Full time job AND Launch School?

Although dropping everything else and focusing absolutely on learning a single new skill would be ideal, it is not always practically possible.

Trying to learn a new skill while holding down a full time job is challenging. Progress will inevitably be slower with the limited time, split focus, and pressing responsibilities. Unfortunately, with slower progress comes longer learning plateaus and more opportunities to get discouraged, distracted, and demotivated. Although dropping everything else and focusing absolutely on learning a single new skill would be ideal, it is not always practically possible.

There is no perfect alternative to hyper focusing, but below is the working framework I’ve pieced together over the last 8 months while progressing through the www.LaunchSchool.com (LS) program and working 50+ hours a week at a demanding marketing analyst job that also requires a few business trips every month.

This blog post goes over the decision process I used when deciding if I should invest my limited time outside of work into Launch School.

Know Your Why

“Introduce levers, increase freedom” is the simple text I see every day on my computer’s background. It is the simple reminder of what I currently believe my core purpose in life is. I know it sounds corny, but it’s important to sincerely consider what pain point you are trying to remove and/or what desire you are trying to reach before you start adding in goals and paying for subscriptions. It’s hard to modify habits, so if you don’t have a deep conviction about why you are trying to change something in your life, it will be difficult to resist the urge to regress to your old patterns when work ramps up or when you hit any one of the inevitable challenges of learning a new skill.

In Drive, Daniel H. Pink reccommends spending time focusing on your unique motivators by writing out what keeps you up and night (pain point), and what gets you up in the morning (desire). These motivators are our best compasses for deciding what skills to learn and what goals to set.

Check 1: Alignment

make sure that the end result of building the skills of a software engineer is completely in line with your primary pain points and desires. Working to master any new skill is a major long term commitment; if LaunchSchool’s end result does not directly address your fundamental motivators you should go back to brainstorming on more directly leverageable options to invest your limited free time in.

Related: Drive, Start with Why

Feasibility Check

Once you have determined that the end result of Launch School is aligned with your core motivators, it is important to make sure it is practically feasible. To determine this I considered 4 different aspects of available resources: time, space, internal, external.

Check 2: Time

Be honest with yourself and determine if you have enough available time to devote to the LS program. Although it varies by individual, it is generally accepted within the LS community that you need a minimum of 15hrs per week of deliberate practice to avoid backsliding in the program. Following Peter Drucker’s adage, “what gets measured gets managed” I recommend rigorously tracking your time throughout the free prep course. Once you’ve completed it, you should have a good idea about whether or not you currently can dedicate enough time to the LS program.

This required some conscious planning on my part since I felt like I was already pretty busy. After about a week of testing out different daily schedules, I found a workable pattern for myself. During the week I spend an hour before work on Launch School, ~45 minutes during my lunch break, and another 1–2 hours after work. I left the weekends flexible but committed to the weekly requirement of at least 15 hours/week.

Check 3: Space

For deliberate practice, it is also important that you have an environment where you are able to focus. Similar to gauging your time availability, this is something you should experiment with during the prep course to ensure that you’re able to dedicate both the time and space needed for learning.

This proved to be significantly more challenging for me since I spend most of my day away from home and travel a decent amount for work. It would probably be ideal to have a desk setup at home with a high quality chair, mechanical keyboard, and multiple monitors, but unfortunately that is not practically possible. After some testing I found that I can focus reasonably well in my car, so I now spend my mornings and lunch breaks looking slightly ridiculous working on LS in my car. To overcome the screen real estate limitation, I purchased an iPad air and use the duet display app and mountie+ to get a second monitor no matter where I am.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it is workable for now.

Check 4: Internal

Although less obvious, it is also important to make sure your personal situation will allow you to focus on Mastery Based Learning. About 3 years ago I became extremely interested in becoming a software engineer and began looking into bootcamps and colleges. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a very big financial buffer since I was paying off my car and student loans. I crunched the numbers and determined that if quit my job, lived off of ramen, and didn’t have any medical emergencies, I would be able to spend 4–5 months on a program before I would need to have a salary producing job. Even though there were bootcamps that advertised shorter timelines than this, the margin of error was terrifyingly small.

Ultimately I realized that I was not in the right stage of life to make such a risky bet. If things did not perfectly go to plan, I was risking my security. It is impossible to know exactly how long mastering fundamentals in a new skill will take, so it is extremely risky to put yourself in a position that desparately needs the output of the skill. This will lead to a lot of anxiety which will get in the way of learning things deeply.

I decided to postpone my software engineering path and instead put all of my effort into my current job to build up a better financial buffer. 3 years and a few promotions later, I am debt free, have a >1yr emergency fund, and am able to dial back my work focus to dedicate my extra time and energy to LS.

Related: Mindset, So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Check 5: External

The final check I made was to ensure I had the capacity to focus on LS given my external circumstances and responsibilities. Although I’ve always talked about my ideas and projects with my girlfriend, I needed to make sure she was still excited and supportive after thoroughly understanding the realistic impact this undertaking would have on my available time. Luckily she is unbelievably supportive and helps give me more time by cooking most of the dinners.

Maintaining good health is addressed in some of the extra material recommended during the prep course, but I didn’t think too much about it until I was about 6 months in and noticed that my pants were feeling a little tighter than usual. Apparently spending before, during, and after work sitting at a computer is not ideal for my waistline. I’ve had to shift some of my LS hours to the weekend to allow for a few trips to the gym every week.

External factors will vary greatly by individual, but it is important to consider all of the people and things that will be impacted if you decide to spend 15+ hours a week on LS.

Convergence, not destination

Remember that Mastery is an ongoing focus on deliberate practice, there is no fixed destination. Because of this is it critical that you regularly dedicate time throughout your decision process to consider your fundamental motivators. If Launch School passes all of the checks and you have decided that it is the best way to leverage your time to address your core pain points and desires, then it is realistic to begin your LS studies while working your full time job.

Good luck!

Related: Mastery