The most successful investors of our time have one thing in common - they're early birds.
Consider joining them. Studies show that people who make things happen early are more proactive and more productive. They're also more likely to be top performers and enjoy greater financial success.
University of Heidelberg biology professor Christoph Randler notes that early risers tend to have a good idea of what they want to accomplish.
His research shows that, while evening people may be more creative and in some cases smarter than morning risers, they're "out of sync." Early birds, he noted in a 2010 Harvard Business Review article, "hold the important cards."
And if you're not a morning person?
Performance expert Tony Schwartz says that less than 10% of the population has unchangeable biorhythms. That means you can train yourself to get up - and get ahead.
But what to do?
Here's my list of five things to do before 7 a.m.:1) Exercise
Legendary investor Jim Rogers makes a point of exercising rigorously. I know firsthand how fit he is, having caught up with him at gyms in Singapore, Las Vegas, Vancouver, and other conference locales.
I find exercise helps clear my mind. Most mornings my wife and I are in the gym by 5 a.m. for workouts that include everything from swimming to weights, climbing and whatever else we can think of.
Variety is key. So is the discipline.
That's because the focus required to get my butt out of bed and push my body to new limits parallels the demands associated with investing.
Not only do I have to be able to concentrate for long periods of time, but I have to excel at risk management so that I don't get injured, even as I push to ever higher levels of personal performance.
At conferences, I frequently invite attendees to join me. You'd be surprised at how many people tell me years later that doing so was a turning point in their investing lives... because they've gotten more physical and stayed that way.
You don't have to be Captain America - just getting moving, however you can, is enough to get the proverbial juices flowing.2) Explore
Mark Mobius is executive chairman of the Templeton Emerging Markets Group and is responsible for $50.6 billion in assets under management. He's on the Asiamoney list of the world's 100 most powerful and influential people.
He's known to charge off anywhere on the planet to meet new people and explore his surroundings. Mr. Mobius wouldn't dream of downplaying the excitement and the focus it gives him.
Personally, I like running through a city before it wakes up. You'd be amazed at what you see and who you meet.
On my last trip through Las Vegas, for example, I wound up running at 4:30 a.m. with a CEO from Mexico named Carlos G., who clued me into new competitive trends in that country's tech markets.
In Shanghai's historic Bund, along the Huangpu River, I wound up practicing Tai Chi with Chinese businessmen engaged in medical technology development.
In Zurich a few years back, I learned about new transportation systems logistics... after getting lost and having to find my way back to my hotel.
Lately, I've really been paying attention to who I see closer to home here in America.
And what I've found is, generally speaking, it's not natural-born Americans standing at the bus stops on their way to work at 5 a.m.; it's often newly arrived immigrants, keen to head to whatever job they can find. And if they have to get up at 4 a.m. to make it happen, that's just A-OK with them.
I can only wonder what the jobless claims figures would be if more people had that kind of do-what-it-takes attitude.3) Plan Your Day
Chief Investment Strategist Barry Ritholtz of Ritholtz Wealth Management likes to lay out his day ahead of time. A self-described information junkie with decades of experience under his belt, he's got a mind like a steel trap.
Ritholtz's daily planning allows him to take in widely disparate sources of information, yet still find a daily theme. He's especially good when it comes to making sense of what will move and why... because he takes the time to think about it beforehand.
My own daily planning routine has many of the same elements.
For example, I believe the markets tell a story that's composed of overlapping themes.
So the very first thing I do every day is scan the headlines for anything out of sorts. I group my newsfeeds loosely into six key areas:
- Global markets;
- Economic news;
- Emerging markets;
- Luxury spending;
- Military news; and
While the first five are pretty straightforward when it comes to money, the last helps me gauge social mood as it relates to the practice of socionomics - how social mood motivates social actions.
Then I look to price levels, especially in the pre-markets. That's because big players often make critical pivots when they're trying to hide positions or otherwise disguise their moves.
The trading gets really interesting when somebody's in trouble - like Bruno Iksil, JPMorgan's "London Whale" - or dramatically overextended. You can see pricing become erratic and volume jump.
Then I compare the prior day's close to what I am seeing. Do this enough and it becomes second nature. My favorite openings are imbalances that will help me avoid weak choices when the opening bell rings.
Not many people realize this, but if you're in trouble, the best time to hit the eject handle is generally 8 to 8:15 a.m. when many discount broker clients and day traders get their first quotes. That's because a lot of amateurs chase momentum, only to get burned in the first hour.
I love placing lowball orders before the markets open if I'm looking to buy, because in the chaos that leads up to the open, you just may get lucky.
I can't count how many times I've seen orders (that I thought nobody in their right mind would hit) at bargain basement prices only to find that they do hit - and usually at a huge discount to the stock's later opening price.
I'm a huge fan of visualization. Most people associate this skill with athletes or elite military units.
What they fail to realize is that visualization - the practice of building subconscious success - extends to every facet of life but especially investing.
Expert Brian Tracy notes that you want to create a clear mental picture of success and that you want to do it over and over again. That's because it will provide positive reinforcement.
Years ago I had dinner in London - quite by accident - with Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group fame. He remarked that if you don't dream and set impossible challenges, you won't succeed. It's your job in life, he said, to catch up with those dreams. He echoed that sentiment in a more recent Inc. Magazine interview.
To this day I make it a habit of closing my eyes for a few minutes every morning to imagine success. If it's a trade I want, I visualize the steps necessary to produce a winner. If it's a presentation I have to give, I deliver it 10 times or more before I've even stepped on stage. If it's a media interview, I run through everything I know about the topic at hand and how I will answer it under the unforgiving scrutiny of millions of eyeballs.
I even envision losses on those rare days where I've got to take them. But this too is an exercise in success because if I'm doing what I am supposed to be doing, chances are good I can ultimately turn lemons into lemonade.
5) Think the Unthinkable
I don't know a single top-tier performer in any field - investing, sports, medicine, business, trade, the arts - who is content to sail along in ignorance.
My grandmother, Mimi, a self-taught global investor who you've heard me refer to as the voice of reason many times, used to say, "If you want to run with the big dogs you've got to get off the porch."
She drilled it into my head that simply stepping into the fray wasn't enough. I had to do it in such a way that I avoided getting trampled by the markets, she said.
Mimi always pointed out that passive investors get played... often with disastrous results.
You have to think about the absolutely unthinkable, especially when others aren't. That's another lesson at the core of everything I do today and behind a good deal of the success we've achieved with our sister publication, the Money Map Report.
Years later, for example, I never make a recommendation without having thought first about what can make me screw up. This surprises a lot of people who believe that successful investors think about nothing but dollar signs from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to bed.
In reality, the winners think about what's going to cause them to lose money - and what they can do to avoid it.
I press everybody in my shop to think about the unthinkable constantly. I'm not so concerned about whether something is good, bad, or ugly. What matters more when it comes to money is whether or not something changes expectations.
As part of this process, I double-check outstanding orders and current positions. I look carefully to make sure I've got limits, lowball orders, and protective stops in place - especially in today's highly manipulated markets. That way I minimize the risks of being played by other market participants... who would like nothing more than to separate me from my money. Or you from yours.
This seems like a lot, but - once I'm done exercising - the entire process takes me just 15 minutes.
What I wouldn't give to be able to run a marathon at that speed!