The Early Bird Gets the CCIE

For the last 18 months or so I’ve been studying for the CCIE R&S. I took about 4 months off recently to focus on other technology, and right now I’m back at it with a schedule and pace that seems to be working very well for me so far.

When I resumed studying in late August I found that evening and late-night studying would just not work for me. Monday night is back-to-back ballet lessons for my two older daughters. Tuesdays I teach a class at a community college that keeps me out until 9pm. Wednesday evenings I attend a church-service that keeps me out until about 8:30. With three kids and a ton of activities on our plate, my wife and I are juggling dinner, chores, and various activities for the kids. Weeknights are hard.

Many of the folks in my study group seem to do much better with settling in for a few hours at night when the day is over. I tried that and found that staying up until 1am meant I was completely exhausted at work the next day.

I didn’t give up, though. I needed to find a way that didn’t interfere too much with my responsibilities as a husband and dad and didn’t adversely affect my performance at work, so I took a note from my own playbook I used years ago when I first got into networking. In early September I started getting up at 5am in order to get to my desk at the office by 6am. This meant that I needed to get to sleep by about 10pm every night.

By 6am or a few minutes after I’m sitting at my desk with the first pot of office coffee brewing. This 5-day schedule gives me a full 2 hours and 15 minutes of completely quiet and focused study time every morning. Also, because my body is now used to the schedule, I’m easily asleep by 10pm each night and alert and ready to go at 6am the next day. I try to get an hour in at lunch as well, but that’s hit or miss.

This may not be the 25 – 30 hours a week of studying I’ve read about in others’ CCIE success stories, but I’m getting a solid 12 hours in during the week and probably another 3 every Saturday. I’ve been able to be very consistent, and that’s by far the greatest benefit I’m seeing using this schedule. I’m also finding that such a regular schedule is beneficial to me mentally and physically. I’m certainly tired sometimes, but I never feel strung-out anymore.

A definite negative is that most in my CCIE study group are either still asleep or just getting ready for the day. My friend Dustin Beare (@net_introvert) has been using a similar schedule, so a couple times a week we’re able to work on some task together. Other than that, it’s a quiet chat room at 6:12am.

Everyone’s different, and of course everyone’s life and family situation is different. For me, getting that consistent and focused study time every morning while it’s still completely dark outside has been incredible for a very rewarding study experience.

3 thoughts on “The Early Bird Gets the CCIE

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  1. I agree with getting up early to study before work. My 20-30 hr/week study binge would have hit the 3-year mark in May, but I am finished for now (especially if I would like to stay happily married). I started early morning studying in earnest for R&S v4/5 in 2014 and switched over to SPv3 due to work requirements. God was good to me, and I passed SPv3 on Good Friday 2015. However, I had to refocus on studying for DC and Security due to leading a datacenter build out and migration for a bank. This led to attempting the v4 exam in December 2016 (before the January v5 upgrade). The competitor in me was not happy with failing, and I had to beg and stiff-arm (probably more like whine) my wife into letting me do R&S v5. I already knew MPLS, had a solid R&S foundation, and IPSec was a core technology in Security v4. At least on R&S you do not have to get DMVPN working through an ASA, there is no MPLS-TE, inter-AS VPN, or CSC. God was good to me again at the end of March, and I am happy with 2 of 3! I could not have done it without early morning studying (or my wife and kids’ tolerance). Waking up @0400 to study 0500-0830 (or 0500-1200 on Saturday) for makes a huge difference. Taking time off before the exam to study is even more is crucial. Persistence is key. When the going gets tough, embrace the suck! CCIE# 47907


  2. This is a great way to adjust your schedule to deal with the complications of real life. I am also struggling with how to fit CCIE study time into a week full of swimming lessons, gymnastics, and dance for two high energy daughters. Not to mention trying to actually have an adult conversation with my wife every now and then. I think, like you, my best opportunity will be to shift to an earlier rise for some quality focused study time. Thanks for sharing.


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