Focus and concentration can be difficult to master, especially in today’s modern digital era. For traders, this is nothing short of the truth. We work from home, we’re constantly bombarded with distractions, and for most of us, that means we’re constantly struggling to get into a state of flow. We live in a noisy world with constant interruptions that can make focusing just plain difficult. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make profound improvements in your focus. In this article, we’ll share with you everything we know as professional traders that’s worked for us, and everything we share with our students that helps them with finding consistency in their trading and inevitably helps them get funding.
What Is Focus And Why Is It Vital To Success In Trading?
Webster’s dictionary’s definition of FOCUS: “To concentrate attention or effort; focus on the most pressing needs.” In short, it’s choosing in the moment what is of utmost importance, and seeing it through to completion.
As a trader, you may or may not know offhand what these essential action items are. Perhaps you’re brand new to the space. Even those of you who’ve been in the game for years may feel like you’ve had moments of focus and concentration, where work sessions tend to flow and you get the feeling that time is flying because you’re dialed in. What we want to provide you with within this article is a simple, yet practical guide for finding your focus so you can get the most out of your trading and studying sessions.
Whether you’re live trading at the charts, studying content, backtesting, or you’re reading relevant books to help you improve your edge or psychology as a trader, your ability to prioritize and execute on high-value tasks consistently is an extremely important skill you must develop. At Phantom, we believe being consistent in your planning, processes, and execution can have a clear effect on your consistency and profitability in the markets. Ultimately we want to cut out the distractions, hone in on what is making us incrementally better as traders, and build our confidence in the market. Once we’ve done this we’ll aim to secure an initial source of funding, grow the amount of capital and funding, and grow our accounts.
Why Can’t I Focus As A Trader?
If you feel this is your ability to focus as a trader is poor, don’t worry, you’re not alone. We live in a time and culture where hyperstimulation is the norm and we’re bombarded by more distractions in a single week than our ancestors would’ve had in their entire lifetimes. While we may find it hard to control emotional impulses that cause us to check our phones and social media every minute of the day, what we can control is the mechanism for distraction directly.
When you sit down to attempt to study course content, backtest a currency pair, or trade a live session and simultaneously you have Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, e-mail, text messages, and phone calls all fighting for our attention, can you really expect to be present or effective at completing the task you’ve set out for yourself? Notifications popping up left and right, our willpower being drained, it’s no wonder the majority of people struggle to get anything done. We’re addicted to the rush we get from dopamine spikes associated with these distractions.
Research shows that on average, it takes a person approximately 30 minutes to get back into a state of flow on a particular task after having been distracted. So, when that text pulls you away from your charts or that phone call removes you from making your way through a lesson in the Phantom Trading course, it’s eating up a great deal of your time, willpower, and energy because you’re constantly resetting your focused attention throughout the day.
You may have been sold the lie that multitasking leads to greater productivity, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Research also shows that when we’re multitasking, our brains are actually actively switching from one task to the other in rapid succession. We aren’t truly focusing on two things at the same time. This constant switching from one thing to the next is draining our finite willpower and our ability to properly comprehend any information we’re taking in at that moment. So, you’re probably wondering, “What’s the solution to all of this?”
How To Find And Build Your Focus With Time-Blocking
Our number one suggestion is to start “time-blocking”. If this is new to you, not to worry, we’ll explain what it is and how it works in a second. The reason we recommend this is because it’s effective and it works. By simplifying how we manage our time, we can create simplicity, and efficiency, and eliminate stress from our day-to-day lives.
Time blocking is the act of selecting a period of time during your day and dedicating it to a single action item on your list that is high-leverage. During this “time-block”, you’ll put your phone on silent, and optionally, if you struggle to control yourself, place it in another room. You’ll remove all distractions through apps and notifications that could come up on your devices (this includes your phone and computer), and you commit to seeing your task through to completion during the allotted time. Put your phone on a leash. Plug it in and leave it in another room. This simple action alone can save you hours each day. Also, let anyone living in your house know that you’ll be unavailable for the chunk of time you’ve allocated to the time block.
You can do this starting today if you wanted to, it’s that easy! Simply open up the calendar application of your choice (we suggest Google Calendar, iCalendar, or Notion), and plot out the most important things you can do at certain times on each day of the week to bring you closer to your goals. As a Phantom Trader, you’ll likely need to allot time to study the course material, build case studies, backtest, do daily mark-ups, and trade the session(s) of your choice in demo or live.
If you’re in a place where you’re regularly finding yourself distracted and you’re struggling to overcome impulsive behaviors, start out by time-blocking shorter work blocks. For example, you should ideally start with just alotting 1 to 2 hours per day for your most important tasks. The important thing when starting out is to avoid overwhelming yourself to the point where you completely fail to do anything. You wouldn’t go to the gym for the first time and expect to bench press 225lbs, just like you can’t expect to work on something efficiently for 8 hours straight un-interrupted. Ideally you’ll choose the same times each day so that over time it becomes second nature and you’ll know that during those hours you should be doing the specific task you’ve outlined for yourself.
Over time you can then begin to extend your focused time-blocks to 3 or even 4 hours at which point you’ll likely realize that you can get a lot more done than you used to be able to. What used to take you days, weeks, or months to complete you’ll be able to get done in just hours or days because you’re giving tasks or projects your undivided attention, and simultaneously warding off procrastination by sticking to your schedule. The most important part of this exercise is really committing to zero distractions during your blocked out time.
What we want you to realize is that by doing this consistently over time, you’ll begin to progress in your skills while simultaneously progressing in your ability to focus for extended periods of time. It is our belief that one’s ability to focus and chip away at goals consistently over time is the key to unlocking new levels of success that most simply cannot achieve. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, “Do now what others won’t do, and soon enough you’ll be able to do what others can’t do.”
How The Top 1% Operate
All of the truly successful traders you know and see across the social media who actually trade (if they even have social media) have one thing in common. It’s the ability to focus and be effective. It’s no secret, it’s just a matter of applying true effort over time. We say “true” because most people THINK they’re focusing and being effective because they sit down at their desk for an hour or two a day with charts open, but more often than not, those hours are spent in a state of jumping from task to task with all sorts of interruptions in between. When you’re in a time block that you’ve scheduled for yourself, you want to shut out everything else and give your undivided attention to the task at hand, no excuses. When you learn to do this, you’ll find that you’re able to accomplish in a few hours what most accomplish in days or weeks.
What We Measure, We Improve
The same way you’d track your calories and how much weight you’re lifting at the gym if you were trying to build muscle, tracking your time blocks and activities throughout the week will allow you to be aware of and improve upon your effectiveness, productivity, thus further honing your ability to focus for longer periods of time.
What you can start doing as you begin to time block your focused work sessions is to audit where your time goes each day. Try doing this for a week and make it a daily practice to actively jot down where you spend your 16 waking hours for each day. What we’ve found by doing this, is that we often spend far more time doing mindless, unimportant activities throughout the day that do nothing to build skills or get us closer to our goals.
Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, so why do some people appear to get far more done and move so much faster than others? It’s pretty much what we’ve been covering in this article up until now. Successful people are simply more mindful of their time, and therefore spend it in a better way than unsuccessful people. They audit where their time goes and they eliminate, automate or delegate tasks that are less important so that they can focus more of their time on the things that move the needle for them and help them progress towards their goals faster, plus as a positive side effect of better time management, they create more free time for themselves to actually enjoy life. In the context of being a trader, better results as someone who trades forex is simply a matter of being more effective with your time, more often. Sounds simple, yet most have a hard time actually doing it. Keep reading and we’ll give you some dead simple hacks to get it done!
Become More Process Oriented And Less Outcome Dependent
How does a climber reach the mountain top? Does he focus on the summit and wish and hope and think about getting there? No. If he were to focus solely on the summit and how far he still has left to climb, he’d become discouraged and give up.
The key to consistent progress whether you’re a mountain climber or a forex trader, is to “stare at your boots”. Placing one foot in front of the other as best as you can, consistently. Take it one step at a time. It’s obviously important to know where you’re headed, but shift your daily focus to the action steps required to inch you closer toward your goals instead of putting all of that focus on the goal itself. Remember, what is actually going to get you “there” is action. It’s focusing on taking action day in, day out whether you feel like it or not.
What we’ve found stops most traders from ever reaching real success is their focus on the end game outcome, which is actually detrimental to getting them there. They do it so much that they fall out of love with the process of becoming someone skilled enough and trick themselves into thinking they’re not worthy enough to manage and trade large sums of capital in a consistently profitable manner. They’re so focused on making money now, that they forget that there’s a learning curve and big sacrifices required to become good enough to actually see some results.
It doesn’t matter what skill we’re trying to develop, whatever we’re trying to become great at, time and effort is an absolute necessity. Everything we’re new to, we suck at at first. Over time if we keep at it long enough, we start to get good and results show. Soon enough, we’re good enough that we can produce results consistently and we start to own that we’re good and we start to love it because there’s less pain associated to the actions we’re taking.
But it’s a process. And not an overnight one. Fall in love with competing with yourself. Progressing past who you were yesterday. Getting a lingering question answered, starting a trial funded account, placing your first trade ON a funded account. Whatever stage you’re at, there will be a different high value task in front of you. Your job, identify it and then get after it. Set aside an hour or two each day and complete the task.
Becoming More Effective In Trading & In Life
It all starts with eliminating distraction. It’s then improved by time blocking, and it’s all compounded by applying this over and over until you’ve built the habit and it’s second nature.
The part of the journey that the majority of traders struggle with is managing their expectations. This applies to all facets of the process. When a result doesn’t materialize in a matter of a few days or weeks, or in the case of trading, getting some winning trades or getting funded right away… most assume that they’re doing something wrong or that something doesn’t work if it doesn’t happen instantly. In reality, most people need to apply processes for far longer than they think in order to ever see tangible results.
This can apply to what we’ve covered here in this article too. You can’t time block for only a day or two, see no results, then assume it doesn’t work the same way you can’t go to the gym once or twice, expect to lose 10lbs and complain going to the gym doesn’t work.
Most things in life need to be done long enough consistently for us to reap the fruits of our labor. We say “long enough” because there is no hard and fast rule for this. For one person it may take a week to see the value of time blocking, whereas for someone else it may take a month to really get into the flow of things. Our suggestion with pretty well every bit of advice that you consume from a trusted mentor or coach who’s been where you are now and is where you want to be or further in their journey. Apply their advice and stick with it until a result comes to fruition.
Most things can work, you just have to work for them!
Here’s a quickfire list we’ve put together of immediate focus/concentration boosting practices you can try to up the chances of this working for you:
- Get more quality hours of sleep
- Eat less processed foods, and more whole foods
- Eliminate distractions
- Block out time for tasks
- Put your phone in another room
- Turn off notifications across all devices during time blocks
- Have everything you need with you for your time blocks
- Headphones with white noise or instrumental music, or work in silence
- Practice mindfulness and meditation before getting to work
- Take breaks around your focused work blocks throughout the day to avoid burnout
- Exercise 3-5x per week
All of the above will contribute to feeling better and performing better as a trader and in your personal life.
You’ve probably read a list like this before… but do you actually take the action to apply it in your day-to-day life? Our argument would be that no one truly knows something unless they’ve done it and lived it. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, mix it up! Try something new and perhaps you’ll find the change you’re looking for. You don’t know if you don’t try.
We hope you found this short guide on focus useful! If you’re looking for more ideas on how to improve as a trader both from a technical strategy, mindset, and or psychology standpoint, have a read through some of our other guides here on our trading resources page as well as our free video content over on Phantom Trading’s official YouTube channel.
By Robert Castillo – Currency & Commodities Trader,
Financial Analyst, Writer & Editor.
Robert is a funded trader based out of Toronto, Canada, and has been trading currencies, commodities, stocks, and cryptocurrencies for over 7 years. Outside of trading he enjoys producing music, mixed martial arts, and riding his motorcycle in the summer.