The future workplace: How can you beat time?

By Sam Dutra

What is the best time of day to do the work that we dread? Everyone has their own preference about when to tackle paperwork, expense reports, and mandatory trainings. But what if the time of day we do certain work could impact the outcome?

Earlier this month, Fidelity hosted speaker and author, Dan Pink, as part of a learning series to bring in outside thought leaders to inspire our employees on different topics. One of the areas Fidelity Labs has been focused on is the future of our workplaces and work structures. In this research, sometimes we find inspiration that can drive our personal productivity as well.

My top five favorite quotes from the talk:

1. “Many people think that timing is an art, but really it’s a science.”
Pink has looked at numerous studies that analyzed people’s moods throughout the day, from the sentiment in millions of tweets, to errors made in hospitals, and even standardized test scores taken by students at different times of the day. His main takeaway? The time of day we perform certain tasks affects our mood and performance significantly. If we can own this science, we can actually work in ways that are more productive.

2. “There is a hidden pattern in the day. It affects how we feel, it affects what we do, and how well we do it.”
He argues that there is, in fact, a best time of day to fill out those expense reports or do a creative brainstorm. Through his research, he’s found that for most, emotional balance rises in the morning, dips in the afternoon, and rises again in the evening. Based on that schedule, you should do your analytical work in the morning, administrative tasks in the early afternoon, and creative work in the late afternoon to allow for more creative problem solving.

3. “I’ve got some bad news and some good news. Bad news is that I bonked my forehead I’m bleeding like crazy and I had to go to the hospital. The good news – I’m here in the morning!”
In Pink’s research, he discovered that during that afternoon trough, there can be a significant decline in hospitals standards. Hospitals are four times more likely to have an anesthesia error at 3 p.m. vs. 9 a.m., and nurses are 10% less likely to wash their hands before treating patients in the afternoon. While it’s important to recognize how your own productivity shifts throughout the day, realizing that this affects everyone will help you be more mindful about how (and when) you work with others.

4. “Don’t think of breaks as a deviation from work. Think of them as part of work.”
We should be taking more breaks. Who can argue with that? Pink looked at a study of prisoners who were up for parole in Israel. The judge is 60 – 70 percent more likely to grant parole if they take a break before the hearing, than the case they heard before they take a break. Taking time to mentally recharge can significantly affect your decision making and mood. He recommends making a break list every day to carve out time to mentally recharge, and boost your mood and vitality. Similar to sleep, it’s important to reboot your system, and it’s equally important to be intentional about your breaks.

5. “Own things that happen organically.”
Pink says to recognize the inside jokes or unique quirks that happen in a team setting. Those moments create a bond, and establishe a purpose and sense of belonging. As a leader, it’s essential to recognize when those authentic moments happen, and use them to achieve your common goal.