Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you’re behind. Maybe very behind. So behind that there’s a very good chance you’re going to lose this gig if you don’t get it done soon.

Let’s also say that you have ignored all sage advice to the contrary and have left this particular task until the last minute and now you don’t have enough time to get it done. Your only choice is to pull an all nighter. (Obviously we’re talking about you now and not me because I’ve never been in this situation in my life.)

(That was sarcasm.)


When I Googled the phrase “How To Pull An All Nighter” I got a lot of tips that sounded like absolute garbage to me, but when I talked to the resident test market, he said some of the stuff would really work well for him. This led me to a groundbreaking discovery. Maybe, just maybe, we humans aren’t all identical. Maybe different things work for different people. Maybe the reason all the advice you’ve been reading isn’t working is because the guy writing it wouldn’t know you if he woke up in bed beside you.

So how do YOU pull an all nighter and minimize the impact? Here is my patent-not-pending know-thyself method to doing it without being totally useless the next day.

Give yourself as much notice as you can.

Obviously, you’re not going to know a week in advance. But if 4 o’clock in the afternoon rolls around and you know there’s a good chance you’re going to have to work through the night, start preparing yourself as early as you can. Deciding to stay up all night sucks. It sucks even more if you make your decision at midnight.

Figure out if caffeine helps you or hurts you.

Some very smart people say not to use caffeine as a stimulant because it always precedes a crash. I’m sure there’s solid science to back that up, but I couldn’t do it without tea. I drink coffee in the day time, but if I have to stay up late or stay up all night, I drink several cups of tea. For a friend of mine, it’s chocolate. Chocolate wires him up like a monkey on speed, so that should be his drug of choice.

Eat lightly.

Keep yourself fed, but try and eat in small doses throughout the night. If you’re staying up, it’s because you need to focus and get something done. You can’t focus if you’re starving. You can’t stay up if you’re stuffed and sluggish. Eat lots of small snacks.

Front-end load your protein.

Carbohydrates are not your friend in this situation. They’ll make you sleepy now or they’ll make you sleepy later. Either way, not a good idea. I’m not saying you have to go all Atkins on me, but try to keep your snacks protein heavy. Yogurt, nuts, berries, and veggies are all good choices.

Get good light.

By good light, I mean good for you. Some people do the obvious, which is light up their office like a Christmas tree to eliminate any associations with sleep. For me, dimmer light works a little better because I associate the time when everyone’s in bed with productivity. I use a lamp and candles.

Think about noise.

If I’m working I usually prefer silence, but I can sometimes handle music that’s instrumental or not in English. I get too distracted otherwise. (Andrea Bocelli works for me, but that’s largely because Andrea Bocelli and I are sleeping together. Shh.) Some like a lot of classical. The sound of my mother’s computer puts her to sleep, so she has to figure that into the equation. I know some people react well to music with a strong or jagged beat so they don’t get lulled into sleeping. I hear hiphop is good for this. You’ll probably want to stay away from anything too calming like jazz or ambient since their whole purpose in life is to relax you.

Think about naps.

An entire profession of doctors operate very effectively taking cat naps throughout the night. I happen to know that if one gentleman I know took a catnap, he wouldn’t get up for three days. Think about yourself in this situation – are you the type of person who wakes up from a nap refreshed, or do you get disoriented and stupid? Listen to your experience.

Ideally, you’d have thought about all of these things before you found yourself in this situation. (Well, ideally you wouldn’t be in this situation, but you’re the one who sat on your ass watching CSI reruns all day yesterday and didn’t get a damn thing done.) However, no matter how much of a time crunch you’re in, taking half an hour or so to mess around with your environment at the beginning of the night can dramatically increase your productivity later.

Play with your light, your music, your food and see what keeps you up. Bear in mind, whatever it is that gets you going in the day will probably get you going at night too, so consider employing some of your daytime tactics as well.

I don’t know how long you’ve been on this Earth, but it’s probably been at least seventeen years. In that long or longer, you’ve figured out what circumstances are most conducive to you getting things done. Each specific trick isn’t going to work for everyone, but figure out what works for you instead of just going by what you read in some blog once.

In completely unrelated news, this little blog went live two weeks ago today. Thank you for your support and your emails and your comments and your Stumbles. Today we came in over 1500 pageviews, which is pretty exciting for a blog so young that if it was a kitten, it’d barely have its eyes open. Thank you very, very much. I’m grateful.

Originally published October 17, 2007.


13 Comments on Time Management: How To Pull An All Nighter

  1. Asako Tsumagari
    October 18, 2007 at 12:07 am (9 years ago)

    Hello Naomi,

    Congratulations on 1500 page views! I am enjoying your posts, as a colleague entrepreneur.

    Pulling all nighters… wow, I have not done so since my graduate school days…

    I was quite an expert of this at that time. For me, grazing throughout the night definitely worked well.

    Another thing that worked is to know when is the peak of sleepiness, and manage that time through. Mostly around 2 am I get really sleepy, then, I wake up well. But then, around 5am, I get really sleepy. If I survive until 6am or so, then, I wake up again.

    So I had to make sure that I do something different during that time zone, that excites me better. For example, work on graphics, instead of texts, or do spread sheet instead of reading, etc.

    Anyway, I am glad that I do not have to do so anymore… Nowadays, I learned just to say “man ana”.

  2. Mason Hipp
    October 18, 2007 at 9:14 am (9 years ago)

    Great post, and congrats on 1500 pageviews. That’s excellent for your first two weeks.

    Personally, I find myself mentally and physically unable to pull an all-nighter.

    I’m the type of person that caffeine has absolutely no effect on, so that doesn’t help (3 cups of coffee and I’ll still sleep like that kitten you were talking about).

    Anyhow, my preference is to pull an all-morning-er. if I really need to get work done, I’m best off going to sleep ASAP and getting up around 3am. Then I have many hours of incredible productivity and can finish projects.

    Like you said, figure out what works and go with it.

  3. Chris Cagle
    October 18, 2007 at 9:15 am (9 years ago)

    I haven’t had to pull an all nighter yet, but I think it will be just around the corner for me…

    I am with you. Dim light at night makes me productive because I know the little monster Elise (meant lovingly) is sleeping until 6 or so the next morning. It’s pretty much the only time I have to get any work done…

  4. Chuck
    October 18, 2007 at 10:38 am (9 years ago)

    And you have sailed past me in terms of traffic!

  5. Susan
    October 18, 2007 at 10:00 pm (9 years ago)


    1500 views is just your start my friend. Hopefully in the next few months I’ll be able to tell you I finally reached this milestone, too. :)

  6. Naomi Dunford
    October 18, 2007 at 10:59 pm (9 years ago)

    @ Asako – Thanks for stopping by! I like your tip about breaking things up – I think the brain is less likely to stagnate that way. :)

    @ Mason – That’s a freaking brilliant idea! Probably much more effective than trying to prop your eyes open at 2 am. Plus, you’re that much closer to seeing the sun come up, which has major psychological benefits.

    @ Chris – Get used to it. People are going to be beating down your door.

    @ Chuck – You’re steps away from taking over the world and you know it as well as I do.

    @ Susan – We need to find a kitten smiley. And I hear you just hired a great web designer. :)

  7. Carla
    October 19, 2007 at 2:21 am (9 years ago)

    Hi Naomi,

    Great article!

    I’ve been trying to stay away from all nighters. If I work on something after midnight, I usually make an error that takes me twice as long to fix.

  8. Naomi Dunford
    October 19, 2007 at 2:24 pm (9 years ago)

    Hi Carla, thanks for coming! I agree – all nighters are generally a Very Bad Idea. If they can be avoided, so much the better. The last thing you need is to do something totally asinine and then realize it in the cold light of day, after clicking “Reply All”. Not that I’d know anything about that. :)

  9. cat
    October 22, 2007 at 11:58 pm (9 years ago)

    When I started out in the design business I didn’t tell my clients no and often worked through the night when they just had to have their project in the am.

    As a newbie to the industry, there were nights and weekends without a break. Months went by with no weekends off.

    I was a wreck.

    Later on I learned “no” worked rather well.

    As did, “so, how much are you willing to pay for your lack of planning?”

    But, if I had to pull an all nighter due to my own snafu, I know where to come for advice. Your excellent article.

  10. Naomi Dunford
    October 23, 2007 at 9:48 am (9 years ago)

    Hi Cat – thanks for stopping by the blog. I like your statement about their lack of planning. I also like the one Jamie read on a sign somewhere (a government office, maybe?):

    “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

    It’s great to see you – make yourself at home!

  11. Jamie
    October 27, 2007 at 3:49 am (9 years ago)

    @ Mason – Death to all morning people! I’m definitely not a morning person, but I absolutely agree with you- find the time that works best for you and make the most of it. Even if that time is for some obscene reason 3 a.m. …

    @ Cat – You make a really good point. Saying “no” has got to be one of the hardest things to do as a small business owner, but oh so necessary!

  12. WAH(web)Mommy
    January 8, 2008 at 5:28 pm (9 years ago)

    Naomi, I read this post last week, and although I didn’t need to do an all nighter, I wanted to test your theory on caffeine. I’ve had my suspicions, but never really paid attention to it, lol.

    I don’t tend to drink a lot of caffeine. I’ll have some if I’m exhausted from time to time… but I just realized this weekend, that I’m one of those people who get a massive crash afterwards! Like, big time! I end up being 10 times more exhausted shortly after drinking a cup of coffee or a Volt or something. So, looks like caffeine does more harm to me than good.

    Ooh, and maybe I shouldn’t admit this here, but and I’m one of those morning people. Well, I’m NOT… I HATE getting up in the morning. But I find I’m most productive in the early morning hours when everyone else is still sleeping. I’m one of those people who get more done by 9am than other people do all day, lol.

    Except that I’m about ready to keel over mid-afternoon, til I get a second wind sometime after dinner. I’m fairly productive then, too… somewhat…

  13. Naomi Dunford
    January 8, 2008 at 10:00 pm (9 years ago)

    WAH(web)Mommy – I notice that caffeine doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. But re: mornings? Absolutely. I’m by far the most functional in the mornings. The problem is, I’m usually up till three in the morning and not even awake to take advantage of that productivity. :)