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6 Things You Can Do to Get Away with an All-Nighter

6 Things You Can Do to Get Away with an All-Nighter

As much as we try to avoid it, every now and then we come up against a looming deadline that simply requires us to pull an all-nighter. They’re by no means healthy, and shouldn’t be sought out, but when the rare one does come up, you want to be prepared for it. By using these six tips based on sleep science and psychology, you can significantly mitigate the negative effects of an all-nighter and make it as productive as possible.

1. Don’t have caffeine.

What? Don’t have caffeine? Isn’t that part of the all-nighter image? Being hyped up on energy drinks and coffee? It may be part of the image, but it’s actually not the best thing to do. There’s a major problem with having caffeine this late at night in order to stay up: the fact that there are no free lunches.

Let’s assume that the main reason you’re pulling an all-nighter is to finish some big assignment or project that you’re in crunch time on. If that’s the case, then you want to be as productive as possible throughout the night. Caffeine is frequently touted as a wonder drug for productivity, but there’s one big problem with it: we tend to only think about productivity in the short term and not the long term. In the short term with a high dose of caffeine, we get hyped up and super focused, but that lasts 1-2 hours tops and then we hit a wall for the next ~4 hours. There are no free lunches: when you burn up your mental energy quicker than normal, you always lose some later, and frequently, you lose more than you gained.

While this is true during the day, it’s especially true at night when you’re already tired and weakened. Your body simply won’t handle the crash well and you’ll spend much of your all-nighter groggy and lethargic from the earlier caffeine buzz, and lose a lot of your potential productivity. Instead of high-caffeine drinks, try substituting in green tea and water to keep you hydrated. You’ll find that as long as you’re drinking something it’s not that hard to stay awake, especially with the other 6 tips on this list.

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2. Move around.

The worst thing you can do for an all-nighter is sit in the same spot in front of a computer or textbook for eight hours. This is a bad habit during the day, but it’s especially bad at night when your mental energy will be diminished and you’ll be more prone to zoning out or losing focus.

Our minds naturally go through cycles called an “ultradian rhythm,” which hits a peak and a trough in around 90 minute intervals. That means that every 90 minutes or so your mental energy will feel depleted and you’ll be in a bad state to try to get any work done. Trying to push through this wall actually burns up more willpower than normal work does, so the best thing to do is take a break.

Just any break won’t do though: it’s the perfect time to get up and get some light exercise. The simplest way to do this is to simply walk to a new workplace, at least 10 minutes away, every 85 minutes or so. Not only does this make sure you’re letting your mind get back in shape at the end of each ultradian cycle, the light exercise will pick you up better than caffeine. In addition, you can set goals for each work place like “I’ll finish reading through my history notes when I’m at the library, and outline the essay when I’m at the undergraduate business lounge,” which will force you to put time constraints on your work and leverage Parkinson’s Law to be more efficient.

3. Drink a lot of water.

I hope you like water or tea, because you’re going to want to drink it like it’s your job. If you’ve never experienced the productivity and energy boost from massive water consumption then you’re missing out—it’s my single favorite beverage for enhanced productivity out there.

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We spend a lot of our lives dehydrated without really knowing it. Coffee/soda/alcohol/anything with sugar/caffeine actually dehydrates our bodies. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, a deficit of attention, jitteriness, grogginess, trouble getting out of bed in the morning, poor sleep, low productivity, low motivation, and a host of other issues.

Luckily you can solve all of this just by drinking water. To be clear, I don’t mean a couple glasses a day—I mean at least one gallon and ideally closer to two. That’s a lot of water, but once you try it you’ll never go back. When you’re trying to stay up all night, every glass of water will give you renewed energy to push through the evening, and keep you hydrated as your body burns more water/food than usual in order to keep you going.

If you don’t do it, expect headaches, brain fog, and general unhappiness.

4. Take naps.

This can be a double edged sword, and having a buddy (like we’ll discuss in the next tip) is just about necessary. If you’re pulling an all-nighter or semi all-nighter, you’re not planning on sleeping very much if at all, and that can start to take its toll on your mental effectiveness and physical energy.

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The one good thing about staying up so late is that you get your body into a state of extreme exhaustion. When you’re exhausted, you slip very quickly into REM sleep, the most restorative part of sleep. Since you can get immediately into REM, naps while exhausted are very refreshing and can give you hours more of fuel that you might not have otherwise had.

There is a risk of course. When you’re that tired, it will likely be very difficult to wake back up, and that nap might turn into an 8 hour siesta. Having a buddy is almost necessary in my experience since you will not want to wake up after those 20 minutes. Having someone who can make sure you’re up and pour water on you if necessary will save you a lot of worry.

Ideally, don’t have them more often than every 90 minutes. If you do then you’re not spending enough time awake and you’ll slip into a pseudo-awake-pseudo-asleep zombie state where you won’t get anything done.

5. Keep eating.

Here’s the fun part of pulling an all-nighter. To make it as successful as possible, eat anything and everything you feel like eating. This addresses two problems: your quickly depleting energy from the day, and your limited willpower.

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We eat the 1500-2500 calories we need in a given day to sustain us for the 16 hours we should be awake. When you get in to all-nighter territory though, you’re going well beyond those normal 16 hours and you’ll likely not have eaten enough to keep yourself energized. If you try to keep to a strict diet while pulling an all-nighter you’re gonna have a bad time—you need more food than you’d usually have in a day, and it’s easier to eat things that are quick and cheap than to stress about being healthy.

The other reason you want to just eat whatever’s tasty and available is that as humans, we have a finite amount of willpower to apply towards any task at hand. Willpower lets us push through work we don’t enjoy, and resist tasty treats, but spending willpower on a diet leaves us with less to use towards studying and you don’t want to get into that bad situation. Don’t waste your mental energy resisting the bad food that you have easy access to; just eat it so you have the energy to focus on studying or finishing your project.

6. Have a buddy.

Having a buddy is the last and most crucial trick in getting away with an all-nighter. Staying up all night is lonely, and going at it alone can not only become boring but challenging as the night progresses. You’ll want to have someone to talk to, someone to get food with, someone to walk to new places with, and someone to make sure you didn’t pass out as you test your mental and physical limits by staying up all night.

Now don’t get me wrong. Pulling an all nighter is hard and you won’t have an awesome time doing it. But if you can follow these tips, you’ll mitigate a lot of the negatives and not have such a hard time the next day. Just don’t do it too often!

Featured photo credit: Sleepy, SXC via SXC

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Nat Eliason

Writer and Host of Nat Chat

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

16 Productivity Secrets of Highly Successful People Revealed

The same old motivational secrets don’t really motivate you after you’ve read them for the tenth time, do they?

How about a unique spin on things?

These 16 productivity secrets of successful people will make you reevaluate your approach to your home, work, and creative lives. Learn from these highly successful people, turn these little things they do into your daily habits and you’ll get closer to success.

1. Empty your mind.

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it?

Emptying your mind when you have so much to remember seems like you’re just begging to forget something. Instead, this gives you a clean slate so you’re not still thinking about last week’s tasks.

Clear your mind and then start thinking only about what you need to do immediately, and then today. Tasks that need to be accomplished later in the week can wait.

Here’s a guide to help you empty your mind and think sharper:

How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

2. Keep certain days clear.

Some companies are scheduling “No Meeting Wednesdays,” which means, funnily enough, that no one can hold a meeting on a Wednesday. This gives workers a full day to work on their own tasks, without getting sidetracked by other duties or pointless meetings.

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This can work in your personal life too, for example if you need to restrict Facebook access or limit phone calls.

3. Prioritize your work.

Don’t think every task is created equal! Some tasks aren’t as important as others, or might take less time.

Try to sort your tasks every day and see what can be done quickly and efficiently. Get these out of the way so you have more free time and brain power to focus on what is more important.

Lifehack’s CEO has a unique way to prioritize works, take a look at it here:

How to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster

4. Chop up your time.

Many successful business leaders chop their time up into fifteen-minute intervals. This means they work on tasks for a quarter of an hour at a time, or schedule meetings for only fifteen minutes. It makes each hour seem four times as long, which leads to more productivity!

5. Have a thinking position.

Truman Capote claimed he couldn’t think unless he was laying down. Proust did this as well, while Stravinsky would stand on his head!

What works for others may not work for you. Try to find a spot and position that is perfect for you to brainstorm or come up with ideas.

6. Pick three to five things you must do that day.

To Do lists can get overwhelming very quickly. Instead of making a never-ending list of everything you can think of that needs to be done, make daily lists that include just three to five things.

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Make sure they’re things that need to be done that day, so you don’t keep putting them off.

7. Don’t try to do too much.

OK, so I just told you to work every day, and now I’m telling you to not do too much? It might sound like conflicting advice, but not doing too much means not biting off more than you can chew. Don’t say yes to every work project or social engagement and find yourself in way over your head.

8. Have a daily action plan.

Don’t limit yourself to a to-do list! Take ten minutes every morning to map out a daily action plan. It’s a place to not only write what needs to be done that day, but also to prioritize what will bring the biggest reward, what will take the longest, and what goals will be accomplished.

Leave room for a “brain dump,” where you can scribble down anything else that’s on your mind.

9. Do your most dreaded project first.

Getting your most dreaded task over with first means you’ll have the rest of the day free for anything and everything else. This also means that you won’t be constantly putting off the worst of your projects, making it even harder to start on it later.

10. Follow the “Two-Minute Rule.”

The “Two-Minute Rule” was made famous by David Allen. It’s simple – if a new task comes in and it can be done in two minutes or less, do it right then. Putting it off just adds to your to-do list and will make the task seem more monumental later.

11. Have a place devoted to work.

If you work in an office, it’s no problem to say that your cubicle desk is where you work every day.

But if you work from home, make sure you have a certain area specifically for work. You don’t want files spread out all over the dinner table, and you don’t want to feel like you’re not working just because you’re relaxing on the couch.

Agatha Christie never wrote at her desk, she wrote wherever she could sit down. Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. Thomas Wolfe, at 6’6″ tall, used the top of his refrigerator as a desk. Richard Wright wrote on a park bench, rain or shine.

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Have a space where, when you go there, you know you’re going to work. Maybe it’s a cafe downstairs, the library, or a meeting room. Whenever and wherever works for you, do your works there.

12. Find your golden hour.

You don’t have to stick to a “typical” 9–5 schedule!

Novelist Anne Rice slept during the day and wrote at night to avoid distractions. Writer Jerzy Kosinski slept eight hours a day, but never all at once. He’d wake in the morning, work, sleep four hours in the afternoon, then work more that evening.

Your golden hour is the time when you’re at your peak. You’re alert, ready to be productive, and intent on crossing things off your to-do list.

Once you find your best time, protect it with all your might. Make sure you’re always free to do your best uninterrupted work at this time.

13. Pretend you’re on an airplane.

It might not be possible to lock everyone out of your office to get some peace and quiet, but you can eliminate some distractions.

By pretending you’re on an airplane, you can act like your internet access is limited, you’re not able to get something from your bookcase, and you can’t make countless phone calls.

Eliminating these distractions will help you focus on your most important tasks and get them done without interruption.

14. Never stop.

Writers Anthony Trollope and Henry James started writing their next books as soon as they finished their current work in progress.

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Stephen King writes every day of the year, and holds himself accountable for 2,000 words a day! Mark Twain wrote every day, and then read his day’s work aloud to his family to get their feedback.

There’s something to be said about working nonstop, and putting out continuous work instead of taking a break. It’s just a momentum that will push you go further./

15. Be in tune with your body.

Your mind and body will get tired of a task after ninety minutes to two hours focused on it. Keep this in mind as you assign projects to yourself throughout the day, and take breaks to ensure that you won’t get burned out.

16. Try different methods.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote the first drafts of his novels on index cards. This made it easy to rearrange sentences, paragraphs, and chapters by shuffling the cards around.

It does sound easier, and more fun, than copying and pasting in Word! Once Nabokov liked the arrangement, his wife typed them into a single manuscript.

Same for you, don’t give up and think that it’s impossible for you to be productive when one method fails. Try different methods until you find what works perfectly for you.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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