I believe the objective of all trading rules is to manage risk. As such, daily targets are important, but only insofar as it helps the trader manage their risk profile. I will state up front, however, that I very firmly believe that a daily targets should not be solely (nor primarily) profit based.
On any successful trade, I think we can all agree that you would never completely exit a trade just because you’ve made “too much” money. However, smart trade management tells you that you should scale out of a successful trade to lock in profits and manage downside risk. You should also move your stop-loss point, as appropriate, to avoid profit slippage on any shares you still carry. And eventually, you will exit the trade when the technical indicators dictate…and not(!) based on our achieved P&L.
Likewise, I think traders should set a daily target. Not to specifically tell you when to stop trading, but to set a risk parameter that will allow you to reduce downside risk.
Personally, here’s how I do it. Before each trading day I set my daily trading target along with my max loss target for the day and my max loss per trade. For illustration, let’s assume those values are as follows:
Daily profit target: $500
Max daily loss: $300
Max loss per trade: $100
Minimum per trade risk-to-reward ratio: 1:2 *
*(note that this value rarely changes)
This tells me that on this day, I cannot, at any point in time, have more than 3 more losing trades than I have winning trades or I will hit my max loss and have to stop trading. The daily max loss is unalterable once set. No exceptions. However, the daily profit target is a guideline only, and here’s the rules I use to manage my risk:
1. Throughout the day (approximately hourly) I self-assess on how tired I am. If at any point I determine I am too tired to be effective, I will force myself to stop trading no matter the time of day or what profit level I am at. This, of course, is much easier said than done. But, through years of practice I have gotten very good at self-regulation and am able to put down my tools and stop trading.
2. Equally, I will also assess how distracted I am. If at any point I determine I have become distracted from the markets for any reason (emails, family, the chatroom, YouTube(!), etc.) and am not “in the zone” for trading, I will take a forced break of a minimum of 10 minutes (up to 2 hours) depending on the situation and time of day. I will then re-assess whether I can, and am willing(!), to re-focus on the markets to make some successful trades. If not, my trading day is done. If I am good to go, I will look at my P&L. If I am over my daily target, then I will not re-enter the market. If I am red but not a max loss, I will stop trading. If I am green but below my target I will consider resuming trading. My reasoning for this is that if I allowed myself to get distracted once today, it’s more likely to happen again if I am over target and feeling comfortable than if I still need to hustle to hit my goal. If I am red and got distracted, then I am obviously not in the game and any continuation of my trading will very likely lead to me hitting max loss.
3. If I am over my target, but not more than 1 loss over (i.e. between $500-600), then I will reduce my trade size by 50% until: a) I have achieved a profit of more than $600 where I can return to full trade size if I like, b) my profit dips below $500 and I must stop trading, or c) I remain between $500-600 through 2 more trades when I will also require myself to stop trading as my trades are obviously not achieving their individual risk-to-reward targets.
4. If I am over my target of $500 but not yet at 2x my target (i.e. $1000 in this example), then I can continue to trade until either: a) I have 2 consecutive losses, or b) I come within 1 loss (i.e. $100) of my $500 initial target. In either case, I must stop trading immediately
5. If I have had an exceptional day and am more than 2x my target, then I allow myself to risk any amount over $1000, if I feel like it. However, note that based on my fixed daily rules, I must still NEVER exceed my maximum loss (risk) per trade of $100. If I slide under $1100 (i.e less that 1 loss away from 2x target), then I must stop trading immediately.
The above rules cover most scenarios. I hope this wasn’t too convoluted. It makes perfect sense to me and because I have been applying them for so long I am able to assess the above rules in seconds throughout the day, almost automatically. However, I know they might seem complex, especially when seeing them for the first time.
At the outset of this article, I mentioned that I believe targets should not solely be profit based. Embedded in the above rules are my personal ‘targets’ on effectiveness, focus, risk, and fun! Yes, fun! Rule 5 is completely fun based. I allow myself to play with any ‘extra’ money, if I so choose. If that day it feels more fun to keep the money than to trade it, I will. However, if it’ll be more fun to keep trading, I can…as long as I stick within my rules thus limiting my risk exposure.
Also note that rules 1 and 2 are done hourly throughout the day, irrespective of my P&L. They precede any consideration for how profitable I am on the day.
As a final note, I have the habit of not looking at my daily P&L unless absolutely necessary. I used to stare at it constantly and it led to some bad behaviours. So, now I keep it hidden so as not to distract me or affect my decision making on any given trade. (I do however, look at my P&L on any open trade). So, how do I know my P&L and apply my rules if I can’t see where I’m at? I’ve found that I generally have a pretty good feel for where I’m at. I know if I’ve had a good or a bad day. I’ll usually only check when I’ve either taken a distraction interrupt, if I believe I am near max loss (that one is usually easy), or if I’m not sure if I am just above or below break-even. If I’ve made it to lunch without those happening, then I’ll check before I get up for lunch and apply my rules as appropriate.