We've all been on project teams that are assigned a certain amount of time to accomplish our task. Then weeks pass and nothing much has happened. Best-selling author Daniel Pink, who I've quoted often here, says this is normal and not to fret.
"The typical pattern we think project teams follow is not true. We think we have the beginning, and then it gets going, and it will move linearly to the end. In fact, what researchers have found is that at the beginning, project teams pretty much do nothing," Pink said in a Q&A last week in The Washington Post, timed to come out with his new book: When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.
"They bicker, they dicker. Yet astonishingly, many project teams ended up really getting started in earnest at the exact midpoint. If you give a team 34 days, they'll get started in earnest on day 17."
At that point, Pink says that as a leader it's best to tell the group that they're just a little behind. His research, from basketball of all places, "shows that when teams are ahead at the midpoint, they get complacent. When they're way behind at the midpoint, they get demoralized. But when they're a little behind, it can be galvanizing."
Here are some other points from Pink's book:
Schedule your tasks in a specific way. Pink gives the day three stages: a peak, a trough and a recovery. He wants you doing analytic tasks in the morning, administrative tasks—emails, expense reports, etc.—in the midday, and insight problems in the afternoon. "...We're less vigilant [then] than during the peak," he says. "[But] that looseness—letting in a few distractions—opens us to new possibilities and boosts our creativity."
Give the bad news first. Why? We like happy endings, of course. Why else would Hallmark Channel get such good ratings? Pink says he used to think the opposite—give good news first. "I didn't want to come on too aggressively... [But] if you ask people what they prefer, four out of five prefer getting the bad news first. The reason has to do with endings. Given the choice, human beings prefer endings that elevate."
Take afternoon breaks. I thought I was the only one who slowed down in the afternoon. Apparently not. "Afternoons are the Bermuda Triangles of our days," Pink tells Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. He cites a Duke University study that found that harmful anesthesia errors are three times more likely at 3 p.m. than 8 a.m., and Danish test takers who scored significantly lower in the afternoon than morning. "Regular, systematic breaks—especially those that involve movement, nature and full detachment—reduce errors, boost mood and can help us steer around this Bermuda Triangle."
Make those breaks social. "Research shows us that social breaks are better than solo breaks—taking a break with somebody else is more restorative than doing it on your own," Pink says. Work from home? Head to the coffee shop and find your community.
Start something new on a clear beginning. "Managers shouldn't start a corporate change initiative on a Thursday—start it on the day after a federal holiday, or at the beginning of a quarter, or on a Monday," Pink says. The basis of this is similar to research that says that we are twice as likely to run a marathon at age 29 than age 28 or 30. "Endings have this power to galvanize us" he said.
Think when. Of course, Pink says, we don't always have the choice at work to do what needs to be done when we want to do it. "To me, the bigger issue here is that we have thought of 'when' as a second order question. We take questions of how we do things, what we do, and who I do it with very seriously, but we stick the 'when' questions over at the kids' table."