My editor at Penguin just sent me a new book she worked on called The 24-Hour Genius: Unlocking Your Brain’s Potential with Strategic All-Nighters, by Eric Epstein. The title and the cover of the book are very effective in that I understood the central premise as soon as I picked it up. And I immediately thought: “oh no they didn’t.”
How can this be good advice?
I have never pulled an all-nighter. Yes, you read that correctly. Never. Not in high school, not in college, and certainly not at work. The closest I came was working the press room at an annual tech user conference until 3AM, after which I sped back to the hotel and promptly slept five hours.
Because I’m pathologically organized and an extreme advance planner, I’ve never had to stay up all night to finish a project or meet a deadline. And until reading Epstein’s book, it never occurred to me that I should choose to. Epstein doesn’t advocate a lifetime of sleep deprivation, but he does suggest that a strategically timed all-nighter every now and then can lift your career to new heights.
His point of view, in a nutshell.
“In the past, pulling an all-nighter was called burning the candle at both ends and was held in high esteem as signifying a sound work ethic. It was known as a habit of hardworking, highly accomplished individuals such as Edison. Such practitioners of this technique knew that all-nighters can ultimately save you time. They understood that all-nighters can mean the difference between just making it, and making the record books.
When you scratch the surface of great, real-world success stories, you more often than not find that the key turning point came during a night spent not dreaming, but actively pursuing a goal or a dream. Despite what the critics say, such stories are not myth or exaggeration. They are not about failure. They are about achievement. Such experiences, which have been dismissed as tall tales, legends, or hyperbole, are actually the backstories behind Fortune 500 companies, famous works of art and literature, and extraordinary acts of courage and heroism (from Washington’s crossing of the Delaware to the Apollo 13 mission).
Such men and women may have been seen as weird or eccentric for taking their dedication to their work to such extremes. But, against all odds, they did what others considered impossible. And they knew that, in the big picture, they weren’t working harder. They were working smarter by means of intense, efficient periods of focused concentration. You give up a day, yes, but you gain it back with interest.
If work is a competitive marathon, these are the sprints that top runners use to break away from the pack. While your peers are heading home because it’s five o’clock, you’re speeding to the finish line. You’re arriving with time to spare. And then you’re setting a new finish line for yourself.”
Okay, I sort of get it.
I have to hand it to Epstein. It’s rare that someone publishes a book with an argument I haven’t heard before. And I do see his point about unlocking your creativity after hours. I guess I’m just concerned that ambitious professionals will take this too far, thinking that they regularly have to work all night in order to stay marketable, and I just don’t believe this is true. In this case, more is definitely not better.