Review of When the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing

Many of us have heard the proverb "strike when the iron is hot" (or its equivalents), but like all such sayings, rarely do we apply it to ourselves. We do understand the importance of timing in various aspects of our lives but think of it more as a subjective talent, or focus more on the "what", or "how" and "why" instead. Time to rethink?

Definitely, for we are neglecting the key word "when", says author Daniel Pink. This can help us to know when we should tackle problems demanding a logical or an intuitive approach, take a break or exercise, drink a cup of coffee or even quit our job, get married or avoid a medical examination.

And he contends that we know the importance of timing but not what its actual nature is -- with all the problems this lack of knowledge causes.

As he says, our lives have many "when" decisions -- "when to change careers, deliver bad news, schedule a class, end a marriage, go for a run, or get serious about a project or a person", but answers to most of these "emanate from a steamy bog of intuition and guesswork" that makes us believe timing is "an art".

Pink holds this is not true.

The author of books like "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" (2009) -- where he argues motivation is largely intrinsic, doesn't stem from hope of rewards and fear of punishment, or factors such as money -- and "To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others" (2012), about how every attempt to influence others is "selling", believes that "..timing is really a science -- and emerging body of multifaceted, multidisciplinary research that offers fresh insights into the human condition and useful guidance on working smarter and living better".

And Pink tells us that he and two other researchers analysed over 700 reports from economics and anaesthiology, anthropology and endocrinology, chronobiology and social psychology to "unearth the hidden science of timing".

He draws on these to answer questions spanning why beginnings of anything we do matters -- and how we can deal with false or stumbling starts, how the midpoint is significant, and how endings can both give us a renewed sense of purpose.

Pink also goes on to show us the importance of synchronicity in shared endeavours, the importance of schedules -- and how to make one which works -- and how to think about the past and future optimally for our present.

Alongside, he tells us the importance and the proper duration of midday naps, which the most important meal of the day is and why  and if there is actually such a thing as a "midlife crisis".
Beginning with the fatal decisions of the captain of luxury ocean liner Lusitania, whose torpedoed sinking in 1915 started the chain of events that eventually brought America into World War I, Pink shows us how we can determine our personal, easily calculated chronotype (larks, owls or a third bird) that determines our moods and abilities at various stages of the day and thus affects our professional or ethical judgement as well as physical functions.

But enlivening the scientific part  which draws on fiercely-contested US college basketball matches and the life and career of James Dean to the secrets of Mumbai's dabbawallahs  Pink, to prove his case, also supplements his theory with regular installments of the "Time Hacker's Handbook", offering practical hints and tips from every chapter summarised for the intensely practical and impatient readers.

And the treatment, while frequently counter-intuitive, is not all dogmatic or loaded with jargon, and is most accessible and humorous. The work shows how you can make time your friend, not master -- don't grudge the time taken to read it.

-    Vikas Datta