By Barry Rycraft
I’ve been working on my timing for most of my live as musician, but more in a physical way than a strategic way. Hours practicing with a metronome or performing with drummers can certainly make you think about time in a deeper way than someone who simply uses time to mark the passing of their day. There is also the ability to make the most of your time, which is a popular subject among entrepreneurs who tend to work long hours and strive for a work/life balance. However, being productive is very different from knowing when is the best time to do something.
“Time is an illusion, timing is an art” – Stefan Edmunds
Recently I’ve been reading a great book called ‘When’ (The scientific secrets of perfect timing) by Daniel H Pink. A few key insights jumped out to me. Firstly, there is a natural slump in the middle of any activity. This is true for a thirty minute lesson or over a ten week course. Our work and focus naturally wanes as we become comfortable and lose track of our objectives. We become bogged down or distracted. According to the book, the surprising antidote to this is highlighting the midpoint. Scientists did a number of tests and found that when we are told or realise we have reached the halfway point of an activity, we begin to reorganise our approach and take action in order to succeed. Interestingly, this plateau of progress followed by disruption is mirrored throughout the natural world, even in the process of evolution. However, If we set the alarm bells to go off at the midpoint it kick starts the active stage in any process and gives us the best chance of avoiding our middle slump.
Let’s use Rockjam as an example: Our ten week term will start with the activity of choosing songs and writing. During the middle section of the term there will be a natural slow down followed by a frantic last two weeks when we realise we have a performance. A practical way to mitigate for the slump is to mark the midpoint of the term (week 5). We can give it a name and celebrate it. Let’s call it Hump Week. Hump week can be marked in many ways, but something as simple as mentioning it to the class should have the necessary effect. A solution for short lessons might be to stack the more cognitively demanding work for the start and end of a lesson when the students attention is more focused.
The book also contains many great insights into the best time for focus depending on age. The obvious one is that teenagers focus better after 11am, but I also learned that the midpoint of our day holds a natural slump of energy. The author sites examples of Judges deliberations which are more severe after lunch. If you are in the position to do so, it would be wise to organise your day around your own natural rhythms and sleep cycle. If like most, you are at the mercy of someone else’s timetable you can mitigate by adding naps, walks and strategic caffeine breaks to your day.
For anyone interested in how to decide the best time to start any activity I recommend Daniel H Pinks book ‘When’. Personally I intend taking a hard look at the ‘when’ of all my activities.