I've spent the last two weeks in Internet purgatory -- not necessarily a place where connectivity was unavailable, but certainly where it was both slow and expensive to use. Knowing this in advance, I determined that I would disconnect and not check up on the world for two full weeks.

It means I missed out on a couple of things: Ronald Reagan's funeral for one, Ray Charles' for another. It also meant that for a period of two weeks, I had exactly zero idea what was going on in the world of finance, and I had no additional information on how the markets -- or more viscerally, my stocks -- had performed.

This was as much of a test of myself as anything. For as much as I am a long-term investor, I am also a habitual "checker." What's going on? What happened since then? Up or down? Yadda, yadda, yadda. Never mind that my propensity to act on this "information" is generally zero. I still wanted to know. I checked the box scores. A lot.

A heartwarming story of nothing much
What that amounts to, in effect, is an enormous waste of time. I own Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.a), for example. Have for years. Occasionally, I'll add to my position, but these things are generally driven by my own financial capacity, not based on some news event. When Warren Buffett rightly glorifies his own inaction "bordering on sloth," what good is it at all to keep track of the wiggles and waggles of Berkshire's stock price? Do the daily closes matter that much if you have no intention to sell?

With a company the size and structure of a Berkshire Hathaway, the answer is that it doesn't do much good at all. But is Berkshire Hathaway really so different than the majority of most companies? Is it an exception, or just an extreme example of the benefits of benign neglect for an investor? I had two weeks of self-imposed exile to find out.

The end result was this: I own companies that run the gamut from speculative natural-gas exploration to a debt-laden restaurant chain to Annaly Mortgage (NYSE:NLY), a mortgage REIT that ought to be sensitive to the changing rate environment. (Annaly is a past selection of Motley Fool's Income Investor.) How could I possibly be confident enough to let them go completely unwatched for a period of two weeks? To be honest, I wasn't: I'm not a buy-and-forget investor. Just so, I'm convinced that many individual investors are greatly harmed by watching their stocks too closely -- there's this nearly irresistible urge to do something in response to what is by and large a bunch of noise. I wrote about the tidal wave of worthless information in the March article That's So Five Minutes Ago.

So, the question is, which is more harmful -- spending every waking moment of every single day carping on message boards about whether or not the "market makers are painting the tape," or letting your portfolio go on autopilot for a while? I suggest that the latter is much healthier for two reasons: First, you're going to have more time to spend on things that do matter, and second, you're much less likely to react to something that is ultimately unimportant. While the world seemed to be all hot and bothered about whether Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) "made its number" for the quarter, the step back gives you the time to look not at that one piece of data, but the totality. Focusing too deeply on the number might mean that you miss the fact that Dell's balance sheet has gone from pristine to tawdry in the span of about two years. Keep your nose 2 inches away from the screen all the time, and you risk missing what all of the information means.

Benign neglect, not buy and forget
That I was even marginally comfortable taking a few weeks without so much as checking up on the companies I own was in fact a risk, but a reasonable one. For many, this would not be the case. This has nothing to do with the mirage of control that many investors want to grant themselves when it comes to their portfolios -- it is extraordinarily difficult to predict events that can happen nearly at random. I did take some risk. I was limiting my ability to react to truly bad (or good) occurrences. In general, though, these things don't happen often enough to any individual portfolio to justify slavish devotion to continual price updating.

Still, walking away was sort of tough, for one reason -- what Washington State University Professor Dr. John Nofsinger calls "overconfidence" in his excellent book Investment Madness. Investors have this delusion that by closely watching events with their companies or the markets that they have some semblance of deep knowledge about them, and even think that they have some control over them. Nofsinger even found that there is a high correlation between the amount of messages on Internet discussion boards one day and trading volume the next day.

But a read through of most Internet board posts will show that there is a near total absence of insight or knowledge imparted in the overwhelming majority of them. What they do impart is something else: excitement. Excitement is a great reason to sidle up to a table in Vegas: That's what you're there for. It's not a great assistant to the investing promised land, though. Excitement, the illusion of control, the need for action -- these aren't ingredients for investment success -- they're key to the underperformance that comes hand in hand with hypertrading.

There was a simple reason, though, that I wasn't terribly bothered with the thought of cutting the tether on my portfolio for a few weeks. It was this: I've analyzed these companies so much and for so long that I could take with me a reasonable expectation of what I'd find when I returned. The day I bought each company I owned became the day that I committed to really study, and I have done just that. Could Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) have been accused of using kittens in making its products in the past two weeks, causing the stock to absolutely tank? Certainly, if this is a risk (which I sincerely doubt), I'm not likely to know about it until everyone else does. I don't have perfect information. No one, inside of a company or out, really does. But the pursuit of better investment performance requires one to figure out what is important and what is not, and to determine what is knowable and what is not.

As best I can, I know the companies that I own. I also recognized that the amount of time I spent on things that didn't increase my understanding of these or any other possible investments was higher than it ought to have been. As such, though I may have some catching up on any major stories over the last two weeks, in the scope of things, I haven't lost anything at all. If anything, by not spending time worrying about stuff that didn't really matter, I gained a great deal more.

Bill Mann holds shares in Procter & Gamble, Berkshire Hathaway, and Annaly Mortgage. The Motley Fool is investors writing for other investors.