This is a question about studying for the Putnam examination (and, secondarily, other high-difficulty proof-based math competitions like the IMO). It is not about the history of the competition, the advisability of participating, the career trajectories of former participants, or other such things. This is a question about how one can most effectively prepare to do well.
Many such questions have been asked before on this site. The answers, while helpful, all seem to boil down to recommendations of the same standard canon of books with the encouragement to do more problems. This is very good advice, but I want to approach the topic from a different angle.
We have a wealth of talent on this website, and in particular many users who have done quite well at these competitions. I would like to hear their personal stories. In particular, how did you prepare, and what kind of time commitment did you put forth? And advice, especially practical study tips, is always welcome. :)
edit: Also, it seems to me that the majority of people who do very well at the Putnam had developed the majority of their skill in high school, and focused mainly on their classes in college (while attending whatever Putnam seminar their college offered). I would appreciate comments on this matter too.
(Motivation: It seems to me like the role of talent is vastly overestimated in mathematics, and in mathematics competitions in particular, to the point where the Putnam exam gets used as a sort of pseudo-IQ test. Of course the people who do well have gifts, but it also seems that, without fail, they all have a history of doing many hours of mathematics a day for years on end. For example, I recall reading an interview with Tao where he admitted his childhood consisted of nothing but math and computer games. I am trying to gather some evidence on this matter [and advice for Putnam preparation!]. Please keep the answers focused on the actual question, though.)