According to the temporal coding hypothesis, neurons encode information by the exact timing of spikes. An example of temporal coding is the hippocampal phase precession phenomenon, in which the timing of pyramidal cell spikes relative to the theta rhythm shows a unidirectional forward precession during spatial behaviour. Here we show that phase precession occurs in both spatial and non-spatial behaviours. We found that spike phase correlated with instantaneous discharge rate, and processed unidirectionally at high rates, regardless of behaviour. The spatial phase precession phenomenon is therefore a manifestation of a more fundamental principle governing the timing of pyramidal cell discharge. We suggest that intrinsic properties of pyramidal cells have a key role in determining spike times, and that the interplay between the magnitude of dendritic excitation and rhythmic inhibition of the somatic region is responsible for the phase assignment of spikes.