Don’t pull all nighters, say 37signals founders

I have a bad habit of not sleeping. Anyone who has ever worked on anything with me knows this.

That ends today thanks to Jason Fried and David Heinemeier. We’ll get to that in a sec.

But first, some background.

I used to pull nighters out of necessity. In college, I took 20 units every 10 weeks, worked as the online editor of the Mustang Daily, a 20 hour/week job as a graphic designer, interspersed with side projects like interning for CICM, contract designing with Spot.Us, freelancing for Stomping Ground Media, blah blah blah, etc. etc. Moving on.

My point: I would not have survived had I not pulled a few all nighters a week. (Caveat: for me, survival means being above average, better than mediocre. It means getting As, not Cs. But that’s besides the point).

Once you make a habit of that kind of workflow it’s hard to break. And I’ve figured out why: Sleeping now feels like slacking. Getting a full night’s sleep feels like I’m missing out on valuable work hours.

Fast forward

I’ve now been a college graduate for 168 days (that’s almost 6 months, sheesh). I’m no longer juggling six different things. I’m pouring my heart and soul into one job. I have no reason — aside from the occasional startup craziness — to pull multiple all nighters a week.

So why do I continue to do it? Out of habit. After years of bad sleeping patterns, I know I can squeeze at least 5-6 more hours of productive time out of my day, why waste it sleeping? I know my body can handle it.

But that’s an extremely naive viewpoint. Less sleep isn’t more productive. I know it’s obvious, but like a drug addict or something, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I am still productive (despite cautionary tales and interventions from colleagues and friends).

Enter: Jason Fried and his damn compelling logic

I’ve been listening to Rework, the book by 37Signals’ founders. (I’m listening to the book on audio to maximize productivity. Actually reading the book would not allow for multitasking. Maybe that ‘s the next bad habit to break).

The authors basically made me feel like a complete dumbass for ever pulling an all nighter post college. And they’re totally right. I’ve been enlightened. In summary:

  • Quitting isn’t failing. If a task takes you longer than expected (thus forcing you to convince yourself its worth staying up all night), walk away before you waste more time.
  • You’re not a better employee if you work 10x as long; you’re more valuable if you use your creativity to come up with solutions that require 1/10 of the effort. You can’t come up with those kinds of solutions if you haven’t slept.
  • “People develop a masochistic sense of honor about sleep deprivation.” Guilty!
  • Our culture celebrates workaholics, but we shouldn’t. Workaholics try to “fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them.”
  • This part hurt most: “They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.”
  • “Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done, it just means you work more.”
  • If all you do is work, you’re not going to have sound judgements. Your values and decision making wind up skewed. You are no longer able to tell what’s worth the effort and what’s not.

So, I’m done being a hero. I’m going to start being more creative about how I can accomplish tasks efficiently. I’ll probably still pull all nighters when necessary, but no longer as a bad habit.

If you see me tweeting at 4 a.m. PST, feel free to call me out. And buy this book now, I insist.

7 thoughts on “Don’t pull all nighters, say 37signals founders

  1. It’s a great book, although it gets repetitive if you’ve ever read Getting Real before, the ‘beta’ version of ReWork if you will.

    I know the feeling, by the way. I guard my sleep more than anything, but sometimes get an unexpected pang of guilt when it’s 11 p.m. on a Saturday and I’m not at work anymore, and I feel weird about the whole concept of holidays. But reading Seth Godin’s remark that “you only need one juicy success to build a career.” pushed me towards singletasking, and that has been my first step towards weaning off the habit. I’ll get there!

    Anyhow, good luck and enjoy those precious hours of sleep!

  2. So glad to read this. Unless you are doing open heart surgery, there is no reason to sacrifice your long term health for your work.

  3. Yeah, I’m guilty. But I’ve been consciously trying to get more sleep lately, and it seems to help my productivity too. Good luck, lauren.

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  6. How do you fix you’re sleep schedule mind can’t get back on track. And my doctor just gives me sleeping or anxiety pills but it hasn’t helped me. I have don’t the natural remedies. So ended up having to discuss pills. But nothing has worked. Any thoughts????

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