Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, March 19, 2018
Which is the most important word in decision-making — who, what, when, where or why?
They are all interesting and important, but the key word is “when.” According to Daniel Pink, author of “The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” it is the time of day that seems to have a disproportionate influence on outcomes.
Pink writes that he was making all kinds of decisions, “when should I work out, when should I abandon a project, what direction should I take in my career, and I was making these decisions in a totally haphazard way.” Pink discovered that the research was pretty clear that most of us move through a day in three phases — a peak, a trough and a rebound, corresponding to morning, afternoon, early evening. (Night owls do it in reverse).
This explains why venture management meetings, where they decide what deals they are going to do, occur most often on Monday mornings — first day of the week, morning meeting, over by lunchtime. My own experience confirms this in the negative, meaning that when I have been asked to give the pitch at 4 p.m., I am more likely to get turned down.
Recently I flew up to Silicon Valley and gave a pitch to some angels at 6:30 p.m. Let it suffice to say, they hated it, they hated me, and I nearly missed my flight home. However, since the group does not meet in the mornings, this became a “take it or leave it” situation.
Nota bene: When possible, pitch before lunch.
Pink found that “hand-washing in hospitals deteriorates considerably in the afternoon.” The research also shows that anesthesia errors are four times more likely at 3 p.m. than at 9 a.m. So if you are having open heart surgery, try for a morning appointment.
Test scores for students decrease in the afternoon. The trough gets everyone. Now, what is interesting as an entrepreneur is how to take advantage of and understand the individual clocks of your key people, meaning if a genius writes great code at 3 a.m., then you need to accommodate that feature as CEO. So understanding “when” for yourself is not the same as understanding “when” for a team.
Further research by Pink shows that public company quarterly earnings calls to the investment analysts differed from morning to afternoon. The ones in the afternoon were more negative and irritable. The study at NYU looked at 26,000 transcripts, and even controlling for variables, the afternoon calls were less optimistic — and literally stock prices moved accordingly.
Again, on a personal level, I try not to start meetings after 2:30 p.m. My next time for discussion opens up at 5:30 p.m. for a martini.
Cornell did a similar study on tweets, measuring 500 million of them, (the program is called the Linguistic Inventory Word Count), looking for the “emotional level of the words, based on the time of day. What they found was consistent. The morning mood was peak, a crash-trough in the early to mid-afternoon, and a recovery for the rest of the day.” (As a note, Trump seems to do most of his tweeting in the early morning).
Now, armed with this information, how should we run our companies and make decisions, taking into account the time of day? This is particularly important for “virtual companies” where your teams are in multiple time zones. In that case, Pink finds that the key to the puzzle is not just when, but particularly “belongingness, synching to the tribe, common lingo.” In other words, you can overcome time zones if everyone belongs, buys into the task and has some common thematic camaraderie. Pink studied the NBA and measured fist bumps and high fives — and the teams that did them the most also won the most games. You see this often in doubles tennis and beach volleyball — they touch after every point. It fosters consensual “belonging.”
Finally, Pink talks about “taking short breaks, even naps,” and as you would suspect, things get better when you allow for those things. Get up and walk around the block, and do not take your phone. In the end, time and timing affect almost everything. As Woody Allen famously said, “80 percent of success is just showing up.” Let me add to that — in the morning.
Rule No. 553: I’m asleep at 9 pm.