Most of the recreational players I work with have both full time jobs and a family or partner, so time available to study is a scarce commodity. This means they have to make the most of the limited time they have available.
I wrote about a simple 7 step system to set yourself up for success in OTB #007 where I said that if you want to win every online session you play, you should:
Step 1: Tidy your workspace
Step 2: Open all poker clients and software
Step 3: Create a folder for screenshots
Step 4: Make sure hand histories are being saved
Step 5: Keep a notebook handy for ideas
Step 6: Categorise your marked hands
Step 7: Plan your next study session
It’s a simple system, but ensures you’re focusing on controlling the controllables.
But what happens when it comes to the actual study sessions?
How do you make sure you stay focused and make progress in the time you have available?
Here's the process I've successfully used with scores of students, broken down step-by-step:
Step 1: Block out the time on your calendar
"If it's not on the calendar, it's not getting done."
That's a motto I've lived by for the last few years.
And it's true.
As soon as you start scheduling time to get stuff done, it gets done.
Time blocking is a time management technique where you schedule specific blocks of time in your day for different tasks or activities, which can include sleep, work, meals, social time, date nights, gym/exercise, family time, admin, playing poker and hobbies.
Allocating specific time blocks for your poker study and training is also important if you want to see progress and commit to the discipline of consistency.
This might include reviewing hand histories, drilling specific spots, running sims, analysing sims, working with a coach and studying with a partner or group.
One of my students, Martin, said he really struggled to make time for study and much preferred to play when he had the chance on a Saturday and Sunday evening.
Here is what his week looked like when we first started working together:
To start, our main goal was to allocate specific blocks in his week for poker study and training.
You can see that there are blocks of time that he could fit in some poker study and training. He has 3 hours at the end of the work day after dinner (once the kids go to bed) and 6 hours on both Saturday and Sunday that he could fit some study in.
I recommended an hour of study every weekday to begin with, and the rest of the time he should plan to do things like:
Enjoy other hobbies
Spend time with his family
Take his partner on a date night
The main goal, though, was to find time he could dedicate to poker study. Time blocking showed him where he had the time.
Step 2: Know what you need to study ahead of time
Now you have dedicated slots to study, you need to know what you're going to study ahead of time.
This is where steps 6 and 7 of the 7 Step System to Set Yourself Up Success are so important.
You want to plan your study session before you sit down. You don't want to waste time trying to work out what it is you need to work on.
Bring up all the marked hands from your last session. Categorise them and see which spot comes up time and time again.
This is an area you need to study.
Look through your notes from your last study session and see if you identified an area you need to work on.
Pull together any resources you might need like training videos, notes, books, articles or previous sessions.
If you have some hands that you need to run in a solver (like PIOSolver or Holdem Resources Calculator) then set them off straightaway at the end of your playing session so the sims are ready when you start your next study session.
Ahead of time, get clear on exactly what it is you're trying to work on or improve.
In phase 1 of my Train & Play Like The Pros programme, I walk you through a simple leak finding exercise that shows you exactly what you need to work on straightaway, so you can spend more time fixing things.
Step 3: Protect that time at all costs
Now you have dedicated time set aside for poker study and you know exactly what you're going to study, you need to do everything in your power to keep that time focused and protected.
Get rid of any and all distractions.
Here are some ways to do that:
Leave your phone in another room
Or at the very least put it on Do Not Disturb mode so you can only be contacted in an emergency. That's how seriously you're going to take protecting your study time now.
Use the pomodoro technique
Dr Tricia Cardner and I talk about the benefits of using the pomodoro technique in our book, Purposeful Practice for Poker.
If you haven't read it yet and/or haven't come across it yet, the pomodoro technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. It is designed to help improve your productivity and focus by breaking your available work time into 25 minute intervals, separated by short breaks.
I use the great website Pomofocus that has a nifty 25 minute timer, followed by a 5 minute break timer. It even knows when to give you a longer break after you've done 4 pomodoros in a row.
Use something like LeechBlock
You can use LeechBlock to prevent you from accessing certain websites at certain times. Even if you think you can use your own willpower to not click on Facebook, Discord, Twitter, the BBC Football website (yep, guilty!), it's much easier if you're met with a window like this every time you veer off course:
The most productive poker players I know don't talk about doing the work, instead they:
Block out time in their calendar
Know what they need to study ahead of time
Protect that time at all costs
Prioritising focus in this way ensures you get the most out of the limited time you have available.
And that's important when you have other responsibilities outside poker.
Whenever you're ready, here's how I can help you:
Train & Play Like The Pros: Join the next cohort of my flagship program that will take you from amateur to training and playing like the pros in the next 8 weeks. There are only 12 spots for each cohort, and when they're gone, they're gone and I close enrolment until the next one.
The Final Table Book: Play your best poker when the most is at stake. Detailed analysis of over 100 hand examples at different stages of play. Learn how to make great decisions every time and set yourself up for daily progress.