The secrets of larks and owls – because when you do things matters

I’ve been mocked for napping in the afternoon for many years so I was delighted to read Dan Pink’s latest book ‘When – the scientific secrets of perfect timing’ for his endorsement of napping as well as some fascinating insights about how absolutely everything is about timing.

Do you ever feel like you’ve hit a mental block or that you are working in slow motion in the early afternoon? Do you blame it on a post-lunch carb slump? It turns out that how you feel after lunch might be less about the carbs and more about you being a lark.

Dan’s research shows that adults broadly fall into two categories: larks and owls. As the name suggests larks rise early and do their best work in the mornings – owls follow a different pattern and do their best work later in the day. (There are also a few third birds who are somewhere in the middle but you need to read ‘When’ to find out more about them.)

Most of us are larks.

Dan’s research shows that we all fall into a daily pattern of when our brains are most alert, followed by a slump and then a recovery. Our lark or owl tendencies dictate at what times of day we are alert, slumping or recovering.

However, the research shows that it’s more than just about when we do our ‘best’ work. If you are a lark the morning is the best time for analytic tasks, tasks that you need to think about in detail, likewise morning is the best time to make decisions. Larks are better at insight tasks – tasks that require lateral thinking to solve problems during late afternoon or early evening when you are coming out of the slump. When you are right in the slump that’s the best time to do the admin tasks, the things you don’t need to think carefully about. Or better still take a short nap.

As a freelancer, I already work to this pattern when I can. I do the hardest stuff in the morning – the things I need to think about. I’ve learned that it’s much more efficient for me to get up earlier than keep working late at night. The same task can take half the time in the morning than it can the evening. I save the easier tasks for the afternoon slump and whenever I can I take a quick afternoon nap.

If you work 9-5 napping might be problematic, (unless you work at Google, famed for having sleep pods for employees to nap when they like) however within the framework of your day there are there things you can do to encourage your lark and owl traits to be more productive.

For example, if you are a team of larks and have a catch-up meeting in the morning – don’t. You are wasting the best part of your day on tasks that don’t need that morning analytical attention. Instead, have the catch up in the slump and focus on analytical tasks in the morning. If you are an owl can you start work later when you are at your best and work later in the evening?

What might you be able to do to adjust your ‘when’ and your teams ‘when’ in order to play to individual and team strengths and be more productive?

You can get your copy of ‘When’ the scientific secrets of perfect timing here.




5 tips to boost your creativity

Have you ever been to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green in London? To be honest it’s more like a museum of nostalgia as the core audience seems to be thirtysomethings peering at their old toys in glass cases.

There were some children there too, playing at being giant vegetables in the Food Glorious Food exhibition and acting out their own Punch and Judy stories with the help of Mr and Mrs Punch puppets.

I had my own trip back in time; fond memories of my toy washing machine and iron, (Whoever  bought me a toy iron please own up) Mr Greedy picnic set, the world of Beatrix Potter involving Mrs Tiggywinkle and the flopsy bunnies, Lego, Weebles, (wobble but they don’t fall down) Fisher Price and one of my first and still favourite books ‘Harry the Dirty Dog’.

It’s no wonder that children are so creative. They have the stimulus of a wealth of toys with which they are encouraged to play and have fun with. Toys don’t have to be the latest expensive gadgets, one small person was having a great time with a sandwich wrapper. They are small masters at creating whole new worlds of possibilities. They are encouraged to play and are positively egged on by adults.

But then something happens. We are expected to grow up. We go to school and we sit in rows and we are rewarded for getting things right, not for experimenting and using our creativity. We are taught formulaic language and maths skills. We are rewarded for success in ‘academic’ subjects.

We become afraid of experimenting and getting things wrong. Play is no longer encouraged. We learn that we are rewarded for getting things right and conforming to the expectations of the school curriculum. It becomes safer to fit in than to stand out.

I present at team days, creative workshops and conferences. When I ask adults to stand out and participate, nine times out of ten all eye contact ceases and people shrink into their chairs. They would rather die than volunteer to take part, partly, I think, for fear of what others will think of them if they ‘get it wrong’. In a room full of children I wouldn’t be able to move onto the next part until everyone had “had a go”.

So if we want to be creative and come up with new ideas we need to be more like the children that we once were.

  • Be braver, expect that sometimes we don’t get things right first time. And that’s ok.
  • Encourage and support your colleagues to be braver.
  • Be more playful, psychologists have connected play to a creative mindset.
  • Ask why?, engage that curiosity that children have and learn to question more.
  • Stop caring what the other kids think. You are a wonderful individual. Be who you are.

If you like this post you may be interested in;

What Sir Ken Robinson has to say about schools killing creativity on TED.

This blog was first published over at Lucidity. 

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