The secrets of larks and owls – because when you do things matters

I’ve been mocked for napping in the afternoon for many years so I was delighted to read Dan Pink’s latest book ‘When – the scientific secrets of perfect timing’ for his endorsement of napping as well as some fascinating insights about how absolutely everything is about timing.

Do you ever feel like you’ve hit a mental block or that you are working in slow motion in the early afternoon? Do you blame it on a post-lunch carb slump? It turns out that how you feel after lunch might be less about the carbs and more about you being a lark.

Dan’s research shows that adults broadly fall into two categories: larks and owls. As the name suggests larks rise early and do their best work in the mornings – owls follow a different pattern and do their best work later in the day. (There are also a few third birds who are somewhere in the middle but you need to read ‘When’ to find out more about them.)

Most of us are larks.

Dan’s research shows that we all fall into a daily pattern of when our brains are most alert, followed by a slump and then a recovery. Our lark or owl tendencies dictate at what times of day we are alert, slumping or recovering.

However, the research shows that it’s more than just about when we do our ‘best’ work. If you are a lark the morning is the best time for analytic tasks, tasks that you need to think about in detail, likewise morning is the best time to make decisions. Larks are better at insight tasks – tasks that require lateral thinking to solve problems during late afternoon or early evening when you are coming out of the slump. When you are right in the slump that’s the best time to do the admin tasks, the things you don’t need to think carefully about. Or better still take a short nap.

As a freelancer, I already work to this pattern when I can. I do the hardest stuff in the morning – the things I need to think about. I’ve learned that it’s much more efficient for me to get up earlier than keep working late at night. The same task can take half the time in the morning than it can the evening. I save the easier tasks for the afternoon slump and whenever I can I take a quick afternoon nap.

If you work 9-5 napping might be problematic, (unless you work at Google, famed for having sleep pods for employees to nap when they like) however within the framework of your day there are there things you can do to encourage your lark and owl traits to be more productive.

For example, if you are a team of larks and have a catch-up meeting in the morning – don’t. You are wasting the best part of your day on tasks that don’t need that morning analytical attention. Instead, have the catch up in the slump and focus on analytical tasks in the morning. If you are an owl can you start work later when you are at your best and work later in the evening?

What might you be able to do to adjust your ‘when’ and your teams ‘when’ in order to play to individual and team strengths and be more productive?

You can get your copy of ‘When’ the scientific secrets of perfect timing here.

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