Book review: “When: The Scientific Secrets of Good Timing”

by Daniel Pink

Published January 2018; Riverhead Books; 268 pages

Hardcover $20; softcover $18; ebook $15; audiobook $22

In a nutshell: When answering the great questions of our lives, we gravitate toward the word why. Bestselling author Daniel Pink instead shows that when things happen has a lot to do with how life works out.

Who’s it for? General audiences. Those with busy work schedules trying to find more quality time.


Writer Daniel Pink has a great knack for looking at human behavior and turning it on its ear. In “To Sell is Human,” he presented a fresh look at the science (and art) of selling. In his most recent book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” he reveals how good timing has a tremendous impact on all of us.

Pink begins with the premise that much of how well we perform has to do with our daily energy highs and lows. Each of us has a portion of the day that we are most alert and able to perform our best detail work. As we grow into adulthood many of us become what Pink calls “larks” or more mentally active in the morning hours. Unfortunately, we also have a trough in our days where energy wanes, followed later by another period of energy toward evening.

Pink gives plenty of ways to navigate through the troughs (hint: some of it involves napping). It’s important to note that while the majority of adults are on a similar pattern, teenagers tend to have that first energy spike that occurs much later in the day. Pink makes a strong but often neglected case for secondary schools starting much later in the day.

The importance of recognizing this daily bimodal “twin peaks” pattern plays out not just for individuals but also in team situations. This pattern generally makes people warmer toward others throughout the morning, and less hospitable to each other in the afternoon before warming up in the evening. The result is that people are more agreeable and more gets accomplished in the morning before that afternoon slump sets in. It’s not hard to see how this can play out for a meeting, seminar or even a job interview situation.

Pink shifts the focus away from daily energy rituals to what he terms a “Time Hacker’s Handbook.” Among his wide-ranging best practice advice: How medical procedures are less risky when they take place in the morning; why grinding through work deadlines without rest or relief has diminishing returns; how long to wait before following up on an unanswered email; when to get married and the best time to switch jobs.

Near the end, Pink gives more general advice, addressing the timing needed for managing one’s own life or for dealing with more work-based scenarios. Within this broader context, he breaks down the essentials of powerful beginnings (life events, projects, careers) before discussing how middle troughs can appear in longer term efforts, offering advice to stay on track to the over emphasized (but changeable) endings.

Along the way readers learn how to take a practical look at the timing of life’s moments and important decisions. If you are familiar with Daniel Pink’s previous work, then you will find “When” to be another example of his ability to take dense scientific information and transpose it into an entertaining book that you’ll read and pass along to someone you care about.

Chris Wendel is a business consultant with Northern Initiatives, a community development financial institution based in Marquette, Michigan. Northern Initiatives provides money and know-how to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel has worked with hundreds of business owners as a lender and consultant in the areas of money, marketing and management.