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Balancing Learning, Life and Stress: Navigating the Coding Bootcamp Experience

"The problem with the future is that it keeps turning into the present." - Bill Watterson

As a first-time blogger trying to come up with a topic to write about for my coding boot camp, the first topic that immediately comes to mind is time and stress management. Why? If you’re anything like me, it’s the first thing that will take you by surprise.

In a coding bootcamp, you might often think to yourself, "When did time start going by so fast?" One hour, you're getting up, shuffling out of bed, preparing coffee, and the next, it’s dark outside. Your roommates or parents, with whom you may be living, are coming back from their jobs, and there you are, doing stand down already - with cold, stale coffee from the morning at hand, thinking to yourself, "Wasn’t it just 11 in the morning only an hour ago, and now it’s 6 pm? My gosh, what did I do in those hours? Am I going to remember everything I did? Shoot! What were everyone's names that I met today? Oh no! Panic - Anxiety - Dread..."

Well, the first thing I would say here - take a breather. You need one, and you’ve sure earned it, friend. There’s no drill sergeant breathing down your neck, and nothing dreadful is going on anywhere else that isn’t inside your mind at this moment.

Drill Seargent giving orders

It is an intensive bootcamp, after all. This is what you signed up for, but you also didn’t sign away your mental stability - or maybe you did, but I think you’ll find the answer to that question later down the road. Regardless, take a breather, take in some fresh air, and remember to feed your cats or dog, maybe even yourself. Go out and remember there is life outside the bootcamp. Maybe take a bath or shower and destress your mind to get ready for the next couple of hours of studying. And really commit and understand that you will be studying.

However, especially in the beginning, don’t make the initial mistake I did and get lost in this time of taking a break. It’s very tempting to go and step away from the labs for a very long time, or to take naps that end up being full-blown sleeping, only to repeat the same process from the second paragraph. Thirty minutes can become multiple 3-hour increments of sleep very quickly, so make sure you have your alarms set if you do decide to take a nap. If you’re a heavy sleeper, maybe set up a couple.

Fry from Futurama unsure of whether or not he heard his alarm or turned it off in his sleep

But, another thing I would recommend, especially very early on, is to create a purposeful schedule. Begin this before the first day of class and, if I could go back in time, I would have gotten a head start on the daily labs so I could always be one day ahead of the labs that are supposed to be finished that day. The good thing about my bootcamp is that they highlight labs you should be doing and place extra emphasis on labs that should be looked at a little more closely than others.

While writing out your time management schedule, take into consideration every hour of your day, and commit at a minimum to completing the highlighted labs and reviewing them as best as you can for that day's daily labs, and if possible, prepare and look over and begin on the next day's daily labs, if you haven’t already gotten a head start, but only if your time allows.

After this, you'll step into the real world to showcase what you've learned and achieved, especially to yourself and perhaps to anyone who knows you were in a bootcamp. So my advice, for these however many weeks you have in bootcamp, make it a point to give it your all and try to manage your time effectively, as it’s the only thing that's truly yours to help you succeed.

Set a schedule for taking breaks at fixed hours. I like Cal Newport's method of doing deep work for a set amount of time, and then taking a break.

Setting a schedule for breaks using Cal Newport's method isn't just about discipline; it's about self-care. Remember, working non-stop can lead to burnout. Try to mitigate this by knowing how your time will be spent and how you want to unwind afterward.

Comedic comic strip of someone who experienced burnout so bad they literally burned out

Weekends are great for this. Create a schedule for them too, and review the highlighted labs of the week. My preferred method of studying on weekends involves going through 2.5-hour sessions, followed by a 30-minute break, for three sessions throughout the day. Then, I engage in an activity completely unrelated to coding to decompress. Often, this helps me retain what I've learned when I return to it later in the night.

Embracing this journey in a coding bootcamp is more than learning to code; it's about learning to manage your life under a new set of intense circumstances. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in this process. Your cohort will likely express similar feelings and frustrations. Learn from their mistakes as much as they will learn from yours. Even though it's a cohort, it often feels like you're in a team.

In summary, get a hold of your time to better grasp your success. There are many factors at play in bootcamp beyond just coding. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect your mental stability and head straight for burnout. As long as you can manage your stress and plan your time during these intensive weeks, you'll be on a better track to understanding the material and succeeding in your new coding journey!

Gatsby toasting

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