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Peak, Trough, Rebound: the Best Time of Day to Get Things Done

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Is there anyone out there who wants to be happier, healthier and more productive in the New Year? We suspect the unanimous response is, “Of course.” Well, apparently the secret is all in the timing – or at least that’s the conclusion from this fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal.   Written by author and behaviorist Daniel Pink, the article is called “How to Be Healthier, Happier and More Productive: It’s All in the Timing.” Author Pink asks, “When is the best time to exercise or do creative work? Research on the science of timing has answers.”

While this article is not written specifically to retirees and other boomers approaching retirement age, we think it has strong applicability. Most of us know from our experience at home or in the workplace that we have those times of day when we can really get things done – as well as those other times when our brain is in a fog and our body lacks the energy for big tasks. The news from this article, based on extensive research which Daniel Pink is highlighting in an upcoming book on the subject, is that the so-called “science of timing” isn’t imaginary – it’s very real. Knowing this, and how it affects you as an individual, will help you make the most of your day, no matter what stage of life you’re presently in.

“You’re probably getting ready to make a few New Year’s resolutions, solemn promises to yourself to behave better in 2018,” writes Pink. “You might have pondered how you’re going to accomplish those goals, who could help you and why you need to change. But if you’re like most people—and social science suggests that you and I are like most people—you’ve neglected a question that could help you actually stick to those resolutions: ‘When?’” He adds that most of us think the question of what time of day is the best time is more gut-level, when in fact “timing is really a science.”  While the ways we measure time – seconds, minutes and hours – are basically a human invention, there’s one inescapable measurement of time that affects every human being: the 24-hour day.  “We inhabit a planet that turns on its axis at a steady speed in a regular pattern, exposing us to consistent periods of light and dark,” says Pink in the Wall Street Journal. “The day is perhaps the most important way that we divide, configure and evaluate our time.”  By understanding that fact, and making better timing decisions, we can improve our overall effectiveness and happiness.

Science has confirmed what most of us suspect: our cognitive abilities change, sometimes dramatically, over the course of a day. “We are smarter, faster and more creative in some parts of the day than others,” says Pink, adding that “these daily fluctuations can be extreme.” (One researcher said, “The performance change between the daily high point and the daily low point can be equivalent to the effect on performance of drinking the legal limit of alcohol.”) Most people experience what Daniel Pink calls “the day in three acts” – peak, trough and rebound. The peak is typically in the morning, cresting at about noon, and is generally “the best time to tackle work that requires heads-down attention and analysis, such as writing a legal brief or auditing financial statements.”  By contrast, the trough, typically in early to mid-afternoon, brings with it “a corresponding fall in our ability to remain focused and constrain our inhibitions.” This isn’t the best time to plan that important meeting or work on that project that demands concentration and creativity.

And here’s something else you should know about the trough, according to research. “The trough,” writes Daniel Pink, “is an especially dangerous time for health-care professionals and their patients. In a study published in 2006 in Quality and Safety in Health Care, researchers at Duke Medical Center reviewed about 90,000 surgeries at the hospital and found that harmful anesthesia errors were three times more likely in procedures that began at 3 p.m. than at 8 a.m.”  We advise you to schedule your medical appointments accordingly.

What about the rebound? For most people this occurs in the late afternoon or early evening. During this time of day, “most people are somewhat less vigilant than during the peak, but more alert and in a better mood than during the trough. That combination has advantages.” The rebound period is a good time for “brainstorming sessions and other creative pursuits,” according to Daniel Pink. Oh, and here’s one more important bit of information for you night owls: you tend to experience these three phases differently from others, so we encourage you to read the Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Pink and learn how time of day affects you.

The article contains much more information about these phases of the day and how knowing this about ourselves can make us more productive, help us get more exercise, teach us when and how to relax, and improve our overall mood. It’s an insightful look at our human behavior, well worth the read (again for your convenience here’s the link to the article). We think it will help you experience a greater sense of satisfaction in how you spend your days.

Here at AgingOptions, there’s one thing we do know about timing: too many people tend to procrastinate when it comes to planning for retirement. There is no time like the present! That’s why we offer free seminars on our unique approach to retirement planning, called LifePlanning, showing you how all the essential aspects of retirement can and must work together: finances, housing, legal, medical and family. It really is possible to approach retirement with a plan that is comprehensive and powerful, allowing you to achieve your dreams for the safe, secure and fruitful retirement you’ve always wanted. Our LifePlanning Seminars are offered throughout the area, so for upcoming dates and locations, simply click here for our Upcoming Events page where you can register online. (If you prefer to register by phone, give us a call during the week.) Don’t put it off! Come join Rajiv Nagaich at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar and start the New Year with a newfound sense of confidence and peace of mind.

It will be our pleasure to meet you!

(originally reported at

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