Daniel Pink is the Author of When and Drive

Daniel Pink

How much do you really know about the importance of timing? Can taking breaks dramatically increase your productivity? What are some actionable steps you can take today to ensure you are making the best use of your time?

In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks with Daniel Pink about his bestsellers, why it’s important to take breaks, how you can optimize your brain by following a few simple steps and beginnings and endings.

Meet Daniel Pink

Daniel H. Pink is the author of six provocative books about business and human behavior. His books include the long-running New York Times bestsellers When and A Whole New Mind — as well as the #1 New York Times bestsellers Drive and To Sell is Human. Dan’s books have won multiple awards, have been translated into 39 languages, and have sold more than three million copies. He lives in Washington, DC, with his family.

Before venturing out on his own 20 years ago, Dan worked in several positions in politics and government, including serving from 1995 to 1997 as chief speechwriter to Vice President Al Gore.

He received a BA from Northwestern University, where he was a Truman Scholar and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a JD from Yale Law School. He has also received honorary doctorates from Georgetown University, the Pratt Institute, the Ringling College of Art and Design, and Westfield State University.

Visit Daniel’s website or connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

In This Podcast

Summary

  • The Science of Timing
  • How to optimize your brain when taking breaks
  • What a ‘nappucino’ is
  • Finding optimized timing
  • Actionable steps you can take today

The Science of Timing

We don’t take enough breaks. We don’t think of breaks as something serious. We don’t think of it as something that’s important and that’s a huge mistake.

Daniel points out that the evidence shows that breaks are part of our performance. They’re not a deviation from performance, and that if we’re systematic about taking breaks, we’re going to feel better, we’re going to do better.

One of the principles of effective breaks is that doing something is better than nothing. Daniel highly suggests a technique called a 20-20-20 break. In essence, this means that every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Not only is this good for you physiologically, but its also good for you psychologically.

Optimize Your Brain When Taking Breaks

If everybody in America took a 10 or 15-minute walk break outside, once an afternoon with someone they like talking about something other than work, you would see productivity go up.

  1. Moving is better than being stationary – if you take a break make sure that you move a bit.
  2. Social beats solo – breaks with other people are more restorative than breaks on our own.
  3. Outside is better than inside – there are restorative effects to being in nature.
  4. Be fully detached – you can’t be semi-detached and go for a walk but still be checking emails.

Professionals vs Amateurs

Daniel had believed that professionals powered through and amateurs took breaks. But it’s totally the opposite. Amateurs are the ones who don’t take breaks. Professionals take breaks. There is evidence of this in the work of Anders Ericsson who did a lot of research on what’s called deliberate practice, looking at musicians. Elite musicians took more breaks than non-elite musicians. This can also be seen in some ways in the regimen that athletes go through. Athletes don’t run and train all day long, nonstop. They take breaks, they recuperate, they recover. And so all of us need to be doing something very similar.

Nappucino

And so you get a double whammy when you’re waking up, restored and refreshed, you get a second hit of caffeine. And that’s a technique known as an Nappuccino.

Another kind of break is a nap and the best nap is extremely short: between 10-20 minutes. Once you get past that 20-minute mark, you begin to develop sleep inertia, which is the groggy cobweb feeling you get when you wake up from a long nap.

You can, however, turbocharge your nap. If you have a cup of coffee before you take your nap, it takes about 25 minutes for caffeine to enter your bloodstream, so, if you drink a cup of coffee and then go for a 15, 20-minute nap, you’re going to come out of your nap at about the same time that the caffeine is entering your bloodstream.

Experimenting Your Way Into The Future

The way you figure things out is to try some small experiments, small low risk experiments. Use the learning that you’ve acquired from that and then move forward.

People have a need for security and certainty, which is why they feel they need to plan everything so meticulously. This is actually important in many, many respects but Daniel thinks that in some cases over-planning can give you a false sense of certainty and this is dangerous even if it feels a little more comfortable than genuine ambiguity.

Finding Optimized Timing

Certain dates in the calendar and certain dates of the year are better for making behavior change. These are what they call fresh start dates, certain dates in the calendar is known as temporal landmarks.

They stand out in time, the way that physical landmarks stand out in space and when we get to them we stop, we reorient ourselves and we also do this particular form of mental accounting where we banish bad behavior to the past and essentially open up a clean ledger on our new behavior.

Daniel says that people are more likely to say begin going to the gym on a Monday as opposed to a Thursday. There are also personal temporal landmarks, which means you might be more likely to start some kind of behavior change on the day after your birthday rather than three days before the birthday.

Things You Should Do Today

Frequency, frequency, frequency is key, you will see, you’ll see an uptick.

  1. Take a 15-minute break, make sure you save it in your calendar. Prioritize it the same way you would a meeting or client appointment.
  2. At the end of every day record your progress. Daniel uses I Done This
  3. Pay attention to midpoints.
  4. Start small, do one small thing today and then do it again tomorrow and that ends up having a big payoff.

Daniels Ted Talk – The Puzzle of Motivation

Daniel Pink’s books mentioned in this episode:

Other books mentioned in this episode:

Useful Links:

Meet Joe Sanok

private practice consultant

Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.

Thanks For Listening!

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Podcast Transcription

[JOE]: This the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok, bonus episode. Well, welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. If this is your first time listening, welcome. I am so glad that you are here. I’m really excited about today’s guest. Today’s guest is Daniel Pink. I met him a few years ago when I was back working at the community college, had my part time counseling practice, was just getting started with podcasting. And this book, I just pulled it out. I have so many notes in it. And as I look at these notes, I think through how many of these big ideas really started with Daniel.
To be able to get to know Daniel, he came here to Traverse City and spoke at our National Writers Series then we did this interview. My wife met him at a coffee shop, which we talk a little bit about in this episode, just a wonderful guy that has so much knowledge. What I love about his books and the way he speaks about just thinking is that he does this great mixture, similar to other great writers, of kind of science and story where he pulls in the science, but then he tells stories or case studies about why that science works. And so, you are in for a treat today in this bonus episode with Daniel pink. So, without any further ado, I give you Daniel pink.
Well, today in the Practice of the Practice podcast, we have Daniel Pink. Dan is the author of six provocative books, including his newest When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, which spent four months on the New York times bestseller list and was named a best book in the 2018 by Amazon, iBooks, Goodreads, and several other outlets. His other books include the long running New York times bestseller, A Whole New Mind, the number one New York times bestseller, Drive and To Sell Is Human. His books have won multiple awards, been translated into 39 languages and have sold 3 million copies. My favorite thing that he’s done is his Ted talk that has just been amazing. It talks about the science of motivation, is one of the 10 most watched Ted talks. Hey Dan, how are you doing?
[DANIEL]: I’m good. How are you doing?
[JOE]: I’m doing great today. You know, I’ve got to start with giving a shout out to my wife because I think that a lot of what you said at the Traverse City Opera House when you met with her when you talked about kind of pushing yourself, stretching yourself, how to almost reinvent yourself over and over; the day that you were at the Traverse City Opera House for the National Writers Series, we were inspired, we were going to stand in line to meet you and talk to you and kind of talk about maybe having you on the podcast, and we decided to go out with friends for drinks instead because [crosstalk] And the next day she sees you at Marshall’s Coffee Shop and walks up to you and says, “Hey, my husband has a podcast. Would you mind being on it?” And the fact that she did that and pushed herself, I’m not sure if I’m more excited about having you on the podcast or that she’s walked up to a complete stranger and pitched me. So, I’m so glad that now that’s a part of Sanok family legend.
[DANIEL]: I’m glad too. I’m glad to have a bit role in whatever, you know, chapter three of the Sanok family story.
[JOE]: Absolutely. Well, you’ve got this new book out When, and you know, the conversation you had with Angie Morgan who’s been on the podcast, she’s a friend of mine, a number of the things stood out to me in regards to better living and just how much you spent in regards to looking at the science of the mind. One thing that stood out to me that I’d love to start with is taking breaks while you’re working. You have this thing where a certain period of time you look at something. Let’s start there. And what did you learn about breaks in regards to optimizing work?
[DANIEL]: Well, so what I did is I set out to look at timing very broadly and the science of timing as has been explored in a bunch of different fields. So, taught me over the course of the day about also timing over the course of a life, how beginnings affect us, how midpoints, affect us and how endings affect us. And one of the things that you see, particularly when you look at timing as it occurs over a day, is that we, and when I say we, I mean, basically, I mean, Americans, we don’t take enough breaks. We don’t take breaks. We don’t think of breaks as something serious. We don’t think of it as something that’s important and that’s a huge mistake. What the evidence tells us is that breaks are part of our performance. They’re not a deviation from performance, and that if we’re systematic about taking breaks, we’re going to feel better, we’re going to do better.
And there are a whole set of principles, Joe, that we can go into, but one of them is, one of the principles of effective breaks is that something is better than nothing. Doing something, anything to take a break is better than just always powering through. And what you alluded to earlier was a particular technique. I do it all the time. I mean, literally did it this afternoon; is what’s called a 20, 20, 20 break. And all it is, is especially good for people who work at computers all day. It is every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. That’s it. And anybody can do it. I don’t think there’s a person on the planet that doesn’t have 20 seconds and it ends up actually being good for you physiologically, good for you psychologically. But it’s part of this broader package of research about our need to take breaks and also to think of breaks very differently.
[JOE]: Talk a little bit more about the physiology and the psychology of those breaks.
[DANIEL]: Yes. I mean, we know, let’s take a step back. I mean, somehow, and I intentionally use the word Americans here. Americans have this very peculiar approach to work. Even though, you know, most Americans today have no connection at all to the Puritans, we have this puritanical way of looking at work where we think that it is more effective to power through, we think that it is morally virtuous to power through. Once again, if we look at the evidence, the evidence says, “That is incorrect.” That is not how people perform at their best. And what we know is that our bodies need breaks because they are not perpetual motion machines. And our brains, which remember is an organ of our body, our brains need breaks also. And so, what we have to do is we have to be intentional and deliberate and systematic about taking breaks during the day. The good news is that the science gives us some really great guidance and how to take effective breaks.
[JOE]: So, you had mentioned that the science, just now about the science tells us some very clear things on it. What are a couple, maybe three or four principles that you’d say the average private practice owner, the average business person who is seeing clients, working with people, doing online, they’re going after all this stuff. Like, what should they do if they want to optimize their brain?
[DANIEL]: Yes, it’s a great question. And the thing is, you don’t have to do a lot. It’s not as if you have to completely disrupt your life. I think people are a little bit skiddish. Practically, people running their own practices are a little bit scared. “Hey, if I’m away, things are going to go South and it’s, you know, I need to be vigilant all the time.” And it, the truth is that you actually, we can do some very modest things. So I mentioned before something is better than nothing. Another thing we know about brakes is that moving is better than stationary. So if you take a break, go for a short walk, at least move a little bit. The evidence is overwhelming that that is more restorative than simply being sedentary.
Another interesting principle; social beats solo. There’s a lot of good evidence that breaks with other people are more restorative than breaks on our own. And what’s curious about that is that that’s true even for introverts. So it isn’t hinged to someone’s personality. It’s essentially, it’s that we’re more restored by having social breaks. And there’s some interesting evidence in the field of medicine about how that can arrest certain kinds of lowered performance, especially in afternoons for medical professionals.
Another idea; outside is better than inside, even if it’s sweltering, really hot as it is here in the nation’s capital where I’m talking to you from today. Being outside in nature is powerful. I think it’s actually one of the most understated phenomena that is in, there are sort of at that juncture, as you said, between psychology and physiology that there are restorative effects to being in nature. And the final, I guess another principle would be, I think it’s important for people who are running their own practices, is that you have to be fully detached. You can’t be somehow detached. So, you don’t go out and take a walk outside saying, “Hey, I’m having a great break,” and the whole time you know, your nose is in your email. You really have to disengage. And, but again, what the research tells us is that it’s not like you need to take a two-hour break in the middle of every day. If everybody in America took a 10- or 15-minute walk break outside, once an afternoon with someone they like talking about something other than work, you would see productivity go up.
[JOE]: I remember a couple of years ago I was looking, especially around that nature idea, I forgot what the research study was done, but they had looked at three different variables during breaks. And what they did is they had people take a break on sort of a cityscape where the cars were going by. They had people take a break looking at a nature magazine that just had pictures and no words. And then they had people walk in like a central park type area and they found that the nature magazine was almost as effective as the actual nature. I mean the cityscape watching cars go by. It didn’t do anything. And the idea of how do we find those micro moments. We were just at Slow Down School a couple of weeks ago where people fly in to Northern Michigan, we hang out on the beaches and slow down, but then we sprint full tilt for two and a half days to work on their business.
And we would do these 20-minutes prints where they focused on something and then take a quick five-minute break. It was amazing how much they could get done when they did do those 20 minutes sprints and then took a break and then went back to it. A lot of the comments were, “Wow, I just worked for 60 minutes, but I had these little breaks. I got more done in that 60 minutes than I typically get done in an entire day.” Why is it like, is this a new phenomenon for Americans or has it kind of always been this way?
[DANIEL]: I don’t know. That’s a really good question. I’m not sure. I do think that we tend to think about, in some ways we’ve oversold duration and undersold frequency. So, if you do three really good half hour sprints like you’re talking about, which is only 90 minutes, that the frequency of doing something again and again and again is in some ways more valuable than if you did the same thing for two and a half consecutive hours. You also have, I mean, here’s the thing that we know about human beings, human attentions, human brain capacity. I mean, one thing we know is that our brain power doesn’t remain static over the course of a day, but we also know that our attention flags, our attention does not remain static over a certain amount of time. And, it’s going to vary from person to person, but there are very few people who can pay careful attention, careful vigilant attention, you know, in under ordinary circumstances for two or three consecutive hours. Our brains and bodies don’t work that way.
[JOE]: So how has this impacted how you personally work, because I’m always fascinated to see how high achievers’ kind of structure their days and move things? Other things that you used to do that now because you’ve learned some things, you adjusted how you worked to be more effective?
[DANIEL]: Well, yes, a little bit. So, actually a lot of it in some cases. So, one of the things that we know from the science of timing is that there, as I said just a moment ago, our brain power is not static over the course of a day. Our brain power changes over the course of the day. And there are times a day when we’re more vigilant than other times of day. For me, that happened, my vigilance is higher and this is true for a lot of people, but not for people who are night owls. My vigilance is highest in the morning. And so, what I’ve done is I’ve pretty much reserved my writing to the morning. And so, I will come into my office and when I’m writing this, I’ll come into my office. I won’t bring my phone with me into the office.
I won’t turn on my email, but I’ll give myself a word count, not anything massive; 700, 800 words and I won’t do anything until I hit that word count. And for me at least that, again, it goes back to frequency and repetition. You know, 700, 800 words is not a massive number of words, but you do it every day for a week and suddenly the pages start piling up. For me personally, segregating that time in the morning when I’m at my highest vigilance was really essential in that. I also am much more conscious of taking breaks easily. I had it all wrong myself. I had believed that professionals powered through amateurs took breaks. It’s totally the opposite. Amateurs are the ones who don’t take breaks. Professionals take breaks. And we have evidence of this in the work of Anders Ericsson who did a lot of research on what’s called deliberate practice, looking at musicians, high level musicians. Elite musicians took more breaks than non-elite musicians. You see it in some ways in the regimen that athletes go through. Athletes don’t just run and train all day long, nonstop. They take breaks, they recuperate, they recover. And so all of us need to be doing something very similar.
[JOE]: Yes. Talk a little bit about the Nappuccino. Like, when did that come into your life and explain kind of what that concept is?
[DANIEL]: Well again, another kind of break is a nap and there’s a lot of good research on the naps and what it shows is that naps are pretty darn good for us. I was never much of a napper. I didn’t like naps. I would always wake up feeling terrible, but naps are pretty good for us. They can restore our, you know, sort of cleanse our brain a little bit. I don’t mean that literally, but they can sort of clear out our thinking. They can restore some mental energy. But it turns out that the best break is, the best nap is extremely short, shorter than I would’ve thought is even possible to be useful, of between 10 and 20 minutes long. Once you get past that 20-minute mark, people begin to develop what’s called sleep inertia, which is that kind of groggy cobweb feeling that you get when you wake up from a long nap.
So, naps of 10 to 20 minutes long, are very effective. They’re very good for you know, clearing out our head and rejuvenating our energy. There’s a way to turbocharge them. If you have a cup of coffee before you take your nap, it takes about 25 minutes for caffeine to enter your bloodstream, so, if you drink a cup of coffee and then go for a 15, 20-minute nap, you’re going to come out of your nap at about the same time that the caffeine is entering your bloodstream. It takes 25 minutes or so for caffeine to enter your bloodstream. And so, you get a double whammy when you’re waking up, restored and refreshed, you get a second hit of caffeine. And that’s a technique known as a Nappuccino.
[JOE]: I love it. I love it, but I haven’t tried it. I’ve been —
[DANIEL]: You’ve got to try it. It’s a game changer.
[JOE]: You know, I’ve been on the, I always wake up groggy from a nap. And so, I think this could be the key to —
[DANIEL]: Probably napping too long. That was my problem too. I mean, just set your timer on your phone or whatever and so don’t nap pass that time. And napping in some ways is, I’m not a huge napper still. I was, but I do, I will nap occasionally, and cutting it off at a certain point is really essential. You get a lot of the bang, but you don’t get that dip that would come from napping longer.
[JOE]: Yes. I want to go back a little bit because I think there’s a tendency to see people who are high achievers and that have done like good and great things to just say like, they’re in a whole different class and they’re like, there’s no way that anyone could ever really do that. They’re just kind of born superhuman. and knowing a little bit about your backstory. I mean, you obviously worked very hard at your craft and have put in a lot of time into that. But I want to go back to when you were doing speech writing and how that first started. Because I think when you told the story about when you were given the opportunity to start doing speech writing, that idea of kind of raising your hand and then from there figuring it out I think is such an important scale. So take us back to kind of before you were this big famous writer and when you were just there and someone wanted their speech written.
[DANIEL]: Yes. So, you’re remembering an anecdote I guess I told. I remember this now in Traverse City when I was up there, and just for your listeners, a long time ago I worked as a political speech writer. I didn’t set out to do that. It just kind of happened. I think that’s fairly true of life, but, I don’t remember that particular moment, but at some point, somewhere along the way, somebody asked me to write a speech and I did it and it was okay. I mean, someone said, I mean basically like, Hey, you know, someone needed a speech written and I raised my hand. Figuring that, you know, I knew how to write and I knew how to type so I could probably do this. And it was okay and then I did it again and it was okay, I did it again and suddenly it became my job.
So, one of the, I think one of the lessons of that is the importance of raising your hand. I’ve heard it over and over, just like paying attention, hanging around, and then raising your hand and taking on some of the things that other people might not want to take on. It’s difficult when you’re young sometimes, but I find that it is worth it if you raise your hand and take on things that other people don’t want to do. That can often be a pathway to things that you don’t expect. And I do think more broadly that life and careers move with that kind of, often with some degree of serendipity. You just don’t know what circumstance, what opportunity will present itself and if you’re willing to say, especially when you’re young, at some level, if you’re willing to say yes or if you’re willing to raise your hand, that can be really powerful.
Now I think that changes over one’s lifetime, over one’s career. I think that one of the things as people get older is the importance of being able to say no and being able to focus on what’s really important. I haven’t quite cracked this nut yet, but I do think that there’s a point where you go from your default answer being yes to your default answer being no. I don’t know when that is, but I think I’m more at this stage of my life where my default answer is no rather than yes.
[JOE]: Yes. So, when was the moment that you switched and saw yourself as a writer? What led up to that and —
[DANIEL]: There was no moment. Life doesn’t work that way. It just, things are sloppier, more ambiguous, unpredictable. So, there wasn’t a moment when one had that realization. What had happened to me at least was that for a long time in my life I was writing “on the side”. So, I had jobs. If I was doing my own writing on the side, just because I liked it. I wasn’t saying, “Oh, I’m going to go, I want to go be a writer when I grow up.” And finally, you know, after, and this is a long time, just like 10, 12, 15 years of doing this on the side, it occurred to me that maybe I should do this for real. It also came at a moment when I realized that I did not want to work in politics the rest of my life. And so, I said, “What the heck? I’m going to give it a try. This thing I’ve been doing on the side might be what it is that I want to do, what it is that I’m about.”
So, I gave it, so, 20 years ago I said, “Okay, I’m going to just quit and see if I can make it as a writer.” But really just carving, just saying, “Hey, I’m going to take a few years to see how it works out.” When I made that decision, again, it’s a long time over 20 years ago, my wife didn’t quit her job, she kept her job, she kept her health insurance, it was not lump sum, kind of like crazy, wacky thing like that. So, it was just, but I didn’t think that life ends up being much less kind of, it’s a lot of grays rather than a lot of black and white.
[JOE]: Well, and I appreciate you saying that because I feel like so frequently we want this cinematic moment where someone realizes, “I am a writer,” but there is a word that you used when you were talking about, “Let’s give it a try,” and the more that I talk to high achievers, people who have done great things, people however you want to frame. It seems like they have more of an experimental mindset and a pass fail where they say, “I’m going to get information from this. I’m going to get some indicators as to whether or not this writing thing is working,” whereas a lot of people that I work with in consulting and masterminds, they feel like if I go private pay and stop taking insurance, then I have to do that forever. Or if I start a podcast, well I got to do that forever and it’s this whole pass-fail mentality that the education system really sets us up for. Do you see that as well, that that kind of experimental mentality versus pass fail?
[DANIEL]: I think you’re spot on with that. To me the differences, so I think that pass fail is a really interesting way to look at it so that, and I do think that a lot of people have been acculturated in that way to think that it’s completely binary. And its pass-fail when it’s not —
[JOE]: You write the paper, you turn it in, you get the grade. It’s not any sort of process.
[DANIEL]: The other thing is that it, I think that in some ways we have oversold just a bit the importance of planning. People always want to plan their future and there’s some advantage of planning in certain domains. So, if you think about something like financial, here’s the best financial advice: spend less than you earn, start saving money as early as you possibly can and let the power and magic of compounding interest work to your advantage. So there’s some planning there, but in terms of other kinds of things, what I find is that a lot of people tend to have basically… It depends on how, what kind of almost moral valence do you want to put on it, whether some people stumble their way into the future, some people, but I like it. I think of it as experimenting the way into the future. And so, —
[JOE]: So, it’s almost like sometimes people think that by over-planning that they’re actually doing something that’s going to help them be more successful. But in a sense, they’re wasting a bunch of time and a lot of mental energy.
[DANIEL]: Bingo. Because I think that we have, in some ways we’ve got it wrong. We basically say, “Oh, if I need to figure out what I’m going to do, and then plan for it,” when in fact the way you figure things out is to try some small experiments, small low risk experiments. Use the learning that you’ve acquired from that and then move forward. And you see this and you know, I wrote a little bit about this in a book called The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, which is a career guide in graphic novel form where one of the things that I say in there is that I encourage people, especially young people, to talk to people who have, they admire, who are doing things that are cool.
“Hey, I see what Maria is doing. That’s so cool. I would love to be doing that.” And then you ask them how did they get there. And usually the really talented interesting people say, “Ah, it’s a long story,” because it was not a linear path. It was not systematically planned out. It just was circumstantial, it was experimental. And then you look at other kinds of some really interesting books out there, for instance Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have a book called Designing Your Life based on a famous Stanford course. And they have the same kind of principle about experimenting your way into the future. Range, a terrific new book by David Epstein talks a lot about the importance of small experiments over long-term planning. And at some level, and I think you have a good point, like our schools in some ways discourage that sort of thinking and want everything to be planned out and systematic when in fact, I don’t think that life always lends itself to that.
It’s understandable because I do think that people also have a need for security and certainty. That’s actually important in many, many respects. But I don’t think that it always comes from, I think that in some cases over-planning can give you a kind of false certainty and you’re better off. And false certainty is dangerous even if it feels a little more comfortable than genuine ambiguity.
[JOE]: I think it also sometimes affects your ability to be creative. I think about when I launched this podcast and blog, I didn’t even know that there were people that were teaching this stuff. I just was like, “I’m going just share what I’m learning through these books and then podcasts.” And I think I would’ve probably been intimidated with all the people that were out there, but I took risks and do it kind of my own way because I had under planned. Now there’s other areas that I definitely over plan and need that guidance and reminder, but I think it also stands in the way of finding your own voice when you kind of evaluate too much.
[DANIEL]: I think you’re right, and I think part of it is that planning in some ways relieves the tension, and we sort of feel calmer and ambiguity, uncertainty don’t feel great, but it, as I was saying before, false certainty is very, very dangerous and genuine ambiguity is part of life.
[JOE]: Now, when you reflect on how you got to this point with the interests that you have, I’m always interested in why people continue to do what they do and how they stay interested in the work that they’ve developed, because I think there’s sometimes a trap where you get known for something and then you maybe don’t want to keep being known for that or like, so, what’s kind of the driver behind your work?
[DANIEL]: I don’t know. I mean, I’ve got a pretty good thing going in that based on the very, very, very small universe of things that I’m okay at and somewhat enjoy. That’s a very, And the sad part is that most of us, myself certainly included, is that if you take the universe of things that one could be good at, the universal things that, the collection of things that you’re good at is a very, very, very, very, very small circle within that, the universe. And so, it’s important to find that. For me, I got a good deal going because I’m actually, I like finding out stuff, I like asking people questions and so what I do is I find out stuff, I ask people questions, I write it up, they put my name on it, and they pay me enough so that my kids have a winter coat. So that’s a pretty good deal and so that’s what keeps me going.
But one of the, I have a pretty high bar on what I write books about. I have a massive list of ideas, but even this summer I wrote proposals for two books that I decided not to pursue because I didn’t want to spend, I wasn’t interested in them enough. I didn’t want to spend the next couple of years doing that. The other thing that I don’t want to do, and I’ve alerted actually several people in my life to tell me if this ever happens is every once in a while, you’ll see, particularly in nonfiction, someone who essentially writes the same book over and over again. I want to write the same book every three years. And I’ve told several people who I’m close to, who I trust, “If you see me doing that, let me know immediately,” because then that means that I need to stop doing what I’m doing.
[JOE]: Now, are there things for this current book that didn’t make the book but you thought this was really interesting but it didn’t make it in the book?
[DANIEL]: I mean, there were some things that turned out to be not true. I mean, you know, because it’s built on science, so I did it. I tried as much as I could to vet the science to make sure that it stood up. So, there were a few interesting findings that I wasn’t certain of. So, those kinds of things were interesting, but I don’t know if they were right, so I didn’t want to put them in there. But beyond that, the stuff that was left on the cutting room floor is stuff that is either wrong or boring or both. And I think you can, one of my principles in writing a decent book is to leave out the boring wrong stuff.
[JOE]: Yes, that’s a good principle.
[DANIEL]: Yes.
[JOE]: Now, earlier in the interview you had mentioned that there’s kind of things in regards to kind of daily that you can do, but then you also mentioned over a lifetime or over a year in regards to kind of finding that optimized timing. What did you find in regards to kind of annually or monthly or kind of those longer schedules?
[DANIEL]: Well, I mean, part of it is that we can think about it episodically. So, if you think about any kind of, like writing a book is a series of episodes. There’s a beginning, there’s a middle, there’s an end. And in any sort of endeavor, each of those stages has a different effect on our behavior. So beginnings have one effect, midpoints have another effect, endings have yet another effect. And so understanding the pull that those things exert can be helpful. So, what we know is that for instance, beginning there’s some, this is the work of Katy Milkman, Jason Reese and Hank Jendai about the importance of, how certain dates in the calendar, how certain dates of the year are better for making behavior change. These are what they call fresh start dates, that certain dates in the calendar are what they call or what’s known as temporal landmarks.
They stand out in time, the way that physical landmarks stand out in space and when we get to them we stop, we reorient ourselves and we also do this peculiar form of mental accounting where we banish bad behavior to the past and essentially open up a clean ledger on our new behavior. So people are more likely to say begin going to the gym on say a Monday rather than a Thursday on the first of the month rather than the 29th of a month. We also know that there are personal temporal landmark, so you might be more likely to go start some kind of behavior change on the day after your birthday rather than three days before the birthday on the first day of fall rather than, you know September 9th. So, using those kinds of temporal landmarks can be an effective way to make change as well.
[JOE]: No, I know you have kind of the history of just sales to humans and all of that as well. From a selling standpoint, do effective businesses use those timing or those marks? Like, I mean, as you say birthday, I’m thinking if someone did a targeted Facebook ad to everyone that turned 40 in the last month, like, is that, how should people —
[DANIEL]: I think that would be effective. I think that would be very effective. So let’s say that, so, especially if they’re in the business of selling something that, where they have to change their behavior. So, a —
[JOE]: Counseling?
[DANIEL]: Sure. Exactly. Counseling, certain kinds of financial advice, exercise, anything like that. I think it would be very effective if there was a way to hit people, to reach people when they were on the brink of that temporal landmark. They might, you might have a fighting, I think you’d have a fighting chance of getting their attention and getting, you know, a slightly better chance of getting their attention, getting their consent.
[JOE]: Now, what else, other than kind of dates or individuals or kind of throughout the year were things that you noticed in writing the book that —
[DANIEL]: Well, I mean, some of it is, to your earlier point here, is that there’s also a big effect of endings. So, endings have a really interesting effect on our behavior. Endings help us encode experiences. So, what happens at the end, we just proportionately, we use what happens at the end and that has a bigger factor in our remembering the entire experience. Yes, also endings can be, you know, when we see the end of something, people will be slightly more motivated. This is one reason, to your point. You see some evidence, this is from Adam Alter at NYU and Hal Hershfield at UCLA about how people are most likely to run their first marathon at ages 29, 39, 49, and 59; those nine years because they’re seeing the end of their twenties. They are like, “Oh man, I got to do something.” So, if you’re selling the Detroit Marathon or something like that, you know, I would hit people, hid all the 29-year old’s, 39-year old’s and 49-year old’s.
[JOE]: Interesting. I just love that kind of stuff. It’s just so, I mean like I remember a while back, I read this thing about why you should buy stocks on a Monday because over the lifetime of it, it’s like 1% higher because people tend to sell off and then if you’re going to sell, typically it’s a Thursday. And so, I mean we just had our automated draw for our IRA to be on Mondays, so, —
[DANIEL]: Interesting, yes.
[JOE]: Yes. But it’s fascinating to see that stuff. Now, I guess when people think about beginnings and ends one way that we’ve done that, so Slow Down School, which I referenced, when people get on the bus, picked up from the airport, we stop everything and do a meditation for three minutes. It’s just a quick meditation before we leave to say, “The end of your travel has come and the beginning, of Slow Down School has come,” and then we also do something at the very end to kind of capstone it.
[DANIEL]: Sure.
[JOE]: What are some ways that you’ve seen other, either businesses or people use that principle of kind of beginnings and ends within their business or within how they run things?
[DANIEL]: Oh yes, there is a lot of things. I mean, I do think that you see this sometimes done very effectively in things that are involve a physical experience. Like a restaurant where I’m thinking of, you know, where you walk into the restaurant and there’s a little area, sort of a staging area and then that separates from the main dining room. And then, so when you walk into that main dining area, you’re sort of entering a portal and you say, “Wait a second, you’ve crossed over a border and you’re now in this new place. There’s a physical separation there that says, “Hey, you’re about to enter something new. You’re about to enter this new experience.” And think about all the rituals we have for beginnings and ends.
Think about in school. It’s like, first day of school is a ritualistic thing. The last day of school is a ritualistic thing. And I think those things, I think those are all very, very healthy. I mean, what we want is, what people are searching for in some ways is some kind of grounding, some kind of context. They want to understand, you know, they’re sort of overwhelmed by bits and bytes and data and need a way to contextualize it all. And the temporal side of that is a way for them to put it into context.
[JOE]: Yes. I wonder how much of it also is just to help the brain feel safe to know, okay, this is the waiting area of the restaurant, this is the eating area, I know how to expect what’s happening here, and then the brain can better predict what’s going to happen in those areas.
[DANIEL]: It could be. I mean, the other thing I like about the restaurant example is that what we know is that one of the things that gives people enjoyment about experience is actually anticipating it. And so if you actually heighten the anticipation, you heighten the positiveness of the overall experience too.
[JOE]: Yes. It reminds me of those restaurants where you, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them where it’s completely dark, but it’s like building the senses and, —
[DANIEL]: Yes, I’ve never been to one of those. No. I would probably spill more on myself than I do ordinarily.
[JOE]: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Well. So as we kind of wrap this up, I’m interested in direct application for people. So we’ve covered a ton of different things, but what are maybe a few just direct application, you know, so a counselor is listening right now, a massage therapist, private practitioner, they’re like, “Dan, I love what you’re saying here. You are a wealth of information. I’m getting your book.” But like what are some takeaways that for you, you’re like, “Today, go do these things and this is going to really help.” How would you have people think differently based on what you’ve kind of discovered?
[DANIEL]: There’s so many different things. So, one of them was, we were talking about it at the top of the program is make sure you take a break and actually memorialize it. So in your calendar, schedule a 15-minute walk break with somebody this afternoon and make it as inviolable as a meeting or a client appointment. So that’s one very simple thing. And if you do that regularly, frequency, frequency, frequency is key, you will see, you’ll see an uptick. Another thing, let’s go to endings. Think about the end of the day. One of the things that’s important at the end of the day is we know from the work of Theresa Amabile in Harvard Business School that the single biggest day to day motivator on the job is making progress. Making progress and meaningful work is the single biggest day to day motivator on the job.
What we don’t know is progress depends on having information on how you’re doing. Are you making progress? So one of the things that I’ve been doing for years now is at the end of every day, I will essentially record my progress. I happen to use a free email thing called, ‘I’ve done this’, but you can do it on your own, which is I get an email at the end of every day and it says, “What did you get done today?” And I just answer the email and it keeps it in a calendar from it. And so, I never look at the calendar, but what I do is it’s simply taking that moment at the end. It’s a ritual at the end where I say, “Okay, what did I get done today?”
And what I found is that it’s really important in those frustrating days when I feel like I didn’t get anything done because when you actually reflect on it and force yourself to memorialize it, you often realize, “Hey, I did get a little bit done.” And so that’s a very, very simple, literally 90 second ritual you can do at the end of every day to get a sense, you know, use an ending as a way to, as a propulsion device for the next day. I would also encourage people to pay attention to mid-points. Mid points either drag us down or fire us up. Yes, but they’re usually invisible. So, when you get to a midpoint of something, just notice that it’s a midpoint and be volitional, intentional about using it as a spark rather than a slump. So there are just a lot of things, but the most important thing is start small. It’s better to do one thing, start with one thing and do that than it is to have, “Oh, I got this giant menu of things and I have to do them all,” and then when you don’t do them all, you feel like crap. So just do one small thing today and then do it again tomorrow and that ends up having a big payoff.
[JOE]: Awesome. The last question I always ask is, Dan Pink, if you could speak to every private practice owner in the world right now, what would you want the one thing to be for them to take away?
[DANIEL]: I would say that it’s, play the long game. I find a lot of people are very focused on, “What does it mean in like, am I going to make this money in the short term? Am I going to get this deal in the short term?” Play the long game and I think if you start playing the long game, you end up learning more, you end up being more generous and you actually end up winning that long game. A lot of times people will have some short-term victories, but then they fizzle out. If you play the long game and keep remembering like why you’re doing what you’re doing, I think you have a fighting chance to be reasonably happy and successful.
[JOE]: Oh, that’s so awesome. Dan Pink’s book is called When. You can get it wherever fine books are sold. Thank you so much Dan for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast. How else can they connect with you if they want to follow your work?
[DANIEL]: I’ve got a website. They can go to www.danielpink.com or danpink.com. danielpink.com, danpink.com, I’ve got a newsletter, a bunch of free resources, all kinds of good stuff.
[JOE]: Awesome. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast.
[DANIEL]: Joe, thanks for having me. I’ve enjoyed it.
[JOE]: Well, thank you so much for listening to the Practice of the Practice podcast today. We have tons of resources over at practiceofthepractice.com including two conferences that we have coming up this summer. We have Slow Down School, which is where our high-end entrepreneurs learn how to slow down to speed up. We spend two days on the beaches of Northern Michigan just chilling out, bring in massage therapists, we bring in a yoga teacher, and then for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday we run full tilt towards your big ideas and your practice. So if you’re interested in setting up an interview for that head on over to www.slowdownschool.com. We also have Killin’It Camp coming up this fall. It’s something we do each fall where we bring together hundreds of private practitioners, entrepreneurs, and business folks in the mountains of Estes Park, Colorado to learn together, but to also more importantly, take action and create relationships that help you get to that next level to kill it. So there’s more information on that over www.killinitcamp.com. Thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an amazing week.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the guests, or the publisher are rendering legal, accounting, clinical, or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one. And special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for the intro music. We love it.

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