Timing can be a big factor in success. Yet, we often ascribe positive outcomes to luck and assume it’s something we have no control over. It turns out, we do.

Over our lifetime and within a day, when we do things matters — a lot. The more we understand timing patterns and the science behind them, the more we can improve our chances of success.

This is the premise behind one of my favorite authors, Daniel Pink’s, new book When: The Science of Timing. In it, he breaks down his analysis of time into three sections: Beginnings, Middles and Ends. Here are some important learnings and highlights from each.

Beginnings. Beginnings are motivating; it’s why people have more energy around the first part of a year, quarter, month, week and day. At the same time, it’s difficult to overcome a bad beginning. For example, studies show that people who start their careers in a recession are often making less money than peers who started during times of economic boom – even a decade later.

Dan’s advice is, if we get off to a poor start, do whatever we can to start over or give the appearance of starting over. I can’t think of a better case for the importance of making a good first impression in everything that we do.

Middles. Middles are tricky. It’s the time when we tend to experience our lulls. Most would agree that we don’t do our best work in the middle of a day – and medical professionals are no different. Dan found the error rates for surgeries between 1-3pm can be two to three times higher than normal.

Middles, however, can also be motivating. A study on teams found they almost always came together with urgency right at the halfway point. For example, around day 15 of a 30-day project, someone on the team almost always said, “Oh my gosh, we’re halfway done. We’ve got to get going!”

The key to middles is using awareness to create urgency, whether that’s in a day, during a project or even within a lifetime.  It also helps to not be too far behind at the middle or the goal may seem out of reach.

Endings. How things end has a lasting impression on both our perception and memory of entire experiences. People who were mean early in their life are remembered more fondly if they were kinder at the end of their life; the inverse is also true. We’re also likely to remember a vacation in a more positive light if it ends well (good planning tip).

Years of hard work, reputation building and great memories can be undone or ruined with a poor ending— yet another reason we should always avoid burning bridges.

Dan asserts that society tends to take “what” problems more seriously than “when” problems.

Case in point. If parents were told that their high school-aged kids would do 20 percent better on tests if they wore a red hat, everyone would buy a red hat. Yet substantial research reveals that this same impact would be achieved if high schools started just one hour later. Yet, hardly any schools have acted on this data.

Timing will always have an element of luck, but we have the power to use timing to our advantage. As individuals and businesses, we can influence how well we start and end things and be conscious of not getting too far behind in the middle.

I was humbled and honored that Dan took the time to join me on my Outperform podcast to talk at length about many of these concepts.  It’s worth a listen below. His ideas and perspectives on timing and motivation can make us all better.


If you can’t see the embedded player above, you can listen to it on iTunes or Stitcher.

Quote of the Week  

“Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible. Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one’s sights and pushing toward the horizon.”

 Daniel H. Pink