Daniel Pink’s “When”


Sleep pods are becoming popular in Singapore offices – Can schools adopt them? (photo from LadyBoss Asia)

The OIS leadership team is reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. Pink has a law degree and worked in politics before becoming an author. Like his friend Malcolm Gladwell, one of his main methods of writing is to take academic research and find patterns and interesting themes to popularize them in books. He wrote NY Times bestsellers DriveTo Sell is Human and A Whole New Mind. 

For this latest book, Pink and two researchers did a meta-analysis of 700 studies of timing to form the basis of this book.

Part I The Day

This section concentrates on daily productivity patterns. A person’s mental sharpness, physical energy and emotional state fluctuate during the day, being controlled by a small part of the brain’s hypothalamus called the SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus). The main message is that a typical day would consist of a morning spike of performance, followed by a deep drop in the afternoon and a slight rally in the early evening. Pink gives techniques to avoid and overcome the afternoon trough.

  • Try to avoid important decisions, meetings, events in the afternoon. He cites numerous studies showing more errors occur during this time and the negative mood/energy influences greatly decisions.

I am a lark, someone who goes to bed early (9:00 PM – 10:00 PM) and wakes up early (5:00 – 6:00 AM). My peak performance is always in the morning and I struggle in the afternoons and late evenings.

He gives many pointers for arranging your day around this rhythms. Exercise first thing in the morning to lose weight and boost your mood, drink a glass of water upon waking and wait an hour to 90 minutes before drinking coffee.

The section I was most interested in was the science behind taking breaks. We as school leaders always feel we should be pushing to always get more done and seem to always try to squeeze an email or two while having our lunch. Pink tells us to make time for breaks and to put thought into how we do it and we will be more productive. He cites one study that showed high performers work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes. A break meaning standing, moving, no electronics, socialize with others about non-work topics, getting outside in nature, etc.

I particularly liked his “permission” to take naps. I’ve said for years that in schools, we should allow students and teachers to have short power naps to refresh our brains, boost our immunity and improve memory. I envision “nap pods” that would be secure, time-controlled compartments that students, parents or teachers could use to get the optimal 10-20 minutes of sleep. Pink suggests having a cup of coffee then sleep for 20 minutes and as you wake, the caffeine kicks in. He calls is a “nappuccino”. Sleeping under 20 minutes is key to avoid “sleep inertia”, the fogginess that follows a long nap. So have a cup of coffee, set the timer for 25 minutes (average time to go to sleep is 7 minutes)and doze away!

I see teenagers struggle with sleep in every school I’ve worked in. Their SCN has them up late at night and waking late in the mornings. Many of them would greatly benefit from a 20-minute nap. It would help their learning, improve their mood and concentration upon waking. I would love to try to install sleep pods. A challenge would be supervision: make sure they didn’t sleep too long or bring classmates in the pod with them.

As we go through the book, I will try to post more of our learning on the blog.

elementary school implications

  • 1. recess – play first then eat; grades 3-5; K-2 this does not happen, look at how to change this;
  • we have not cut back on recess, perhaps add one in the afternoon; teachers take their own breaks and with specials in the afternoon, they do get the pauses;

afternoon meetings – pause; include everyone to share;

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