A Day in the Life of a Day Trader

Wondered what a day trader does each day? Find out.

a day in the life of a day trader
Jamie Grill, Getty Images

The life of a day trader may seem exciting--a life lived on the edge. In a way that is partially true, as unexpected events or trading results can occur on any given day. The reality though is that most days are quite ordinary, nothing much exciting happens. Ignore the sales pitches and "glamour" image. Here's what day trading is really like, so you can see for yourself if it is right for you.

Rise and Shine

Depending on your time zone, day trading may be a very early endeavor or allow you to sleep in.

For the U.S. stock and futures markets the hour before and the first hour or two of the trading day typically offer the best opportunities (see: Best Hours to Day Trade the Stock Market). If you live in Eastern time, that means you should be at your computer, ready to trade by 8:30 AM, or 9:20 (10 minutes before the official open) if trading stocks just during regular market hours. 

If day trading forex you have more choices, although typically the above time is good for day trading forex as well. U.S. companies and banks are opening for business, and London is still open for business. Therefore, this couple hours is usually one of the most volatile and highly liquid of the day (see: Forex Hourly Tendencies).

Preparation

Working from home as a day trader you can do what you want; no one is around to tell you different. Discipline is up to you. Get up at least an hour before you start trading.

Eat breakfast and mentally prepare yourself for the day.

  • Quickly rehearse your strategies in your mind. Been having specific trading-related issues? Create a plan for how you will handle them
  • Check your trading account balance so you know exactly how much you can risk on each trade. Risking 2% or less of your account balance is recommended, 1% if you are new and don't have at least several months of profitable trading under your belt (see Determining Proper Position Size).
  • Check the economic calendar, and make a note on your chart of when major events occur that day. Exit trades at least three minutes before a major economic event.
  • Ensure your trading platform is working well, and quotes are streaming.

For more on preparation, see Create a Day Trading Routine to Avoid Mistakes.

Day Trading

Trade at least the first hour after the official open, 9:30 to 10:30 AM EST if trading stocks, futures or forex. If trading futures or actively traded stocks or ETFs, the pre-market--8:30 to 9:30--will also provide some of the best trades of the day. For forex, you can start a few hours earlier, especially if trading the GBPUSD or EURUSD.

If the market is active, you may opt to trade until 11:30 AM EST. Around this time is when volatility tends to decrease as the "lunch hour" begins.

New day traders often think they need to work more to make more, yet "less is more." Avoid trading during the lunch hour; typically the minuscule pay off doesn't warrant spending capital or emotional energy on trading during this time. If you wish to continue trading, do so between 2:00 and 4:00 PM EST. The last hour is a popular time for day traders as it is the second most volatile hour of the trading day (see Common Intra-Day Stock Market Patterns).

For myself, I only trade the morning. I start trading futures at 8:30 and finish at 10:30 AM EST. Two hours of focus and the day is done. Rarely anything exciting happens. You see the same thing every day, and your only focus is to find patterns you recognize and that offer a favorable edge. 

If day trading is extremely exciting and adrenaline is constantly pumping, there is actually a good chance something is wrong. If this is occurring the trader likely hasn't adequately prepared for different types of market conditions, they are risking too much of their capital or they don't have a plan for how to trade. A day trader's job is to simply find trade setups. execute, and then manage those trades according to the strategy. If the focus is kept on that, there isn't much room for emotional highs and lows.

Review

When the trading day ends--for some like me that may be 10:30 AM, and for others 4:00 PM EST--take a screen shot of your chart for the day. Mark trade levels, profits/losses for each trade, and then make a note which includes:

  • Hours traded
  • Number of trades
  • Number of winning trades and total of all winning trades in pips/points/cents
  • Number of losing trades and total of all losing trades in pips/points/cents
  • Net profit/loss in pips/points/cents

We make a note on our chart of profits/losses in pips (forex), points (futures) or cents (stocks) because these are scalable figures. Writing down dollar figures can be misleading, because your account balance may fluctuate over time, resulting in bigger or smaller trades.

Save each screenshot with a name: month-day-year. Create a folder on your computer and store these files for later review.

Each weekend go through the screenshots from the prior week. Note where you made mistakes and what you could improve on. Practice these specific issues in a demo account during non-trading hours.

At the end of each month, repeat. Review the charts from the entire month (more quickly this time). Note what you are doing well and what still needs work.

Outside of trading review time, your work is done. There is no homework unless you need to work on a specific trading issue.

Final Word on the Day in the Life a Day Trader

Day trading isn't always exciting; many days are actually quite boring. Most day traders will admit that they love what they do, though. If you know your strategies well, not much will surprise you or get your adrenaline pumping...although the outcome of each trade is unknown when you take it. That does make it fun, but it should never be viewed as gambling.

Most day traders have brief days, working two to five hours per day. Five hours is high. Add on a few minutes each day for preparation, and review at the end of the day and week, and day trading still isn't very time consuming. You will have lots of time to focus on other interests. This is the end result of a lot of practice, though. It often takes five months or more of solid practice every day and on weekends before you can open a live account and expect to make a consistent income off only trading for a couple hours a day.

Stay focused while you trade, but also review each week. Taking screenshots of each day you trade provides a historic record of every trade you took, and since it shows the circumstances of the trade this method is superior to a written trading journal.