Distracted trading

12Sep06

There are no Luddites here at Abnormal Returns. We are particularly fond of this whole Internet thing everyone is talking about. But the fact of the matter is that the encroachment of various technologies into our working (and trading) lives is making us less productive, rather than more.

Jared Sandberg at the Wall Street Journal collects some interesting items on the topic of multi-tasking. While focusing on the challenges of multi-tasking in the workplace the same cautionary statements could be used for those who trade (and blog).

“Multitasking doesn’t look to be one of the great strengths of human cognition,” says James C. Johnston, a research psychologist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “It’s almost inevitable that each individual task will be slower and of lower quality.”

Researchers say analytical thinking can happen in parallel, as long as the tasks have been practiced. But the amount of practice is “too high for the practical world,” says Dr. Johnston. And that wouldn’t include, say, responding to emails, which requires “fantastically more cognition” than the much simpler tasks often included in multitasking research.

Every trader can probably relate a story of how they have blown through a trade confirmation screen without checking the trade details – with unprofitable consequences. The challenge for every trader is to create a workspace in which they can operate with a minimum of distraction while still maintaining enough contact with the broader financial world.

Trade mistakes can be costly, but distracted trading is unlikely to be fatal. However multi-tasking can be downright deadly when it enters into the realm of driving. So-called “distracted driving“, including the use of cell phones, is becoming increasingly recognized as a substantial cause of motor vehicle accidents.

Most important tasks in our lives require focus. Trading is no different. Feel free to turn off CNBC – there is nothing on anyway.

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