I remember back almost a decade ago when I was still day trading. I used to routinely write up a little scenario for what I thought the market conditions might be for that day. I studied my intraday and daily charts, noted important economic events or earnings, and looked at futures activity in order to devise that scenario.
That scenario might have read something like the following as we awaited a long-ago FOMC decision the next day: The SPX is jammed up against resistance with a daily doji candle with the FOMC decision due. Volume was light again yesterday, as it has been for several days as the SPX triangles up ahead of the decision. It may explode one way or the other afterwards. DON'T TRUST TECHNICAL SIGNALS AND DON'T TRADE.
Perhaps on another day, I might note that SPX or another underlying was due to pull back to a certain support level, but that several layers of support gathered there, and I thought it would bounce. I might write a note to myself to buy that support test if it occurred, knowing that I'd have a sound, close level from which to set a stop in case I was wrong. What would happen, though, if the SPX dipped only a little, not to that support level and then bounced? What if I reading and listening to other people excitedly talk about how it was about to take off as this action was occurring?
On good days, I ignored what others were saying and waited for my pre-planned entry. On lucky days, I got swept up in others' comments or doubted my own, but it worked out okay anyway. However, the more typical outcome if I ignored my own before-the-market plans was that I usually rued that choice to jump in.
When we ignore our own plans and beliefs and get swept up in others', we lack confidence in the choice we've made. We have buyer's remorse and immediately remember, as soon as we get confirmation of our trade, why we had originally pinpointed a different entry level. If I'd decided to jump in with a long play before my pinpointed support level was tested, could I even endure the drop down to that support level without incurring a loss big enough to force me out of the trade? Would I be so jittery about my choice that I would jump back out of the trade before it had a chance to work?
My scenarios didn't always work out the way I thought they would. If they did, I'd be writing this from a home high above the Colorado River in my solar-powered off-grid home arrayed to catch the sun and the views, too. Instead, I'm writing from my more modest home with a geothermal HVAC system but no solar panels, a half mile from the Colorado and with no water views. However, writing that scenario before the market opened each day allowed me to determine quickly when the market action was not playing out the way I had thought it would. I was warned that either something strange was afoot in the markets or else I just didn't have a good grasp of what was going on. Either way, I didn't want to be trading.
Those of use who trade iron condors, butterflies and calendars often don't need such precise scenarios, but we still do need to plan out our trading days. Are we looking for an entry for a calendar, for example? What conditions for price and volatility action will we want to see? What if those conditions set up outside our normal entry period before expiration?
Just writing a scenario isn't enough to prepare for the trading day. We want that day to be as calm as possible. I've mentioned many times that, if I'm not at my maximum pre-planned loss, I like to wait out the first thirty minutes of the trading day before I make adjustments, if I can. My scenario will help me make this determination. If futures have soared and it looks as if my underlying might gap above an important level at the opening and never look back, I might adjust a bit differently than if I think the gap higher is going to send it straight into the next strong resistance level instead. If a trade is close to an adjustment point before the market opens, I want to have an idea whether I can wait out that crazy amateur-hour period with its inflated volatilities before I adjust.
Another important step before the market opens is to check that you have placed any contingent orders you might need, especially the in-case-of-catastrophe variety. Once again a couple of weeks ago, many traders experienced problems with a popular online brokerage that had updated its platform over the weekend. In this case, I'm not sure that contingent orders set before the market opened would have triggered. However, the incident still reminded many who were trying desperately to place an order on a gapping Monday that it's a good idea to have those just-in-case-of-catastrophe orders in place. If you think you have good-til-cancelled orders already set and working, check. I can't tell you how many times I'd intended to set a GTC order only to find out it was a day order.
Now I'm going to back track and give a couple of caveats. Check whether you really want that contingent order sitting there at the open, especially in an illiquid vehicle. We get some strange price action at the open, so some traders elect to remove all orders except in-case-of-catastrophe ones beneath the market. They might work orders manually the first 30 minutes if they must place an order. Recently, I heard from the Sheridan group of a trader whose contingent order had triggered unexpectedly. Market makers had set the bid and ask especially wide at the open, and the order was triggered based on the bid. At least one platform allows for trades not to be triggered until after a certain time, and some traders use this feature to avoid weird amateur-hour fills.
However, if you're setting an order to lock in profit on a trade, those amateur-hour shenanigans might be your best friend. I set orders to close my credit spread when the debit narrows to $0.20, locking in profits. Those first few minutes of trading sometimes unexpectedly deliver it to me.
Also, I can't tell you how many times I've heard from traders who had a contingent order set and forgot about it. They might have that trade trigger when they didn't want it to do so, perhaps after the trade it had been meant to hedge had long been closed. When you're checking to make sure you have appropriate contingent orders set, make sure you don't have ancient ones you forgot to remove.
Make sure you've set appropriate alerts as part of your before-the-market-opens routine, and delete the ones you no longer need.
Set up any charts you need.
Last but far from least, sign onto the live portion of the Option Investor site, the Market Monitor. Once the market opens, I particularly like to pay attention to Jane Fox's comments about the underpinnings of the market, the TRIN and the advance/decline line. John and Keene comment on futures action.
The idea is to plan when the day is calm, when you're not caught up in the heat of the early trading day, bombarded by lots of different opinions about what's going to happen. If your mornings don't allow this kind of contemplation, do it the previous night.