The peaks and valleys of chronotypes

At some point, I became a lark. Josh Ritter is, too.

Ritter does his best work in the mornings. He rises early and sits at his kitchen table, writing songs. If it’s going well, he plows through lunch without noticing. If he needs a break, he takes a walk around the neighborhood to reset his frame of mind.

He leaves tasks that require less focus – phone calls with his manager, working on recording logistics – to the afternoon. He reworks his creative output in the evening.

Author Daniel Pink refers to this as “understanding the hidden patterns of everyday life.” In his book When, Pink uses research to examine the notion of timing. Much of the book is devoted to understanding your chronotype – that is, when during the day you’re at your peak.

“We are smarter, faster, dimmer, slower, more creative, and less creative in some parts of the day than others,” Pink writes.

Most of us are what he calls a lark – people who are at their best in the morning. While it’s easy to categorize them as morning people, it’s not about mood. It’s about focus, energy and outlook.

“Early in the day our minds are more vigilant,” Pink writes. “We can keep distractions outside our cerebral gates.”

Thus, Pink suggests trying to conduct your most important work in the morning – tasks that require steadfast critical and creative thinking; difficult conversations that warrant a clear head; tough decisions that demand a razor-sharp mind.

By afternoon, the day begins to wear us down. We get distracted and tired. If possible, Pink recommends conducting more mundane tasks after lunch. Don’t squander those peak morning hours catching up on routine emails; push it to afternoon.

Likewise, mornings are usually the best time to receive information. Researchers analyzed more than 26,000 corporate earnings calls over six years, analyzing the emotional tenor of these conversations – which could, as a consequence, affect the company’s stock price. The results were clear. Morning calls were often reasonably upbeat. As the day progressed, the “tone grew more negative and less resolute,” only to recover after the market’s closing bell.

Pink cites dozens of examples – from the habits of writers, to the success rate of surgeries, to attorneys writing briefs – to illustrate his point.

None of us can control our calendar entirely. But as When tells us, we best avoid the doldrums of the afternoon when doing high-stakes work.

Russ Florence is a partner of Schnake Turnbo Frank. He writes a monthly column for The Journal Record.