It’s a skill most of us learn during college that often dissipates when we start working from home: Pulling an all-nighter. As a youthful student cramming for finals, staying up all night is as easy as popping some No-Doz (do they still make that anymore?), hitting the books, and holding onto a 10 gig hard drive-worth of information until about one second after turning in a test. Not anymore.
Once you hit the age of 25, if you use the same guerrilla techniques, burning the midnight oil at your kitchen table or home office means that you’re going to spend the next day or two in absolute misery. Here’s how to cram for a project or presentation without nuking your body in the process.
Disclosure: The tricks you learn here are not going to save you from feeling crappy the next day. You’re an adult now with an adult body. Them’s the breaks. This is about minimizing how bad you’ll feel after the cramming session.
Ah, yes. Sleep. Once you start your all-nighter, you probably won’t see a lot of it. However, if you get fair warning that you’re going to end up working all night (you’re coming back from vacation, you procrastinated, etc.), get some good, quality sleep before your session. The unexpected stuff you can’t do anything about – you’re just going to have to run and gun it. If you know that you’re going to have to cram on a certain day, pre-sleep is going to be a huge help.
Make any and all soft surfaces treacherous and unappealing
When you work from home and your eyes begin to droop, your bed, favorite chair or couch is going to cry out to you like a beautiful siren on the rocks. Resist that call! Instead, cover your usual resting spots with lots of random things like books, pots and pans, even old electronics. You’ll want to make it to where lying down will cause injury (I’m serious), or moving stuff out of the way will result in a huge crash of junk, a massive, loud avalanche of epic proportions. Laundry is a no-go as you will probably just push it out of the way. Stick with stuff that just doesn’t belong on your couch or bed.
Use caffeine, but double down on water
There are tons of articles out there that will tell you to avoid caffeine and drink stuff like plain water or juice during your cramming session. Those articles are written by college students – you’re going to need the hard stuff to make it through the night. I’m personally a disciple of The Church of 5-Hour Energy, but coffee, Diet Coke or Mountain Dew works as well. The key to using caffeine and staying alert is hydration. In other words, if you drink a soda, drink twice the amount of water. If you throw back a 5-Hour, drink lots of water. If you down one of those ginormous green cans of Monster Energy, drink a huge amount of water. Water will be a big component of keeping your body refreshed, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of staying awake.
Light up your workspace
Remember this simple fact: The darker the room, the easiest it is going to be to nod off. Your cram isn’t going to be like a movie montage, where the actors huddle around a single, 1-watt gooseneck lamp and binge on Chinese Takeout. You’re going to have to light up your work area to stay up. Get a couple of bright lamps. Turn on your overheads. You don’t want the light to cover just one or two small spots on your desk, place your lamps strategically so they illuminate the entire room. There’s a reason why Black Ops teams use bright lights to harass people who are being interrogated – it keeps suspects awake whether they like it or not.
Ride the snack train
At some point in time, when you’re halfway through your coding or presentation material binge, you’re going to get hungry. Knowing that Frankie’s Pizza and Great Wok of China is just a phone call away isn’t going to help. The key is to keep up some snack momentum. Buy a combo of healthy and carb-y stuff – apples and peanut butter pretzels, finger sandwiches and pizza pockets. Don’t stop and slam down a lot of food, graze. Snack throughout the night. This will not only give your body energy, but keep you up (you need to be awake to chew, right?).
Once you’ve finished that code, written those pages or pieced together that multi-media presentation, you’ll get the reward that you’ve been waiting for: rest. If you still can’t sleep when you finally get the chance to do so, just go online, read the latest city council agenda, and I promise you’ll be out – like a dim light – in no time.
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