Many of us are morning traders. We get up early, sit down at our computers, watch the charts, open up our broker or choice, place our trades, and then spend the rest of the day doing something else (sometimes our day jobs). You may do trading activities throughout the day, but if you schedule a lot of tasks for the morning, it is extra-important that you start your day out right. How can you make the most of your morning so that you can enjoy a productive and lucrative day?
Everyone has different routines, but I want to share my favorite morning productivity hacks with you. It has taken me years to get into the right habits and streamline my day so that I can get everything done that needs to be done. Trading is very much a full-time job, even if you are stuck doing it part-time!
Trading Day Tips
1. It all starts with a to-do list the night before.
Before I even go to bed at night, I make sure that I know exactly what I am going to be doing the next morning. Sometimes I do this in the evening, other times it is just the last thing I do in the morning or afternoon when I finish up with my other trading tasks.
Why does this make a difference? Because sometimes I am really pressed for time at the start of the day. I need to get all my morning trading tasks done in a hurry before I rush off for work, so I do not have a minute to lose. I notice if I plan my tasks the night before, it takes about five to 10 minutes. But if I wait until the morning, I usually take about 15 minutes or more just to get organized and figure out what I need to be doing. By then, I am way behind schedule. So this is an excellent timesaver. Sometimes I even plan out my whole week in advance!
2. Avoid the temptation to check your inbox, voicemail, IM programs, etc.
This is a biggie, and it is a tough one to stay disciplined on, because we are all part of a culture which is very connected, and which tells us we need to constantly be linked in with our professional networks. Unless you have a reason to expect a very urgent email in the morning that absolutely cannot wait, avoid the temptation to even look.
This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, checking all your messages takes a large chunk of time. Secondly, the contents of those messages are going to be incredibly distracting. Suddenly you will find yourself juggling a host of other peoples’ problems. You will worry and wonder about what to write back, when to write back, and how you can solve those problems. And it is pretty tough to focus on your trading when your head is filled with so many other things!
3. Make sure your brain is really awake before you trade.
Not everybody has this problem. A lot of people wake up in the morning and are instantly alert and ready to take on the world. But I am not one of those people, and maybe you are not either. It takes a while for my brain to clear and start thinking properly. I wake up in a fog. If you have this issue, make sure you have a routine in place to clear the fog before you start trying to place trades. It is way too easy for me to be tempted into trying to work before I am ready.
How do you fix this? It depends on who you are. For some people, a cool glass of water or orange juice does it, or a bite to eat. For others, a walk is the answer. For me, it is just a matter of sitting still for about ten minutes and waiting. Even then, I try to make sure my first tasks of the day are not going to involve critical decision-making. I try to give my brain a “warm-up” task to do first, like some research. This helps get me thinking, but it does not require me to make any judgment calls before I am ready.
4. Eat a healthy breakfast.
There is something about trading that easily can become all-consuming. A lot of traders lose themselves in it and forget about healthy habits, especially when it comes to taking care of their bodies. I think this comes down to feeling like there is not enough time, and there is just so much to do. It is easy to become completely absorbed.
Whether you eat first thing in the morning or after you have done some work is up to you, just make sure that you take a few minutes out of your busy schedule to actually do it. Aim to eat food that will give you plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and protein. A smoothie is quick and easy to make, and you can drink it while you work.
5. Learn to identify your maximum productivity windows.
Both in the morning and later in the day, you probably have windows of time when you are functioning at your best and you can get more done. These windows may not occur at exactly the same time every day, but there are probably rough estimates you can make of when you will be performing well.
If you can, start tracking these windows, and plan your schedule so that you can take advantage of them. These are times when you can tackle the more daunting tasks on your list—those which require the most concentration, or those which require the most efficiency. I find these are great times to learn about new strategies or start testing them for the first time.
6. Get up at the same time every day.
Doing this is advantageous because it helps your body to establish a comfortable, predictable rhythm. When you change up your sleep schedule a lot, you keep your body guessing, and you often wake up feeling sluggish and out of phase. Your body does not know whether it is supposed to be asleep or awake. But if you get up at the same time everyday, your body knows what to do.
While we are on this topic, it also is very important to get a good night’s sleep every night! Like eating healthy meals, this tends to fall by the wayside. You get home from your day job, eat some fast food, and suddenly it’s already nine o’clock. You feel like you still need to cram five hours of trading into your day, and before you know it, you are getting four or five hours of sleep a night.
This is a recipe for failure and can turn into a vicious cycle. Soon you are performing poorly during the day and getting even less done, leading you to feel you need to put in even more time at night, and so on. Solve this problem by getting six to nine hours as consistently as you can, and you will wake up ready to get a lot more done with your day. Sometimes that means going to bed feeling your day is unfinished. Over the long run, you will get a lot more done.
7. Consider getting up half an hour earlier.
This may not work for you if you get most of your best sleep in the morning But a lot of people love this tactic. All you do is get up about half an hour earlier than you normally would. Doing it even once, you may be surprised at what you can accomplish. For many people it turns into a new habit. Just make sure you are getting half an hour more sleep on the other end the night before. Avoid the temptation to hit the “snooze” button on your alarm clock. Quite often by the time you actually manage to get up, you just feel more exhausted than ever, since you have just told your body it can go back to sleep.
On that note, you should figure out how long it really takes you to get through your morning routines and tasks. If you think it should take you five minutes to catch up on the day’s economic news when it really takes you fifteen, no wonder you feel rushed every morning.
8. Get rid of unnecessary choices.
When you get up in the morning to work … do you really need to spend ten minutes just figuring out what to wear? It is a day at the office—maybe the home office, maybe a day job, maybe both. Regardless, it is hardly a trip to the nightclub. If you resolve to get up and simply wear the same thing every day (maybe in different colors), you will not waste time vacillating in front of the closet. You can do the same thing with breakfast. Just eat the same nutritious food every day, and you will spend less time in the kitchen.
That means more time for trading! It also means you have kept your decision-making energy in reserve so you can use it to make choices which are actually important, like whether or not to jump on the next entry opportunity you see.
9. Check the environmental controls on your trading space.
When I wake up in the morning, it is often freezing cold, and I need to heat up my work area or I just sit there shivering. Then again, sometimes in the summer, I have the opposite problem, where I wake up and it is already hot with the sun glaring through the window. Heat makes you sluggish. Neither extreme heat or cold are conducive to productivity or focus. Take some time to adjust the temperature in your workspace before you sit down to trade. It will help you to concentrate.
10. Turn food into a reward.
If you are one of those people who need to eat breakfast first, then definitely do it. But you can still use food as a reward throughout the morning. Say for example you get up at five, eat breakfast, work on trading until nine, head off to a part-time job, and then come back later in the evening to do more trading. You can have a snack later in your morning, but you can schedule your snack as a reward for accomplishing a particular task. This will motivate you to stay focused so you can get to the snack.
11. Tackle projects in an order that makes sense for you.
There are so many different schools of thought concerning what you should do first when you sit down to work. Assuming that your brain is warmed up and ready to go, should you take on the hardest, most extensive, or most complicated tasks first? There are a lot of experts that think so. Their thinking is twofold. You are functioning (potentially) at your best, and should take advantage of that. You may also have an easier time getting on with your day if you know that the tough stuff is out of the way.
For me, there are days when that makes total sense to me and works great. But there are other days when it is the last idea that I should consider. There is nothing more frustrating than struggling with a complicated task for the better part of the morning, finally getting it out of the way, and then realizing I still have the majority of my tasks still ahead of me. I get discouraged, slow down, and work inefficiently through the rest of the morning and afternoon.
On those days, it makes much more sense to me to get the majority of my work out of the way in the morning. So I do all the easy, monotonous tasks first, because I know I will get through them swiftly. Then all I need to deal with is the complicated task, and I can give it 100% of my focus, knowing once it is done, my day is complete.
So yes, there are days when the thing you will want to do first is that really hard initial test with that system you have never tried before. But there will be other days when you will want to schedule the mindless backtesting of old techniques first, and the challenging new test later.
12. Take breaks.
When you are hooked on your job, it can be easy to completely forget about taking breaks. Or you might even feel like taking breaks is a bad idea, that you are slacking off if you give yourself a few minutes to do something else (I always just feel like I am slipping behind).
But taking breaks is important, especially with an activity like trading! Why? Because if you stare at those charts for too long without looking away, those patterns are bound to start blending together. You have to keep your eyes and your mind sharp. So schedule breaks at intervals. You can take breaks as you finish different tasks, or if you have particularly long tasks to do, you can schedule breaks every half hour or so. Even taking just five or ten minutes can really make a difference in keeping you productive.
Trading is a challenging career all on its own when it comes to time and energy management. When you are juggling it with a day job, it is even harder to get everything done. Odds are most days you will still feel like you have a lot of loose ends and unfinished tasks. Learning how to trade is after all a long-term prospect. But if you manage your mornings well through smart productivity hacks, you can get a lot accomplished!