Investing Solutions: Dealing With Information Overload

Earlier this week, The Motley Fool held its first Worldwide Invest Better Day. We had events all over the globe and spent the day celebrating investing and the time-tested concepts that have made investors very wealthy over time.

Invest Better Day was also an opportunity for us to discuss some of the challenges that retail investors face as they attempt to find top-notch investments. During a great Invest Better session in Las Vegas, one Foolish member asked me how to best deal with information overload.

It's a great question, because we've all been there. In the age of the Internet, we're fortunate to have more information than we could ever want right at our fingertips. However, in the age of the Internet, we're also cursed to have more information than we could ever want right at our fingertips. As the questioner put it, he felt as if he was "trying to drink out of a fire hose."

So what can we do? Here are three steps to reclaiming your investing life from information overload.

1. Winnow down the universe
On the major U.S. exchanges, there are more than 2,600 publicly traded stocks with a market cap above $500 million. That's a darn lot of stocks. If you want to avoid being overloaded, you're going to need to find a way to cut down that universe and find a smaller group of stocks to focus in on. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Keep your eyes open. Great businesses are in front of us every day. From Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) powering our Android phones and our Internet searches to Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) cleaning our laundry (Tide) and keeping us looking our best (Gillette, CoverGirl, etc.), we can narrow down potential investments based on companies we patronize.
  • Read, read, and read. While you don't have to read everything, reading business magazines, newspapers, and/or websites can give you some ideas on specific stocks of interest.
  • Run a screen. Stock screeners can help you narrow down stocks based on certain attributes. You can check out The Motley Fool's CAPS screener here.
  • Get some help. Newsletters like the ones offered by The Motley Fool can be another great way to focus your options. They put a relatively focused list of ideas in front of you, and you can choose from that list rather than wade through the entire stock market yourself.

2. Know how to find what's important
By my count, as of 11:37 p.m. ET yesterday, there were 82 articles published in Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC  ) feed on Yahoo! Finance. The articles covered developing news -- like the cyber-attacks on B of A and other large banks -- plus general views on the bank's stock, business developments, industry news, and so on. An investor could spend the entire day simply reading about this one company.

If you're going to be an investor and have anything else going on in your life -- you know, like eating, brushing your teeth, going to work, spending time with your family -- you're clearly going to have to prioritize. When it comes to information prioritization, the SEC's website should be right at the top of your list. Much of the crucial information you need about a company is contained in its SEC filings. No, they're not like reading a Grisham novel, but they're effective.

Beyond SEC filings, a company's website can be a great source of information in the form of press releases and presentations. After that, you can supplement with third-party coverage and analysis from newspapers and websites (meaning, of course, Fool.com!).

3. Put on the blinders
So now you've cut down the massive universe of stocks to something more digestible. You've zeroed in on the information sources that are going to be most helpful. Now, just like an excitable horse at the Kentucky Derby, you need to throw on those blinders.

By that I mean that you need to run through the list of stocks in front of you and pick out one that seems like a particularly interesting opportunity. You might find it interesting because you use the product or service, or you've seen news about the company, or the stock looks like a bargain based on valuation. Whatever the reason, pick one stock. Then dig in and research. If the stock turns out to be a good buy opportunity, then you can act on it. If not, then start the process over by picking out another stock on your list.

By focusing like this, will you end up missing some great stocks elsewhere? Of course. Nobody is going to invest in every great stock out there. The alternative, though, of not focusing and not doing the proper homework on stocks that you buy means you may end up with a portfolio filled with stocks that you barely understand and can't effectively manage. I doubt anyone would think that sounds like a recipe for success.

Ready to zoom in?
Bank of America is nothing if not a controversial stock pick. But resident Motley Fool banking expert Anand Chokkavelu can help you dig in and figure out whether this megabank is the right investment for you. To find out what he thinks, including three areas that you must watch, click here and grab a copy of his premium report on Bank of America.

The Motley Fool owns shares of Google and Bank of America. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google and Procter & Gamble. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer owns shares of Bank of America but has no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter, @KoppTheFool, or on Facebook. The Fool's disclosure policy prefers dividends over a sharp stick in the eye.


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