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Peak, Trough, Rebound: the Secret to Happiness and Productivity is All in the Timing

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No matter what your age, odds are you want your days to be more productive. Whether you’re working a regular job, enjoying time engrossed in a hobby, or spending your hours with kids or grandkids, you probably enjoy the experience more when you’re fully engaged and mentally at your best. Now we have research that shows how to accomplish that – and as it turns out, the time of day when you do things really matters.

Research on the Science of Timing Provides Insights into Productivity

At least that’s the conclusion from this fascinating article we read earlier this year in 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.”

Most of us know from our experience in the home or the workplace that we have those times of day when we can really feel like we’re on top of our game – as well as those other times when our brain is in a fog and our body lacks the energy for big tasks. The Journal article is based on extensive research which Daniel Pink conducted for a book on the subject entitled WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, released in early 2018. Pink’s conclusion is that the so-called “science of timing” isn’t imaginary, but very real. Knowing how timing affects you as an individual will help you make the most of your day, no matter what stage of life you’re in.

Timing is Really a Science, Not Mere Intuition

For example, every year many of us make New Year’s Resolutions to get rid of bad habits and become a healthier and better person. Often the size and scope of the things on our list proves daunting. “You might have pondered how you’re going to accomplish those goals, who could help you and why you need to change,” says Pink. “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?’” Timing is really a science, not just a gut-level feeling, Pink explains, and the one inescapable measurement of time that affects every human being is 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,” he writes 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, and do better at accomplishing our goals.

Peak, Trough, Rebound

Over the course of a 24-hour day, our cognitive abilities change, sometimes dramatically. “We are smarter, faster and more creative in some parts of the day than others,” says Pink, and “these daily fluctuations can be extreme.” Most people experience what he 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.

Get Creative During your Rebound Time

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. And if you consider yourself a night owl, you tend to experience these three phases differently from others, so we encourage you to read the Wall Street Journal article or get Pink’s book and learn how time of day affects you.

The article contains much more information about these phases of the day and how the science of timing 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 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.

No Time Like the Present for Retirement Planning

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 Live Events page where you can register online. (You can also 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.

Whether in your peak, trough, or rebound, it will be our pleasure to meet you. Age on!

(originally reported at

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