In order to be more self-disciplined, you have to be able to effectively manage your time. Making time for what’s most important is easier when you set a plan. As a poker player, you have to decide when to play, study, and take time off. Those of you who get things done randomly are afforded the freedom to do what you want, but ask yourself this: Are you actually able to get done all that you want to do?
Having good time-management skills can dramatically increase your effi- ciency. Not only does that affect your ability to accomplish your goals, but it also allows you to have more free time. For many players, however, managing their time is an ongoing challenge. They struggle to balance poker and everything else in their lives: a job, friends, family, a significant other, and domestic responsibilities. Often this problem stems from a lack of clear priorities in poker and outside of it.
An adaptive schedule is a solution that offers a balance of structure and flexibility. In an adaptive schedule, you specify certain amounts of play, work off the table, rest, and other things that are important to your game, as well as your life. Rather than having to set exact times during the day for playing, you have the flexibility to choose times based on how you feel, the quality of the games, or the availability of your friends. You are holding yourself accountable for putting in the necessary hours, while also giving yourself the freedom to schedule those hours in ways that are most convenient for you. In the process of developing your adaptive schedule, you may figure out that there are certain times of day when you play or study most effectively. In those cases, flexibility should take a back seat to productivity, and you should make sure to get those activities in at the specific times that you do them best.
One of the biggest challenges poker players face in building an adap- tive schedule is finding a way to avoid wasting time. The lack of a normal work schedule often results in hours spent watching TV, surfing the web, and anything that doesn’t involve playing or studying. In reality, the way you decide to spend your time is always based on your goals, which is why identifying conflicting goals is so important. You first need to identify the hidden motives behind whatever it is you’re doing when you feel like you’re wasting time. What value does it have or what purpose does it serve? Avoiding responsibility, procrastination, and instant gratification are a few of the more common motives. The next thing you can do is actu- ally total it up. Every time you realize that you’re wasting time, estimate when it started and keep a running tally for a week or two. Also, note what you could have been doing instead at those times. Then, define the easiest ways to increase productive time or decrease wasted time. For example, you could decide to watch 20 fewer minutes of TV, get out of bed 15 minutes earlier, and check email only when you’re done playing.
The key is to look for the low-hanging fruit—easy, manageable changes that don’t require much effort. By starting with these small changes, you get the ball rolling and can build toward bigger improvements later. Many players fail to decrease the amount of time they waste because they try to do too much at once. After their inspiration fades, they’re back to square one.
High Stakes Omaha Player
“I previously did not have a very professional attitude towards poker. Things like warming up and cooling down didn’t factor into my game at all. I would see good spots in poker and just play non-stop. If a good cash game got going, I would either play until I was blue in the face or there was absolutely no money left at the table that was value. I was hard-wired to see a bad player and play non-stop until I had all their money. This was really burning me out. I would play 32-hour ses- sions where I wouldn’t leave my seat, even though I was so tired and couldn’t think straight. I also didn’t realize how much this was costing me over the long term. When I started to look at the bigger picture, I realized that it’s not about making $30,000 in one night. Poker is a long-term game and I needed to figure out how to maximize my profit for the entire year, not just one night.
I mapped out an overall schedule for the year so I could be at my mental peak at the most important times. To help me understand the concept, Jared made a comparison to the professional tennis players who plan their entire year around the Grand Slams. There is probably a tennis tournament somewhere in the world every week. But, Roger Federer can’t play the equivalent of Wimbledon six weeks in a row; it is too demanding. The same thing applies in poker—if I play too much, I become the fish. In tennis, the top players choose their events carefully so they peak for the major tournaments, and I decided the WSOP and Aussie Millions were my majors.
This decision gave me a chance to work hard on certain areas of my mental and tactical game in preparation. I also managed my energy really well before and during each event so I could stay fresh and sharp the whole time. In Vegas, instead of playing just when games were good, I kept to a routine for five weeks straight and didn’t have a losing session of $50/$100 in that time. I was religiously disciplined, knew what my goals were, and had my tournament schedule planned out in advance. I gave myself the flexibility to veer off that schedule if the cash games were amazing, and I also took unexpected breaks when it was clear that my mind was getting a little burned out. Rather than robotically keep churning along and hitting a brick wall so hard that I couldn’t go any more (which I had done at every previous WSOP), I would take a day off. That was enough to get me refreshed and back playing at a high level.
Not only did I create a cycle to get my mind to peak at specific times throughout the year, I also built in mini-cycles during tournaments so I could stay sharp through several long days of grinding. These small warm-ups and cool-downs also helped me to spot mistakes before I was about to make them, which helped to keep me focused and on top of my game. When you play so many hours for so long, you always have a lot weighing on your mind; you always have hands to discuss. It was important for me to get those things off my chest during short breaks, so I was fresh by the time I started again.
My experience with this yearly schedule has really made me realize how much more professional poker is becoming. Anyone can go on 2+2 or watch training videos, but the big thing I have noticed is that I can make a lot of money when other regs go on tilt. That’s challenging me to see just how much longer I can play at my peak compared to them. If I prepare well and can play optimally, I think I’ll win more money over the course of a year than a reg who is 15% better than me tactically, but doesn’t take care of their mental game. This is a hidden thing that isn’t talked about enough. One or two bad days where you are tired or tilted can hurt your win rate so much that it takes months to get back on track. It is so important when you are playing a lot of hours in games with small edges to be on top of your game.”