Productivity Tools for Investors

Investors usually spend a lot of time sifting through huge amounts of information. Books, News Papers, Articles, Corporate Announcements, Annual Reports & Quarterly result transcripts just keep piling up (both online/offline). Then there is The Economist that looks at me menacingly when it comes on time every week. Also the incessant note making where I jot down important points & build enormous paper trails that would embarrass Roman road builders. Where does this end? When I want to find a note I made 3 years ago about some company, what are my chances of finding it in the rubble of paper, i.e. if certainly it wasn’t given away as Raddi. Well at least in its demise that note made me money, even if the stock didn’t.

Investors love chaos when they are cash rich, since they get more opportunities to put money in. But when they are data rich, chaos is hardly a friend.

We have help at hand, but it sure requires some changes in our habits. Ever since mobile hardware technology, internet & telecom services proliferated we have been blessed by a memory augmentation. We can not only carry all our contacts with us but we can also carry all our emails, music & documents with us too. With the new cloud computing technology, things have become even easier than before, we no longer need to have a mobile device with plenty of disk space on it. All we need to do is to put stuff up there in the cloud & we can access if from anywhere where there is at least one stick of network dangling on your internet enabled mobile screen.

I have categorized some of the needs of investors & the tools I use, as follows:
Sorting, Scheduling, Consolidating & Notes Making

Sorting:
Sorting is an art, at least when it comes to investing. When productive time is inversely proportional to the amount of stuff to read, it becomes a necessary skill. I have found several aggregating tools very useful, but one tool that tops it all has been “Google Reader“. Google Reader is a RSS Feed aggregating tool, which is available online through our browsers for any Gmail/Google user. To know what RSS is go here.

Most of us have grown up in an age where we prefer the black ink of a fresh newspaper in the morning to reading news on the screen. But is it so bad to read news on the screen? Almost all newspapers worth their salt offer RSS feeds. We can subscribe to these feeds by adding them to the Google Reader subscriptions. It keeps on populating content as per the feed’s filter, & the best part is, its all automatic. Of course the reading is not automatic, but the interface offers you all the headlines & usually a one line synopsis of the article. This is enough to sort the articles as worth reading now, later or never. It shaves off several hours of going through newspapers where we end up reading everything if we haven’t developed sorting skills. Especially when I had started reading financial papers for the first time it was difficult to sort through a physical newspaper because, like a fool, I ended up reading everything. If there are articles that we want to read later, we can mark them with a Star (a Google Reader Feature) & access the Starred Items section at a later time.

Corporate Announcements can also be added as RSS feeds which will help us keep track of ¬†public announcements from stock exchanges. Its very intuitive & doesn’t take much time to get a hang of it.

Scheduling:
Scheduling was a huge problem, because Windows PC users aren’t used to the calendar feature so much. There was Outlook, but it wouldn’t directly sync with any mobile device, so there had to be more than one version of calendars. But now with “Google Calendar” & its ability to sync with almost any latest internet enabled mobile device, scheduling events is a breeze. We can add updates about important events, like conference calls of various companies, AGM’s or other Shareholder meetings of the companies, record dates of various corporate events, along with our personal events. Even if we don’t have an internet enabled mobile device, we can add events in the calendar from our web browser & we can also avail the sms reminder facility. It just works, there is nothing more I can add.

Lately, “Researchbytes.com” is a new website, which collates the details of all public corporate events like conference calls & shareholder meetings along with providing transcripts & webcasts of most the conference calls. This site along with Google Calendar is an excellent mix for keeping track of company events.

Consolidating:
We remember visually, rather than verbally. We tend to remember images intuitively rather than words about the images. Ever since this idea has trickled down into the mainstream media, a lot of products (free/paid) have been launched which offer mind mapping capabilities. Its a way to represent data in terms of mind maps where a central topic has branches of sub topics. To know more about Mind Maps go here. To know more about Mind Mapping Software go here.

It takes a while to get a hang of it, but I have found it most useful in building templates for what information I want to look at in any business. Just add branches if we need to fill more info about some business. This creates a visual map of the business with only the relevant points that we can remember easily. To give an example, when I first started using mind maps I had these branches –

Eventually I have added a lot more branches depending upon the business structure & the industry. In the same way anyone can have any generic template to represent their visual picture of the business. This is relatively new to us since we have never encountered this ever in our educational curriculum right since school. So this form of visual memory takes time to develop but is awesome for retention.

Notes Making:
Notes making is a habit which I have found most difficult to change. I have always been used to writing down notes in a note pad ever since I was a kid. Too many notebooks, with too many notes & no way to search through them for a specific note. Well, we have a free app which works everywhere, literally. We can run it on a Windows PC, on a Mac, on an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Blackberry, Android phones, web browser – you name it. Its called Evernote. It is one of the latest productivity tools for note syncing. The best feature: when you are at home & create a note or update an old note. It is automatically available across all platforms of Evernote after it sync’s with the Evernote Server over the internet. We can tag notes, add scanned images to notes, or even photos taken from our mobile devices & also attach other files like excel scheets, ppt presentations, pdf’s & so on. But the bottom line is, Notes are accessible anywhere. We can keep on creating notes & not worry about syncing until we are going to change the device on which we will be using Evernote. It usually sync’s automatically when we open the app, but we can manually sync as well. Notes making, remembering & accessing at a later date has never been so easy.

It is never too late to embrace technology because technology is not always daunting as it is made out to be. Technology makes life easier, faster & leaves more time in the day to truly do what we really want to do, analysis & investing & leaving enough time to get a life as well. It is time we take a step ahead in evolution & adapt to it.

Please let me know if there are more productivity tools that investors can benefit from.

3 Comments

  1. One of the things I have found useful is to read a conference call transcript on the website rather than dial in or listen to the audio. Helps in cutting through the portions of the call that are not of interest.

    Another (somewhat controversial / shocking) technique I am trying out is to read more of annual reports and less of quarterly releases.

    Advantages
    1. Focuses mind on the long term and smooths out quarterly variations
    2. Gives more focus to auditors report, notes to accounts, corporate governance etc rather than only on what management wants us to see.
    3. P&L and Balance Sheet both get focus rather than only P&L.

    Disadvantage is that one has to wait 12 months for an annual report as opposed to just 3 months and that too with a time lag.

  2. In addition to google reader, for my wishlist(stocks which i want to buy) i use google spreadsheets for tracking and notes..in spreadsheets you can use googlefinance formula to get stocks details.. awesome feature
    Marshal

  3. Hi,

    Just wanted to put in here one comment…not really related to the investing related ideas which you jot down here…

    I was browsing in Crossword about a week back when I chanced upon Mr. Parekh’s book on Value Investing and Behavioural Finance…being an avid believer in Value investing but at the same time, having no conviction in my beliefs (which has kept me away from actively engaging in Stock transactions), I had to do further research which led me to this website and then to this blog.

    I am very delighted – the least to say on just one point – the usage of mind maps…I have myself been a mind mapper for atleast a decade (since my 12th Standard) and I am so very happy to see it being promulgated in this fashion! – Kudos…

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