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I’ve been a baseball fan all my life. The St. Louis Cardinals are my team, thanks dad. I remember summer evenings listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon call the play by play over KMOX Radio. My favorite movie of all time is still Field of Dreams. It never gets old. But I’m sorry to say my interest in the Cardinals and baseball in general has waned over the years. It’s just too doggone slow.

According to the Wall Street Journal, over the course of a three-hour game a baseball fan will only see eighteen minutes of action. That’s less than a TED Talk. Or the drive thru at Taco Bell. The rest of the two hours and forty-two minutes fans are left staring at the players just standing around. Taking their caps off, putting them back on, taking them off again, putting them back on. Engaging in all sorts of chit-chat. Spitting. Lots of spitting. Blowing bubbles. Adjusting and readjusting. Of course the eighteen minutes of action might be something you’ll never forget. But the challenge is to not be dozing when it happens.

Baseball isn’t as bad as football. The same Wall Street Journal in a 2010 study found that a three-hour NFL football game is packed with a whopping eleven minutes of real action. That’s right. Eleven minutes.

Competitive surfers spend only 8% of their time actually riding waves. They devote over half of the competition paddling and another quarter just sitting on their boards waiting for the big wave.

It’s the same in so many sports. A professional golfer takes around four hours to complete 18 holes, with hitting shots taking up less than twenty minutes of it.

No wonder we watch Sports Center. Events last way too long and are way too short on any real action. Something will probably need to be done about that one of these days, but I digress.

Most folks believe it’s those short windows of action that separate the winners from the losers in any sports contest. They believe it’s what the athlete or team produces when it’s go time that makes all the difference, and they are right. The better production during those small windows of action determine the winner.

But the athletes who compete at the very highest levels of any sport will tell you it’s actually the rest of the time that surrounds those action windows that are really the most important. They know it’s what they do between the waves of action that separate them from their competition.

There are reasons why Jordan Spieth is one of the top players on the PGA Tour, and why I can’t break a hundred on my best day.

To produce some of the best golf in the world, Jordan spends over 50 hours a week preparing for the twenty minutes you and I watch on television. Behind every shot we witness are hours and hours and hours of practice we don’t. Hundreds of practice shots with his own personal swing coach. Weight lifting, cardio workouts, diet, rest, film (yes golfers watch film), walking and studying the golf course, talking to people who play the course regularly, mentally preparing, strategizing and envisioning his round. As he walks between each shot, Jordan is deeply concentrating on his next one. What club he will use. What kind of spin he wants to put on the ball. Whether to hit a fade or a draw. Exactly where to place the shot.

The 50 hours of preparation Jordan spends in what we would call the non-action time, or downtime, places him in position to excel during his action time. And the result speaks for itself.

I spend less than fifteen minutes preparing for my action time on the golf course. I show up fifteen minutes before my tee time dragging my 30-year-old set of clubs. I rush to find my cart, slap on some sun screen, and whack a few practice balls. I skip the practice green in lieu of the snack bar, and arrive at the first tee just in time to dig a couple of lucky balls out of my bag that I found when I was in the deep rough trying to locate my previous lucky balls on my prior round. Rather than strategizing about how I’m going to hit each of my next shots, I spend quality time talking on my cell phone, locating the cart girl, deciding what I’m having for dinner, and generally harassing my playing partners.

Suffice it to say my golf action time does not produce very good results. But why would it? I put no effort in my downtime trying to improve.

LeBron James never stops playing basketball. He works on his game year-round, always staying in top condition. Every day during the off season he can be found in the gym working on his game. To make sure his ten minutes of game-time action really counts, LeBron practices and prepares for at least four hours before tip-off. If you have a chance to watch him live, you’ll notice that even when he is sitting on the bench he is fully engaged in the action- talking to his teammates, yelling instructions as if he was the coach (he probably is). You may not know it, but “King James” has a photographic memory and can recite everything that happened in a game down to the most intricate details a full week later.

Because of what he does during the “downtimes”, LeBron James’ action times are some of the most productive in the game of basketball.

Mike Trout, Serena Williams, Tom Brady, Nick Saban. The list goes on. The differences between professional athletes, coaches, and teams today are razor thin. Those who consistently stand above the rest are the ones who produce the best results during those windows of action because they are most productive during the times when the cameras are off and no one is watching.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours each day. Yet a study of full-time office workers revealed that most employees aren’t working a majority of the time. According to a study done several years ago, here are some of the things they are doing:

  1. Reading news websites- 1 hour, 5 minutes
  2. Checking social media- 44 minutes
  3. Discussing non-work related things with co-workers- 40 minutes
  4. Searching for new jobs- 26 minutes
  5. Taking breaks- 23 minutes
  6. Making calls to family or friends- 18 minutes
  7. Making hot drinks- 17 minutes
  8. Texting or instant messaging- 14 minutes
  9. Eating snacks- 8 minutes
  10. Making food in the office- 7 minutes

That comes to a whopping 4 hours and 37 minutes of personal time, and I would argue texting and instant messaging have moved up to the #1 slot over the past few years since that study was done. It leaves very few hours of productivity. Around three hours a day to be exact.

I’ve witnessed this one first hand. Owning and operating businesses for over thirty years, I can say way too many workers are asleep at the wheel most of the time, and aren’t ready at critical times when the company needs them, when it’s go time. The best employees, and thankfully I had many, are those who are consistently working and planning and preparing even when no one is watching.

The “action time” for actual trading in the stock market is a very small window, more of a peep hole. The passive investor may place as few as a dozen trades a year, or around one a month, while the more active investor may trade anywhere from five to twenty-five times a week depending on market conditions. Figuring it takes around two minutes to place a trade in today’s market, that’s not much action time. Even the more active trader doesn’t need to scrounge up more than an hour out of his or her week.

it’s how you spend the rest of your time that’s the Trick of the Trade to being consistently successful in the stock market.

You see, placing a trade, as important as that is, is not the most critical part. It may be the most exciting, when adrenaline is rushing and the heart is pumping. But it’s how you spend the rest of your time that’s the Trick of the Trade to being consistently successful in the stock market.

And just like athletes, and workers, (and artists, and surgeons, and writers, and speakers, and business owners, and politicians…), the very best investors and traders in today’s stock market are those who dedicate the hours to the market when they aren’t actually placing trades, when there is no action. They are forever preparing for their next trade, always looking for opportunities that will give them the edge over other traders. The very best in every field realize and embrace that to be the best, there is always action.

Folks, don’t be sitting on your surfboard trying to catch the next big wave if you haven’t dedicated the time to at least learn how to swim, or stand on a board. The stock market is a zero-sum game. For every winner there is a loser. There is always someone on the other side of every trade you make wanting to take your money. So before you make your next one, ask yourself if you’ve dedicated the time and energy to gain an edge on that trade, or if you’re about to drown.

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