Although my story is unusual, I really don't think it is all that interesting, but I will share a little bit of the back story, my recommendations and study tips here.
I started 5 years ago as desktop support for my current company, with no professional experience. I earned my MSCA 2003 + Messaging in August 2007 -> CCNA Nov 9, 2007 -> CCSP April 2008 -> CCNP Dec 2008 -> Sept 2009 Passed written -> CCIE #28160 Feb 9, 2011. Less than 3.5 years to go from no practical Cisco experience to CCIE!
I am dedicated. I was focused. I ignored people that got in my way. I spent Friday nights studying. I spent lots and lots of early morning hours studying. I studied during my lunch hour. I carried books with me everywhere. I read documentation constantly. I did whatever it took to put in the required hours to reach my goals.
My tips and recommendations:
1. Pick a program/vendor and stick with it.
I used the complete Cisco 360 program: mini-labs, full lab workbooks, graded assessments, reference library, videos, etc. The program is awesome and I can't recommend it enough! The CLI mentor and answer keys for the lab workbooks rock. It is nice to be able to see the full final config and just about any other show command you would like to see so you can compare with your own device output.
I used a lab workbook from another vendor as well to get another perspective and was not unhappy with it, but it didn't have as much information as I would have liked. I say pick a vendor and stick with them so you're not jumping from vendor to vendor which seems to be kind of common place and counter productive to me.
2. Spend some money and rent rack time.
I rented a dedicated rack from Narbik for three months straight so I could study 24/7 if I wanted. I loaded my configurations at night and did the lab the next morning. It was money well spent and not as much as you might imagine.
3. Stay off mailing lists and forums in general.
I am the first to admit I have met some great people on GS & OSL, but if you pay attention long enough, you begin to notice the questions are the same over and over. I never considered reading and replying to posts on mailing lists study time. It is one thing to answer a really interesting question that prompts you to investigate something you haven't looked at before or to ask a really tough question that prompts a lot of good technical discussion, and another to read all the "How do I configure Dynamips/Dynagen/GNS3?" or "What books should I read?" questions.
IMHO there are too many people on various lists that don't really belong there, asking questions they should have the answers to if they really are CCIE lab candidates.
4. Track your studying.
Create a spreadsheet. Log your hours. What you did/studied/read. The key part, only track your dedicated studying time. Driving in your car listening to audio may help you, but you're not fully focused on learning and it's not the same as sitting in front of the CLI typing out commands or putting on headphones, blocking out the world and watching videos on demand.
5. Find a mentor.
I worked with the team at NetMasterClass. I also work with a voice CCIE. It is helpful to talk to others who have been through the process of reaching CCIE.
6. Find people you can study with.
I studied with a group of individuals I met through NMC. We had study sessions using WebEx, talked on the phone, and formed our own mailing list. It hepled a lot to work with others I knew on a regular basis.