Peak, Trough, and Recovery

July 30, 2018 Scott Miller


Three words recently, and very practically, changed my leadership style: peak, trough, and recovery.

I’ve known Daniel Pink for nearly 10 years and found his books to be both inspiring and pragmatic. His most recent book, When, has forced me to confront how I manage my energy throughout the day and organize my activities around who I am biologically.

You might not want to know the minute details of my life, but for the sake of sharing my learning, I’d like to walk you through my typical day:

I rise around 5 a.m. and my mind begins to whirl. This happens immediately and at a rate that is likely faster than is natural or healthy. I have friends that absolutely need time to “wake up.” For them, it entails several hours of gradual mental preparation, as if they are tiptoeing into freezing water. For me, I wake up and immediately plunge into the day.

After talking with Daniel and reading When, I’ve come to realize that I do my best creative thinking from 5 a.m. to around 9 a.m. It’s my peak. I prefer to collaborate and execute on those ideas at a fevered pace, until around 11:30 a.m., when I then become completely fixated on lunch.

I love lunch. I never miss it. Whether it’s a short lunch in the office or a long, drawn-out strategy lunch over multiple refills of iced tea, the duration doesn’t matter. What matters, besides the actual food, is a mental and physical break.

I need to go to lunch. I come back with the energy to slog through the trough of the day. The trough is when I’m generally useless; it’s my 1 p.m. through 3 p.m. calls and my epically long after-lunch meetings. The trough is my low point, but then I eventually recover around 3 p.m. with a burst of energy that lasts through about 6 p.m.

If you want to get anything accomplished, catch me in the morning at my peak or on the recovery in the late afternoon, and avoid me in my trough.

Okay, that was a sad look into my day, but I’ve never really taken that look before reading When. Without that self-examination, I would not be supremely mindful of why some associates get their best from me and others are neglected. It’s not intentional; it’s cyclical.

Those colleagues who are also early risers get my best, as we’re texting and talking super early. Those who rise later and don’t get up to speed until my trough, they get my absolute worst. I’ve come to understand why some associates thrive around me based on timing, while others who I may be less in sync with, in terms of energy and our day, get short shrift.

Thanks to Daniel Pink, I’m more mindful of my peak, trough, and recovery, and how I can manage around them so that my team and I get the most out of our time together. After all, timing is everything, and being more aware of the optimal times to engage (or not) makes for more productivity, less frustration, and sustainable and superior results.


Get the skills and the tools to invest your time, attention, and energy on your highest priorities. Join us for a complimentary 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity webcast.

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a twenty-three-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as the executive vice president of thought leadership. Scott hosts multiple podcasts including FranklinCovey On Leadership and Great Life, Great Career. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multiweek Amazon #1 New Release Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow. Scott authors a weekly leadership column for and is a frequent contributor to Thrive Global. Previously, Scott worked for the Disney Development Company and grew up in Central Florida. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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