Pick your time of day if you want to do what you do do well
Your daily mood profile can affect performance by up to 20%, as evidenced in the reporting of financial results
I recently attended the Chartered Financial Analyst conference in London, where behavioural author Daniel Pink looked at the science of timing – when we should best make decisions with reference to our daily mood profile.
We all follow a rise, peak, decline, trough and recovery pattern, and our cognitive abilities change materially during the day. The time of day can affect performance by up to 20%, as evidenced in many domains such as financial, judicial, athletics and medical.
There is evidence that company earnings calls held in the afternoon “trough” are more negatively viewed, leading to temporary stock mispricing. Pink advised that we should rather conduct earnings updates and similar analytical activities earlier in the day when we are most vigilant and can bat away distractions.
Educational tests and exams should not be held during the trough time of day. It has been shown that for every hour later that a test is held, the detrimental impact on performance is equivalent to missing two weeks of school.
In hospitals, staff become less vigilant at that time about the washing of hands, which in turn increases hospital-acquired infections. For those undergoing afternoon colonoscopies, the detection rate of polyps halves; and anaesthesiology errors are four times more likely at 3pm than at 9am.
However, this does not mean to say that the afternoon trough is a complete write-off – it is a good time for administrative tasks. The recovery period, when your mood is up (although your vigilance is not), is appropriate for creative thinking, brainstorming and broadminded insights.
The daily mood pattern inevitably has outlier variations for the early bird and night owl personalities, with these minorities peaking earlier or later than the norm.
Looking at longer-term mood patterns, Pink said many people decide on key events, such as running their first marathon, when something is coming to a close – for example, at the end of your 20s, 30s or 40s. “When we sense an ending, we get energised and kick harder.”
As people prefer the rising sequence to the declining sequence, give bad news before the good, and always end a presentation on an elevated note.
• Chris Gilmour is an investment analyst.