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The All Nighter
We’ve probably all had this experience at one time or another: There is something you need to get done tomorrow and you can’t finish it by tonight. So, being the responsible person that you are, you try to stay up late to get it done. Here’s a couple of very important tips that’ll help you on your next adventure.
The Cause Of The All Nighter
First, realize that if you have to pull an all nighter, you have already screwed up. Somewhere along the line, you had thought you would be finished by tonight, but you haven’t. The plan had not gone as you had anticipated, and now you are paying your dues. Therefore, you should examine your planning errors, as that will be of greater value in the long run. Did you spend too little time planning (or didn’t plan at all)? Did you procrastinate and not follow your plan? Did you not allow enough time for random factors in your plan?
All of these things are situations that come up time and time again in your life. Therefore, it’s important to recognize these inefficiencies and try not to repeat them. You don’t have to do this right this minute, but it should be done as soon as possible while your memories of the events are fresh in your mind. Maybe a quick summary right now, with a more in depth analysis after you’ve finished your stuff and had some sleep. In the long run, a couple of wasted hours every once in a while can add up to substantial amounts of time throughout the course of your life.
The Cost Of The All Nighter
The all nighter is not a way to get more time. That seems to be a common misconception that if you worked over night, then you basically gained those extra hours with no consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth! You will give those hours back by sleeping more the next few days, dozing off at school/work, etc. In fact, from my experience, I would say for every all nighter hour you spend awake that you should have spent sleeping, you need to sleep about 1.1-1.5x as many hours just to get back to the same level of alertness. Not to mention the diminished level of work that you would accomplish during those hours, which will have to be taken out of your other awake time to be made up. Therefore, all nighter hours need to be repaid by 2+ normal hours.
This is not to say there isn’t a place for pulling an all nighter. One hour now could be worth more than two hours tomorrow. For example, there is a final exam in a few hours and you really need the extra couple of hours to study. In this case, doing poorly on the exam may cost you many, many more hours later in terms of retaking the course, speaking with the professor, etc. Or maybe your plane is taking off at 4am and you need to be on board. If you don’t make it, then you’ll have to spend many hours waiting at the airport for the next flight (although if I had a laptop or something else I can do, then it would be partially or wholly mitigated – see Give Me A Little More Time).
Your Motivation For The All Nighter
If your reasons for getting into the all nighter in the first place is because you procrastinated, then the all nigher really isn’t going to help that much. If it’s something you really don’t want to do, no matter how much caffeine you put into your body, or how long you stay up, you are not going to do it. It would be better to fix this problem by addressing the root issue by finding out what you really want. It would be easier to just fail the class or not do the assignment, and start focusing on the things you want right away. Tomorrow, explain to the person in charge that you are not really interested in whatever it is, apologize, and move on. What’s the point of doing a lousy job on something you didn’t want to do anyway?
On the other hand, if your reasons for going into the all nighter is a lack of planning for something you are passionate about, then you are in the right frame of mind. Back in college, when I wanted to live up to my word in finishing a project for my research professor, I very very easily worked from 6pm until 3pm the next day, completing the project in the nick of time. I didn’t even need any coffee or caffeine, and wasn’t really that tired. If you are actually interested in what you are doing and excited about it, you really don’t even notice the time or how tired you are.
If you didn’t want to do it to begin with, even with all the coffee in the world, you’ll be looking for reasons to fall asleep, and you’ll do exactly that. At best, you won’t be able to fall asleep, so you’ll be stuck in a dreamy world where you’re not getting anything done and wish you were sleeping instead.
Tips For Pulling An All Nighter
Motivate Yourself – As stated above, motivation is the most important thing in terms of keeping awake and working on the project. You might as well go to sleep if you don’t want to do it.
Focus On the Task – In NAVY Seals training’s “Hell Week”, where people have to stay up for 5 days with only a few hours of sleep, it was reported that the key to staying awake is by focusing on tasks in the present. Try not to let your mind drift at all. Forget about going to the bathroom, or sleeping, or anything else. There is just you, and the task. If you conquer it, you can get the thing you want most – sleep.
Go Easy On The Caffeine – Each little bit you drink now will make your recovery from it that much harder (see How To Recover From Caffeine Addiction) later. Yes, you are already spending your “later hours”, so try to keep that to a minimum. Focus on the two tips above and hopefully you won’t need any caffeine. If you must, drink a minimum amount that’ll keep you awake. Remember that the placebo effect can be pretty strong, so if you just believe that 1/2 cup of coffee will keep you awake for another 12 hours, it probably will.
Don’t Take A Nap – While theoretically, you can be more clear headed after a 20 minute nap, I find that not to really hold up in reality. If you can talk yourself into taking a nap, you can talk yourself into sleeping until past when your project is due. Not to mention that you’ll probably be groggy when you wake up if you don’t do it right.
Get Some Sleep – In contrast to the tip above, it may not be such a bad idea to get some sleep if you have a presentation or test in the morning. By sleep, I mean complete cycles, in about 90 minutes – 2 hour increments. For me, 4 hours equals two sleep cycles, where I’ll wake up quite alertly. In these cases where you need to memorize stuff, sleep helps bury it deeper into your long term memory. After you wake up, continue studying.
Take A Shower – This is generally very refreshing. The pounding water is exciting your sensory impulses, while the heat relaxes you so that you’re not too tense (but not so relaxed that you’ll fall asleep).
Go Out For A Run – Exercise will speed up the heart and increase blood flow and metabolism. This is the same thing as described in How To Recover From Caffeine Addiction
Eat Some Sugars – Fruit Juice, or other sugary stuff, should provide your body with a good source of energy for the short term. Caffeine’s not the only thing that can juice it up!
Let Your Alarm Clock Ring – I’ve found that years of training in jumping out of bed when the alarms rings has created in us a kind of a built in automatic “awake” reaction to the alarm clock. Set the alarm clock to ring at random times in the next few minutes. Go about your work, and that “shock” from the alarm clock can keep you awake for hours.
Turn the temperature down – It’s just damn hard to fall asleep when it’s freezing, so make it really cold. However, it shouldn’t be so cold that it distracts you from working. I find that about 60-70 degrees in your pajamas should do the trick. Of course, adjust that depending on your size and the amount of body hair you have.
When All Else Fails
Remember that whatever it is, you can always not do it. You can fail a test, miss a flight, or disappoint a partner. However, you cannot get another life if you permanently damage your health. Face the consequences and remember to plan better next time – it’s usually not that big of a deal!
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