Five things that helped me through coding bootcamp

A couple months back, I saddled back up and enrolled in a 12-week full-stack web development bootcamp. Today, I’m in the middle of week nine: busier than I can ever remember, overloading my brain every day, and loving every minute of it.

That said, pushing yourself to the limit for months at a time can lead to burnout. Here are five things that have helped me along the way:

1. Have an organizational system

You will be bombarded with tasks, and you’ll need a system to manage it all. There are lots of productivity apps and systems out there (e.g. GTD), but I get by with some fairly simple TODO lists: Evernote for daily checklists and GitHub Issues for project-related tasks. Pencil and paper are fine, but digital TODOs are easier to access and share.

What matters most is that you get all of that stuff out of your head and into a more structured format. There are too many things that you could be doing at any time, and if you don’t write them down and prioritize them, they will eat you up from the inside out.

2. Improve your keyboard efficiency

You will be typing more than ever. All of that typing means that time that you spend fumbling at the keyboard or using a trackpad can really add up—and you’ll need every second you can get! Try to make it as automatic and fluid as possible. Minimize your mouse usuage and invest time in learning keyboard shortcuts for your most used applications.

Prior to starting bootcamp, I had a habit of regularly using ShortcutFoo. It’s great for learning shortcuts, and you can also drill yourself on Ruby, JavaScript/jQuery, git and other command line tools. Plus, it has pretty sweet ninjas.

3. Cut back on social media and other timesinks

While I don’t use Facebook at all, I still had a terrible habit of using any spare minute to check my Twitter timeline or my email. If I did have something in my inbox, it would linger with me until I could respond. For me, social media and email were creating a lot of unnecessary mental clutter and making me less productive.

Since starting bootcamp, I haven’t opened Twitter and have drastically cut back on email. It has saved some time, but I honestly think it’s made me a happier person. Unfortunately, I can’t abandon email completely, but I can batch most of my responding for the weekend. If something is extremely urgent, it probably shouldn’t be sent by email in the first place.

Almost all of my communication with fellow bootcampers is done through Slack, and I love it—much more efficient and pleasant than reading through group emails.

4. Get high quality sleep

There is no substitute for good sleep—no, not even caffeine. Partial sleep deprivation, even by sleeping less than seven hours each night for two nights in a row, can impair several cognitive functions and slowly sap your motivation. You’ll need your brain firing on all cylinders, so stop drinking coffee after midday and establish a regular sleep routine every day before starting bootcamp. It will inevitably break down a bit during bootcamp, but it will help to start with a good foundation.

5. Take care of your back

Sure, this is probably more relevant to old folks like me, but dealing with back pain was one of the biggest struggles I’ve had with bootcamp so far. After five weeks of coding with poor posture for 10+ hours a day, lower back pain started to disrupt everything: my daily bike commute, my sleep, and my focus. I didn’t have the option to use a different chair, either.

Fortunately, I found a cheap and effective treatment: a rolled-up towel. I started using a towel to support my lower back, added a morning stretch routine, and started taking quick walking breaks every hour during the day. After one week of this, my back started to return to normal, and after two weeks, my back pain was gone and life finally returned to normal, or as normal as it can be during bootcamp.

The takehome

If you enroll in a coding bootcamp, get ready for a long slog. Keep your endurance up and avoid burnout by being defensive with your time, eliminating distractions, and taking care of your body. Godspeed!