How much time should I spend a day learning to code?

This is the question I asked myself when I first started learning (well relearning really) to code a while back. Obviously I Googled this and found some really interesting answers, but generally speaking, the common wisdom is about 4 hours a day.

I call bullshit on this. In my experience (and your mileage may vary) you should code every day, but it really doesn’t matter how much. Sure, you’ll get to the destination faster if you’re able to put 4 hours a day, but that number is completely unrealistic for a good chunk of the population.

Personally, I have a full-time job, 2 young kids, and a wife. 4 hours a day is an absurd amount of free time for me each day to work on much of anything. So when I study something I work to a very simple philosophy. Do some study every day. That’s it. Change is all about momentum. You don’t have to stop sleeping to make a change, you just have to show up every day and do something.

Routine is key

My personal routine is to get out of bed early, normally around 5-5:30am. Then I do as much of my course work before the kids get up as possible. Normally I’d get around an hour or so done. Some days I might sleep in and only get 30 mins, but I still progress. To solidify my learning, in the evening I go over what I did in the morning and write up notes. Sometimes those notes turn into a blog post. In that way, I’m sort of doing double duty. Sharing what I’ve learnt and documented it for my own retention all in one.

The thing about learning anything over and above your already busy life is that you have to make it accessible or it won’t work. Lowering the barrier to just do something each day means I might only research something I learnt the day before or add some comments to code I wrote a week ago. It really doesn’t matter what it is, as long as I get started each day.

So if you’re wanting to study but don’t think you have the time? Explore study options that let you learn in small chunks and to your own deadlines. I’ve found both Udacity and Udemy great services for this sort of thing. You won’t get a formal qualification from these services, but if you’re just interested in the skills then does that really matter?

Flow

Getting into a flow state is super helpful when you’re trying to get some coding done. Whenever I’m working on a course exercise or side project I find a few things in my daily routine really help focus my mind:

  1. Keeping my desk tidy – It seems silly but a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind for me. Keeping my workspace simple and functional really makes a difference.
  2. Meditation – I’ve dabbled with this for years, but this year I decided to make it a daily habit. I’m not perfect at it, but I’d say I manage to get 10 mins done in 9 out of 10 days. When I miss a day I notice it. I’m currently using Waking up with Sam Harris, which I’ve found very educational too.
  3. Music – Not all music is good for coding, but the right music makes a world of difference to me. I have a few sources I use to block out the world:
    1. Code Radio – Free Code Camp has a live streaming station via YouTube which is specifically for helping developers concentrate.
    2. White Noise – This isn’t technically music, but it’s just as effective at blocking out distraction.
    3. Spotify or Apple Music focus playlists – If you use a streaming service, there are loads of shared playlists for focus, concentration or study that do the job. I suggest using a paid service if you can afford it. Although I don’t come across a lot of ads in the free version of Spotify, they are frequent enough to interrupt my thinking.
  4. Changing location – Most of my best work happens in my home office, but some of my best work is done in a busy cafĂ©. Sometimes when you’re having a hard time getting your head around a problem the best thing to do is take a break, change location and give it another go. There’s something about a change of scene that can make all the difference.
  5. Eat – If I’m not paying attention I don’t eat. If I don’t eat, I’m not effective at much of anything. I find removing choice helps me to stick to regular patterns of eating. Like with meditation I don’t always get this right but as a general rule, I eat basically the same thing each day at the same time. This makes sure I’m both fed and also taking regular breaks.

Do you have some flow state secrects I haven’t covered?

I made a thing: To-do list

Yep, I made another thing in JavaScript for the course I’m doing. This one’s a bit more basic, but really it’s more of cutting my teeth with jQuery sort of project rather than something anyone would actually use. It’s a very simple todo list app that lets you add and remove items from a simple list. It has no backend so you can’t save your list or anything useful like that, but the front end side of things does the job at this stage.

A simple to-do list app

If you’re interested in the code you can take a look on GitHub. Of course, you can try the app for yourself. If you find anything wrong with it you can submit an issue.