Poker Mindset Hacks: How to Improve When You Don’t Have Much Time

imagesThere are only so many hours in a day, and especially when you have a job and/or full time studies, it can be difficult to find the time to work on your poker game away from the tables.

Jared and I recently received an email from a fan of the book called Derek. It was a rare instance where Jared referred someone in need of help to me instead of answering himself, because it was about time management, a topic I am something of a nerd on.

Derek had a problem many of us can relate to; he wanted to continue to make progress with his poker game despite being short on time. He worked upwards of 60 hours a week, tried to get to the gym and also spend quality time with his girlfriend. How on earth could he also fit in time to improve as a poker player?

High leverage activity

imagesThe first thing I did was refer Derek to an expert on this subject called Tony Schwartz. Rather than time management, Tony specialises in personal productivity, ie. how to get the most out of what little time you do have. He consults for companies like Google and has two excellent books on productivity.

He has this concept – High Leverage Activity. In a nutshell, what is the one activity that if you did it every day would show the biggest gains in 12 months time or beyond? For some people this could be something like going to the gym. For a poker player it might be spending an hour a day studying hand histories. For me personally over the last six months it has been working on The Mental Game of Poker 2.

In any given day a high leverage activity task might not yield an instant reward, but over time it will. If you ran every day and ran one minute longer every day, in the short term you wouldn’t notice a difference, but in a year you would be lots fitter and in better shape. If every day you committed to studying hand histories for 20 minutes a day, your game would not change dramatically in any given week, but in a year it will have come a long way.

Once you have identified what your own high leverage activity is, commit to doing it first thing in the day if you have the luxury of flexibility with your time. If you can do it before you open your emails, check your phone, start playing or working, then no matter what else happens that day you have made progress. Doing it first thing in the morning also means you don’t invite distractions in, which is the number one productivity/time management killer. It also makes it easier to turn into a habit.

The easiest default for making consistent improvement

BellCurve3If you are struggling to identify what your biggest high leverage activity is, here is a poker mindset tip from the Mental Game of Poker 2. Your C-game. If you are ever in doubt what to work on in your poker game, your C-game should be your default.

First of all, it is usually easy to identify your C-game, it’s your biggest leaks, so you are never uncertain about what to do next. Secondly your C-game usually is what costs you the most money, so you will see the biggest improvements in your earn rate. Finally your C-game is a very natural and organic way to improve your entire range. If you eliminate current C-game mistakes, your B-game becomes your C-game, your A-game becomes your B-game, and you can start to develop a new A-game by default.

About two years ago I found myself in a similar time management quandary, I hardly had time to play let alone work on my game.  Jared told me to only focus on my biggest leaks. For me that was how I played second pair type hands, I was making the biggest and most costly errors with hands where I would raise with kings and the flop would come ace high.

During this busy period, instead of trying to force myself to warm up, warm down, and put several hours in of study each week, I made a point of only studying hand histories where I flopped second pair hands. I gave myself permission to not work on any other part of my game during this busy time. Eventually when I had more time, the leak had almost gone (I had to work on it for longer, in fact there is a story about it in The Mental Game of Poker 2) – there were still a million and one things I needed to do to improve as a poker player, but eliminating this leak was the best I could do with the time I had.

If you are struggling to manage your time, or even if you are not, it is a very useful practice to identify both what your current C-game looks like, and also what single activity, if you did it every day, would have the biggest impact on your game – and more often than not they are one in the same thing. This is also a really good bit of advice if you currently find yourself in a bit of a learning rut.

“If in doubt, work on your C-game.”


About Barry Carter


  1. […] less obvious way in which staking can impede a player is how they approach learning. Some players are simply less inclined to work hard on their game, away from the tables, when they […]

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