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Why You Should Avoid Listening to Too Much Investment Noise

According to New York-based research firm Basex, information overload -- the constant disruption of the work day with irrelevant material, including e-mails and meetings -- costs us eight hours of productivity a week. When spread across the U.S. economy, these "unnecessary interruptions" cost $900 billion a year in lost productivity. While information overload can certainly produce a negative impact on your productivity, it can also have a negative effect on your returns.

Consider the following from Richard Bernstein. In his book Navigating the Noise, Bernstein writes: "Today's investors find it inconceivable that life might be better without so much information. Investors find it hard to believe that ignoring the vast majority of investment noise might actually improve investment performance. The idea sounds too risky because it is so contrary to their accepted and reinforced actions." What makes this quote of particular interest is that Bernstein used to be chief investment strategist at Merrill Lynch, a source of so much of the very noise he warns against.

Jason Zweig is the personal finance writer for The Wall Street Journal and one of the most respected in his field. You would be well served to follow the advice he provided:

"As I traipse around the country speaking to investing groups, or just stay in my cage writing my articles, I'm often accused of 'disempowering' people because I refuse to give any credence to anyone's hope of beating the market. The knowledge that I don't need to know anything is an incredibly profound form of knowledge. Personally, I think it's the ultimate form of empowerment. You can't tune out the massive industry of investment prediction unless you want to: otherwise, you'll never have the fortitude to stop listening. But if you can plug your ears to every attempt (by anyone) to predict what the markets will do, you will outperform nearly every other investor alive over the long run. Only the mantra of 'don't know, and I don't care' will get you there."

You're best served by having a well-designed investment plan and then sticking to your plan like a postage stamp. Paying attention to investment information is highly likely to cause you to take counterproductive actions. The proof of that comes from studies showing that the returns earned by investors are well below the returns of the very funds in which they invest -- a result caused by reacting to information that is nothing more than noise.

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