Knowing how you function is a big help in making better decisions. We talked about this in When to Make Decisions, and Daniel Pink’s new book, When – The Secret of Perfect Timing, adds to this.

Are you a morning or evening person?

You can easily test yourself by taking the chronotype test. Each of us has a Peak – Trough – Recovery phase in our day, and our chronotype determines when that occurs. Some of us are early birds, some night owls, whilst most of us fall in the middle somewhere, so our normal day will have a peak in the morning, a trough in the early afternoon and recovery in the early evening.

Surprising and alarming conclusions

Research tells us there are more mistakes in hospitals in the afternoon. Indeed, the rigor of hand washing by doctors and nurses falls off from a peak in early morning to almost incidental by late afternoon.

There is also research that tells us that tests are best done in the mornings. In Denmark, it was shown that school exams done in the afternoon showed the equivalent of two learning years of drop-off compared to morning exam results.

Mood and performance – know yourself

Your mood reflects what you write. Bad news is best conveyed in the morning, when your mood is elevated and your wording may be better. Afternoon emails tend to be more curt and irritable in tone so you may end up giving the wrong impression. You might want to write in the afternoon but check emails next morning before you send them.

Ask for improved terms from your suppliers and customers in the mornings. They should be more receptive.

What does this mean for you?

Don’t assume that your peak time is when you do your best work. It depends what sort of work you are doing. The table below shows.




Analytic tasks that need vigilance and focus like writing or analysing data.


Administration e.g. expenses, emails


Less vigilant but more creative tasks like creative brainstorming or insight tasks

This fits exactly with our earlier blog.

Daily rituals for success

A book called Daily Rituals of Famous People looked at their diary entries and how they organised their day. There was a pattern: 60% of Artists – heads down working am – break pm – back to work later. Elite violinists practice hard am, take pm off and return later. Have ‘sovereignty over your schedule’. Most owner/managers can organise their day like this but most of us think that we can’t and have to comply with the normal way of working, even when we know we are not being very effective.

Take more of the right kind of breaks

It may only be 10-20 minutes but take a break especially in your trough period. Ideally get outside, as nature boosts your mood, take some gentle exercise such as walking, and go with somebody else. Social breaks clear the mind better so talk about something unrelated to the task in hand. And the walk will help you to be healthier as well.  Walk briskly to stimulate your heart – fast enough so that you can still talk but not sing. Dont worry about losing time. You will be so much more productive than just sitting at a desk staring at your emails.

Take a Nappachino!

Dan Pink does this. First he takes a cup of coffee (yes really!), then headphones on, eyes closed, and a 20 minute nap. The alarm on his phone is set to wake him up. By then, the coffee has kicked in and he is ready to go. Any longer and you get sleep inertia.

And make important decisions early in the day!