I’ve never pulled a work-related all-nighter.
I went my entire academic career never cramming for a test, or staying up until 3 am to finish a paper. I don’t personally know the feeling of seeing the sun gently creep above the horizon as I work, frantically, to finish a project.
Now, part of that can be put down to the fact that (at the risk of sounding cocky) I have cultivated decent time management skills. It’s also based on the fact that I have a very clearly defined sense of when, where, and how I am most functional.
When it comes to working at night (and especially if it involves extensive research, writing, or critical thought—all things that both my work and my university experience demanded of me in spades) I am essentially useless. Once 7 pm hits, I am no longer capable of producing good quality work. Evenings, for me, are for socializing, errands, Netflix, a glass of wine—you get the idea.
Though I could choose to power through, I prefer to take a different approach. Instead of forcing myself to do work in a context in which I know my output will be inferior, I make an effort to work with what I know suits my work preferences. This brings us to the idea of the “user manual.”
Creating your own “user manual”
The longer we spend working (whether that be at school, at our jobs, starting our businesses, or on pet projects), the more evident it becomes that we have certain times of day and environments that encourage us to do our best work.
You might have discovered that you prefer to do emails in the morning over coffee (or they just won’t get done), that the Pomodoro technique really helps you focus on projects, or that you do your best creative work while listening to a classical radio station with noise canceling headphones.
Rather than simply letting this information float around in your mind and disappear just as quickly, consider honing in on it.
Spend some time determining where you work best, what time of day you get the most done, and what atmosphere you require to be as productive, creative, and efficient as possible. What systems need to be put in place to help maximize your output? How can you optimize your environment, lifestyle, and surroundings to get the best possible out of yourself?
In essence, you’re creating what I’ll be referring to in this article as your own personal user manual.
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