kind of work at this time of day? And then as you’re suggesting Scott do some experiments with that well what if I move this over here and this over there how do I feel now?
And that is actually a way to be more fully awake because you’re observing your behavior more and you’re trying experiments and I think what’s tied to that and forgive this rant here for a moment is is that the way that I think about the books that I write is very much the way you’re suggesting which is that if I’m wondering about this question of when then other people must be too because I’m not that special you know. And I think we have this, I think we have this tendency to think of ourselves as like so wildly different from everybody else and there’s a lot of research on that. So you know there are a lot of research that when we ask ourselves like oh well we you know yes somebody are you are you extrinsically motivated or intrinsically motivated. And give me some examples of that and so I’m very intrinsically motivated. And here’s examples of how I’ve navigated my life on that. What about other people? Oh no no no. They’re totally extrinsically. And there are other you know other kinds of things. You know if you found a wallet on the ground would you try to return it to its rightful owner. Oh of course what other people. No way. Everybody else is so dishonest.
My view is that you know I pick topics that I’m curious about partly because I know it’s going to be a better book but also I just figure if I’m curious about it that means other people are going to be curious about it and so and so I think that that’s true for managers. So if you think about a manager saying well I don’t like being treated this particular way maybe I shouldn’t treat my people that way. Or an entrepreneur saying wow I’m really frustrated by this particular industry or this particular service. I would sure like something better probably other people are thinking that same thing. And so I do think that it’s important sometimes to extrapolate from our own experience and you know while we’d like to tell ourselves and our children everyone is so unique and everyone is so special and they are at some level I don’t want to this not entirely. But I also think that it’s important to recognize that all of us have a lot in common. So if you’re experiencing a frustration if you have a question the odds are very very very very good that lots of other people are having that frustration or harboring that question.
Scott Barlow: I appreciate that on so many levels. Thank you for the rant. First of all, and second of all thank you so much for, I was thinking about this a little bit as as we were talking here. But you have through your books and through your work I have taken away so much over the last couple of years so I so appreciate you taking the time coming on and sharing that with our listeners too. That way they get a bit and a taste of what would I have been able to benefit from over the over the years and that is super cool, super fun for me to be able to share. Share your knowledge with everybody else and “When” by the way I haven’t seen any place that sells books of any kind that you can’t get it from. And I was in a few bookstores when I was in Austin Texas. And it was very prominently displayed so you can’t miss it almost. But I would say since you can’t miss it pick up a copy. I absolutely enjoyed it immensely but the full title is when the scientific secrets of perfect timing. Thank you so much Dan I really appreciate it.
Dan Pink: Scott, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.
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