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Stay up late while you can. It pays off (aiga.org)
152 points by yarapavan on Oct 17, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments

For all those in their early 20's who are reading this - you should know one thing. Nature has blessed you with the ability to stay up late and still get things done the next day.

Most people in their twenties abuse this skill and go out partying all night. I know I did a lot of that.

The reason you have this skill is because it's designed for child-rearing in your 20's. That's my hypothesis. People with children don't get much sleep.

So either use this skill to push your career/skills forward, or use it to raise small children while you're still young. Either way will leave you better off. If you push hard to make some money, and then have kids, maybe you won't need to work 9-5 when you do have kids. If you have your kids early, then you'll have the time and energy to put into your work when you're a bit older, because your kids won't be draining your energy.

The sub optimal solution is to have your kids later on, at the same time you realise you need to work hard to push ahead. That's doubly taxing and twice as hard.

It's a weird thing though ... now that I'm 35 I definitely can't bang out work until 3am like I used to 10 years ago. On the other hand, I have significantly more knowledge and better methods than I did then.

It's a bit unfair.

Youth is wasted on the young - my new favourite saying.

Somehow a young person has to work out a way to hack the process, by gaining wisdom and maturity before their youth has run out, and apply it successfully. (and, to be fair, 35 is still young). To be more correct, someone in their 20's need to work out how to think like someone in their 30's or 40's, before they turn 30. Young people who do that are going to be successful, no doubt. The big problem is that a 20 year old has to listen to, and accept advice from, a 40 year, something many have problems with.

Getting the young to have the experiences of the older and wiser is never going to happen. It is more productive to retain or regain whatever you consider the value of being young into old age. Personally, except for some aches and pains in my joints, I haven't noticed any real decrease in any of my abilities as I have gotten older.

I'm 49 and I have less trouble staying up late or even working around the clock than I did in my twenties. I think a lot of the age-related difference is just opportunity and desire. Do to a combination of traveling and working in April of 2005, it happened that I ended up staying awake for 40 hours, I was a bit flaky by the time I got to sleep it out, but could have stayed up longer if I had needed to.

I'm the same way. I didn't stay up late much in college, but I'm up far later than I should be now getting side projects done.

I'm the same... I'm 29 and have a new-born, I really struggle to make it through the day without a nap these days.

When I was 22, I could easily get up at 8am, and work till 4am five days a week, then go out and hammer it at night clubs until the wee hours at the weekend with a bit of a rest on Sunday.

Now I'm lucky, if I can stay away until 11pm.

I can bang out work much faster, more professionally and downright efficiently than I ever could at 20. I'm 39 and I can, and do, run rings around kids right out of college.

I always have an answer for people who try to act like putting in long hours makes them a better employee, or more dedicated, "if you can't get your work done, give it to me and I'll do it, and still leave on time every day. Then they can cut your salary and give half of it to me."

In my early 20s and "nature" has definitely not blessed me with any productive hours of energy to forgo sleep. I attribute it all to caffeine, D3+Calcium, B12, and being in an environment where its socially normal to be heading to a coffee shop at 11:30pm or library at 1am.

No caffeine\supplements (2-4 weeks off to account for any withdrawal effects) or knowing friends who are also up late, I default to 10 hours of sleep and am also less productive.

[If you want to live an Erdos lifestyle, I imagine you can maintain late night productivity very late in life with only slight, completely-unavoidable age related decline. While this lifestyle is socially expected of college age students or the norm, it's socially discouraged and deviant for older Americans ... I think social causations should be slightly more heavily weighted than an age based causations]

You think you need a lot of sleep now. I've got news for you : it's going to get worse as you get older. Everyone has different sleep needs - but it's pretty much a given that you'll need more of it the older you get.

There are no obnoxious ads on the site (no ads at all that I saw). There is no obnoxious Flash or scripts. No weird color schemes. No animations. Nothing objectionable at all that I could see, even to the most sensitive person.

So why did the submitter link to the print page, which for many of us will bring up a print dialog that we then have to dismiss, instead of linking to the main article page?

Well one advantage the print view has is that it's at least centered, whereas the normal view is off to the left. Though this only makes a difference on higher resolution screens and it isn't enough of an issue to outweigh everyone having to dismiss a print dialog / deny ad impressions, in my opinion.

On the contrary, the print view has longer lines, which makes it harder to read on a widescreen display.

A while back I worked for a company that didn't care about the schedule I worked so long as the work got done. Eventually I was rolling in around 11am to noon and leaving around 9-11pm. Having that place to myself in the evening was bliss. Also sleeping on my natural sleep schedule (3am to 10am) greatly increased productivity.

Sadly they refused to switch me to salary (I was hourly & quick at my job & actually had to underperform & work slowly to keep my paycheck decent) so I finally quit. The best feeling in the world was when they had to hire 2 hourly replacements to do my job.

Moral: If someone is good at their job & is a happy, trusted and efficient employee, value them and treat them accordingly. If their job is not 9-5 critical, let them work the schedule when they are the most productive.

What he really means is work on your craft. Staying up late has nothing to do with it.

The advantage to staying up late is that you can focus on what you want to do, rather than having to work for someone else. Being in the office alone can be incredibly productive, I find it a lot better than being at home alone. I used to do a similar thing, go into the office on weekends and stay late at night, to work on my own projects. I started my own business that way.

Not to be a hater here, but I believe by working at the office on work computers, your job might be able to claim the rights to your business. I'd be careful with that one.

Not might, they can. Don't work on non-work projects on work computers.

I think it's a matter of a lack of distractions. The wife is asleep, and the coworkers are gone.

In other words, get your 10,000 hours of practice in in half the calendar time. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_%28book%29

Wow, this line just triggered a memory for me:

I played music really loud and drank Mountain Dew

As an undergrad I briefly had a job in a warehouse somewhere working the midnight shift. I don't remember who I was working for; I'd actually forgotten the whole thing. But reading that line about working late at night brought back a sudden rush of how fun it was. There were two or three guys and we cranked up Brave New Waves (a reliable source for what became known as indie rock) and in between getting the work done played tricks with the fork lifts.

This was not to become my craft, though. Maybe I missed a calling.

Longfellow put it well:

"The heights of great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night."

This doesn't really seem to counsel staying up late, as much as it counsels working while your spouse is asleep. It could just as easily be really early in the morning (which was my method at one point in life).

Likewise. I've never been good at staying up late, but I wake up at 4am everyday for about 3 hours of uninterrupted work time.

More accurately it suggests to live close to work and work while your spouse commutes :) (in the beginning of the post he explains how he had extra time because he didn't have to commute).

Something he doesn't touch on, but it's one reason I am willing to work on Saturdays: When the office is mostly empty, it's quiet and you are more productive.

For me it's not just quiet that helps. It's that doing things on my own time makes me much more relaxed about how I do it - want refactor that bit of code that works ok but you know it's ugly as hell? Want to try YUI3 when your whole site is written with YUI2 and you've got no great reason to upgrade? Want to redo that button with a background image that isn't quite antialiased properly? There are a whole slew of things that I just can't justify from a business point of view, but that have huge potential in terms of personal payoff. But once I'm on my own time I can sit down and try them out. Those that work out I take with confidence into businesss hours, those that don't are just a little self-development time.

Before anyone mentions it, I am somewhat internally conflicted in the sense that this kind of stuff should be built into the "on the clock" time. But it is how it is.

NB: the sad thing is - what he says about kids is absolutely true. With 2 kids now, even when I do get a little time to myself it is still laced with some guilt that I could be spending that with my family. And if I do put extra hours into to work it affects the whole family. So work stress translates directly to family stress.

There are two things my dad has always told me. 1) "Always make sure you get paid" and 2) "Work hard when you're young, you can handle staying up late"

I'm somehow in the same situation Michael was in the 80s. I'm young, my couple has to wake up at 6 and I can stay in bed easily till 8. I've been trying to be productive in my personal projects (programming) either at night, after she goes to bed, or starting up very early at 6... but I haven't been able so far.

At night I'm brain-dead after the whole day programming at the office. On the other hand, in the morning I need at least 30 min to really wake up and start thinking correctly in front of the computer and that doesn't leave much time to do almost anything before going to work.

Anyone with a good advice?

Hmm, you can try this submission if you haven't seen it - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1041820. Check out the comments for it, too, since there are a lot of suggestions to use it to get started in the morning.

Having a nap after work before continuing, and then continuing may help.

Or have you tried going to bed really early and getting up much earlier?

Never tried to have a nap before continuing, although now that I read you it sounds like a natural thing to try. Thanks.

Good luck! And keep in mind that napping is a skill to practice. Don't despair if you can't fall asleep within a few minutes the first few times you try it.

I would be interested to read a good paper about how sleep patterns changing with age.

I also wonder about how waking hours not only shifts as we grow old, but I wonder if life-span has been tracked and analyzed in terms of waking hours.

For all my career, I've worked late. When running my own business or consulting, I tended to have a 3 or 4 am bedtime.

This fall my daughter started school. I have to be up at 6:00 AM in order to get the day started and drop her off for classes.

This has completely changed my sleep patterns, and thus my work patterns. Feels like it takes a lot longer to get anything done. So I definitely agree that you should take advantage of late nights while you can.

I spent several years in an industry where we'd have call time at 6 or 6:30am, which meant a 5am wakeup. I am a night owl so needless to say it sucked. By the weekend all I'd want to do was sleep. The thing is, between shows my body clock would revert right back to the old 3am bedtime schedule.

Isn't it amazing how you can get the same number of hours of sleep but if it isn't on the schedule you naturally prefer it can feel less refreshing?

It's been the other way round for me. Having a kid has made me work harder and I now work mostly through the night. I initially stayed up all night so Mom could maintain her full night's sleep but even though Baby is now sleeping well, I'm still working all night and "handing over" at about 6-7am :-) So I get more work time and having another mouth to feed focuses the mind just a little more..

I have seen several. There is little to no change reported in most as a direct result of age. Most of the changes reported are the result of families and jobs.

Psh, everyone at my school thinks it's crazy that I stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. That's when all of my best work gets done.

The issue for me isn't so much about working till late at night, but the fact that I cannot wake up in time for my engagements for the next day.

Anyone solved that problem?

Wake up real early and work from late at night.

Michael Bierut has a funny slide he uses in his presentations, in which he notes that his name is not spelled "Beirut" (like the city in Lebanon).

Plan your career so that you can retire by 40.

I love that this is on HN from AIGA. Advertising industry is more brutal than tech startups... you kill yourself working on client demands, not your own products.

So if you're hiring a front-web developer and their past history includes a reputable ad agency, you're likely going to have a good candidate for early-stage startup.

you work hard and it pays off, it's amazing how many people forget that.

This article recommends working an extra shift at the office for free and creating an expectation with your boss that you can do twice the work everyone else can do in the same amount of time.

My recommendation would be the opposite. Carefully manage expectations and pace yourself if you want (a) to ensure your longevity as a tech worker, (b) to avoid serious health problems and (c) to avoid later regretting missing out on the valuable social and emotional opportunities of your youth.

You can develop your skills in your twenties without creating unfortunate imbalances.

You make a great point, however, I don't think that was the point of the article.

I saw the lesson emerge in this sentence: "The more work I did, the faster I got, and the better I got."

He illustrates: "I loved working late at night. I worked on office stuff, and I worked on personal projects. . . invitations for my friends' parties, packaging for mix tapes, one-of-a-kind birthday cards, and freebies for non-profits."

I saw the point as when you're young, and you're passionate find the extra time to practice and hone your skills.

That extra time can pay huge dividends to your career in the long term, and that time is harder and harder to find as you get older.

College and youth time is a good place to use your seemly unlimited energy to start building a business that allow you some leeways and free times later in your career.

24 thousand dollars a year with very little work each week is pure gold.

You'll never have your back strapped to the wall and you can do whatever you want.

A little confused about your mention of 24 thousand dollars a year. Are you saying one should build a business while they're still young so that they can eventually achieve $24k/yr income? At first, I assumed you meant this income would supplement other forms of income later in life, but then you said "you can do whatever you want" so now I think you meant it would be your only obligation...

Please elaborate?

I think he means that a side-business making $24k/year without daily supervision will give you a comfortable a comfortable safety net outside of your primary income.

My recommendation would be the opposite. Carefully manage expectations and pace yourself if you want (a) to ensure your longevity as a tech worker, (b) to avoid serious health problems and (c) to avoid later regretting missing out on the valuable social and emotional opportunities of your youth.

Sure, I can see how that would work for perhaps even most people but it's different strokes for different folks. Ultimately, people need to make their own minds up because it doesn't always work one way or the other.

I regret not working a lot harder in my early 20s and haven't ultimately derived much value from the "valuable social and emotional opportunities of [my] youth." Indeed, working harder and more deliberately has led to better social and "emotional" opportunities. It's hard to "regret" the past significantly considering I'm happy now but if I could go back and wipe most of my memory, I'd work my ass off 100x as hard at that stage of life.

Strongly agree. One of these days I want to write a manifesto against "work-life balance". Yeah, you heard me: against. "Balance" implies a tradeoff. Work, when you have the right work, is life.

That's not to say there's no such thing as overwork, spending too little time with your family or what have you. But it's time someone stood up to the prophets of complacency.

As you allude to, work-life balance is something we tend to need if we aren't able to make our work something we believe in wholly. I spent the past year hoping to trade my day job for my dream job, but I think I've come to the conclusion that at least for me, the only way I'll ever find it is to make that job myself. It's liberating and daunting.

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