Are You Living to Trade or Trading to Live?

Electronic trading, interlinked markets, mobile access, and more combine to empower retail traders to harness global markets. But too much can access can blur your focus. to live
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Many things attract investors to the stock market, but perhaps the most compelling is the idea of being able to trade for a living. I know that’s what was on my mind when I bought my first stock back in 1985—being my own boss, setting my own hours, and relying on my own wits to make a living.

Although today’s traders still strive for similar results, access to market information has changed dramatically in the last few decades. And ironically, the same freedom that full-time traders seek can now consume them if they don’t set boundaries.

Small World After All

After trading full-time for a number of years, I felt that loss of freedom. My West Coast perch meant a 6:30 a.m. market open. My day started at 4:00 a.m. so that I could do my pre-market prep, which included sifting through press releases, analyst upgrades/downgrades, and earnings announcements.

Once the bell rang, I was glued to my computer, breaking away only for minutes at a time in order to grab food, water, or answer the call of nature. A quick break after the close and I would be poring over after-hours news, reviewing my trades—both good and bad—and checking the next day’s economic calendar. When the Asia-Pacific markets opened in the U.S. afternoon, I’d follow the futures markets, often eating dinner at my desk or with a mobile device by my side. Then I would start scanning charts, looking for potential trades candidates for the following day. A couple more hours of watching the futures and the European open, and I would get to bed just in time to catch four or five hours of sleep.

I filled my weekends by reading financial newspapers, magazines, and books, as well as doing more charting. In short, I became a slave to the markets. But even with all the “work” I put in, it didn’t make me a better trader. It just made me a nervous wreck.

Time for Change

Eventually, I decided to change my routine in order to get my life back.

The first thing that went was the obsessive futures and overseas market watching. The U.S. market leads foreign markets—rarely is it the other way around—so most of what I was seeing was just a reaction to the market action I had already experienced, not an indicator of what was to come.

Next, I adjusted the way I selected my trade candidates. After-hours, I created a select list of stocks to focus on the next day. Sticking only to those stocks meant that I didn’t have to sort through endless pre-market information and could begin my day at 5:30 a.m. instead of 4:00 a.m.

Finally, I limited my financial reading to Saturday mornings and spent the rest of my weekends doing things unrelated to the markets.

In addition to becoming a much happier person in general, these changes had the added benefit of making me a sharper and more focused trader who knew when to turn it off and enjoy the freedom that I was seeking when I got into trading in the first place.

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