Webinar: Denni Tommasi, Monash University - Time of Day, Cognitive Tasks, and Efficiency Gains

Melbourne Institute Seminar Series

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Title: Time of Day, Cognitive Tasks, and Efficiency Gains

Abstract: The link between time of day and productivity on cognitive tasks is crucial to understanding workplace efficiency and welfare. In this paper, we aim to answer a general question and investigate how the time of day affects cognitive tasks performance exploiting an ideal setting in which tasks are assigned at different time of day in a quasi-random fashion. Specifically, we study the performance of university students sitting no more than one examination per day in the final two weeks of a semester. Using half a million observations on academic records, we find that students perform better at lunchtime (1.30 pm) than in the morning (9 am) or late afternoon (4.30 pm). This inverse U-shape relationship between time of day and performance (i) is not driven by stress or fatigue, (ii) is consistent with the idea that cognitive functioning is an important determinant of productivity, and (iii) implies that efficiency gains of up to 0.14 standard deviations can be achieved by simply re-arranging examination times. A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation applied to an external context that is likely to benefit from our results (i.e., elective surgeries), suggests that sorting the cognitive tasks performed by surgeons differently could lead to an increase in the number of patients saved.

Presenter: Denni Tommasi, Monash University

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