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Reminder: Our Ask Me Anything Zoom call is THIS MONDAY, May 24, at noon Eastern time. It’s going to be so fun to talk, finally! You can send in your questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can use the form in the reminder email you have received separately. We will kick off the Investing Intensive and talk about everything else going on.
Here we go! I am reading each of the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters starting in 1977, and I will share my notes and thoughts here in The Invested Practice for the next nine weeks. I hope you’ll join me in reading them yourself. All the letters are downloadable for free on the Berkshire Hathaway website.
That’s the bare-bones description of what’s about to happen. But oh my gosh, there is SO much more to say. Details. Practice plans. Attitudes. How will each of us handle our own Investing Intensive?
The Investing Intensive is a term I came up with to define the intense two-week period in which I read all of the Berkshire letters to shareholders that were available to me online, back when I first started my investing practice and had no clue what to do or where to learn. I wanted to learn the language and the terminology of value investing, and to try to understand why Mr. Buffett is the seminal figure in the financial world.
Now, the second time around, my own personal goal is to get more out of each letter. Pull checklist items. Hopefully understand more about how he chose to invest in time periods of a sideways market or high inflation. Basically…wisdom, please, Mr. Buffett. Lay it on me.
I wrote in the last issue about my process of downloading the letters and going crazy over making them all be perfectly arranged – you do not have to do that! We each have the right amount of preparation for this, for each of us. For example, when I did my investing intensive just like this back five or six years ago, I did zero preparation except to download all of the PDFs. Well, I thought I downloaded all the PDFs, but then when I went looking for them a few months ago, I couldn’t find them. So, actually, I probably didn’t download all of the PDFs. So there you can see my preparation: zilch. That level of zilch was 100% appropriate for me at the time as a newbie. All I was trying to do was read the letters. No notes. Just read. Just get through them.
If that’s where you’re at on this project, perfect. Go with it. You can click on each PDF from the Berkshire website each time you need it, or search online for a compiled version, and just read. Also, you’ll have my notes on each letter on The Archive to use as references whenever you want.
If you’re reading these letters for the second time, as I am, or for the third time, then maybe you have a more detailed idea of what you want to get out of this experience. In that case, go ahead and prepare so that you will have the results you want. If you’re looking for a nice compiled binder of your notes, then I suggest spending a little bit of time to set up your process and arrange your reading plan so that you do indeed have those notes at the end. I often think to myself “oh, I’ll go back and make these notes later!” Yeah right. Never happens. I have to set it up in the beginning so that everything flows from there. Here are some ways to set things up.
Paper, screen, or both?
(a) Paper. The benefit of using one book that has all of the shareholder letters in it, or printing out all of the letters and putting them in your own folder, is it then you have a lovely hardcopy with all of your notes that you can save forever. Also, many people prefer the experience of writing notes on paper. Many people prefer to read on paper. I absolutely love the smell and the feel of a proper paper book and I think this is a lovely way to read the shareholder letters and have a record of the investing intensive 2021.
(b) Screen. It could be on a computer, or it could be on an iPad, or could be on the phone. Many ways to read these PDF letters on the screen. The benefit here is to be able to have it at your fingertips, especially if you use it in a way that you have access to it on any device. It can also be quite easy to mark up a PDF using colors, using various ways of marking the text, and you might find that this is the method that fits most easily into your life grabbing 10 minutes here in 10 minutes there or on your commute to read bits and pieces of the letters. If you are planning to take notes directly onto a PDF, I recommend getting access to a good PDF editor. There are so many of them out there.
(c) Combined. Another way to go would be to combine both options and have the PDFs available to you on your phone, iPad, computer, etc., and also use a paper book when you’re sitting on your couch having a nice dedicated reading session. It’s great to be able to simply be flexible, and have your notes in various places, is no big deal, because at the end if you end up with a paper version, and you really want them all together, you can always either scan the pages on what you wrote paper notes, or you can print the pages on what you took electronic notes. I’ve also used text-to-speech a bit so I don’t have to read on a screen so much. It’s not great to listen to a computerized Buffett, but it’s nice that it exists as an option.
It’s highly likely that you’ll start with one method, or decide to start with one method, and then you’ll get one or two letters in and realize that that method really doesn’t work all that well for you, and you switch it up. Just go with it. Don’t let it hold you back, don’t feel like you’ve ruined the whole thing I need to start over, just move forward. Just move forward. It’s the reading here that really matters.
Finally if you don’t care about having a paper copy at all, then the easiest way to go is to just read. Don’t worry about your eventual record of what happened. I don’t have any sort of record of my investing intensive from the very beginning and that’s fine. I don’t think my notes would have taught me very much. It was about just reading. Just getting through the material.
My personal setup:
I already started with one medium and then switched it up, so, you know, make your plans with the thought in the back of your mind that you’ll change if you need to. I started thinking that I have this book of shareholder letters right here. it’s a lovely book, and I would love to have all of my notes from this Investing Intensive handwritten in this book so I can always easily refer to them. I started reading the first letter in the book, and made notes, and then the next day I was thinking about what was in the letter and naturally pulled up the PDF on my phone in the morning after waking up while I was having my coffee because the book was in another room. Proximity. It’s so important to investing practice. I didn’t hate reading on my phone, so I just kept on reading there, and I forgot that I had made this fancy plan to have all my notes be in one giant book.
Then I realized, I kind of liked reading on the PDF. I had lots of different colors of highlighters, and the typing was a lot clearer than my handwriting. (I use PDF Expert – not an endorsement, but I do like it right now.) So I just went with it. Forget the beautiful book to keep forever as a memento of my 2021 Investing Intensive. Instead, I will have a beautiful PDF saved forever called “Annotated Berkshire Letters 2021.”
My highlighter key is:
- Yellow is for my checklist/research list (not sure exactly where to put each piece of information on the checklist, and many will be repetitive, but they are pieces of information I want to make sure I get onto the checklist so I know them about a company before I make the decision to buy).
- Green is for candor (when Buffett particularly calls himself out – I love it so much).
- Blue is for general other noteworthy stuff.
As you know, my firm belief in investing practice is that we each have to discover what is the smoothest path to feeling joyful during investing practice, and it turns out for me, even though in general I like paper books better, reading these letters on the screen, or a PDF that I can mark up with lots of colors, is working really well for me. So, I’m going for it. No more deep thought than that.
This isn’t a school project. No one‘s going to give me a grade. This is just for me in my experience, and there’s no perfect or right way to do it.
There are earlier letters than 1977, both from the Buffett Partnership and from Berkshire Hathaway. They are wonderful letters and worth reading. However, for this project, I’ve chosen to start in 1977 for the simple reason that that is where the Berkshire Hathaway website starts providing them. They’re readily available for free to all of us, and it’s the year Buffett provides, and those two reasons are enough for me. Plus, it’s already going to take a long time to read that many letters. 44, to be exact.
I was thinking today – back in my original Investing Intensive, how on earth did I manage to work full-time and read three letters per day? I was trying to remember, and decided maybe I was insane, and then I remembered how I did it: I skimmed the letters. I didn’t read every single word carefully or take notes. I didn’t even understand half the letter. I just got through them.
This time, though, I’m reading carefully. I’m taking detailed notes. It takes a lot more time and a good amount of energy. I imagine it’s going to be much the same for most of us, so I’m knocking it down from my original plan of six letters per week, and taking it down to five per week. Much more manageable. We will be finished on July 24.
- 1977-1981 … done May 29 (one week from today)
- 1982-1986 … done June 5
- 1987-1991 … done June 12
- 1992-1996 … done June 19
- 1997-2001 … done June 26
- 2002-2006 … done July 3
- 2007-2011 … done July 10
- 2012-2016 … done July 17
- 2017-2020 … done July 24
I’ve created a simple chart for The Invested Practice schedule in Google Sheets. If you’re like me and like to know where you are in the grand scheme of a project or keep track of progress, it may be of use.
How to use this Google Sheets file: This file is view-only, so you will need to make a copy that you can keep on your own Google Drive and make your own notes in. You can also then revise it, add to it, do whatever you want with it. To make a copy, first make sure you’re logged into your Google account. Then go to to File → Make a copy.
There are many variations on how you can follow this five-per-week schedule.
(a) Slow and steady. One letter per day, five days per week, two days off. Could even stretch to seven days per week if you don’t read a full letter each day. And I will say from my prep reading, some of the letters go quickly, and others really take a while, so taking more than one day on some of them will be probably be logistically necessary. The benefit is that you got a constant steady stream of Buffett and, without any down days, it’s quite nice to remember everything while reading through steadily.
(b) Intermittent. Don’t read every day but read intensively every other day, or two days per week. The benefit is that it’s fairly intensive as you read so that you’ll get into the rhythm, without taking an entire day.
(c) Deep dive. Take one day each week, and read all five letters in one go. It’ll be mentally taxing, and a really large chunk of the day or maybe even a whole day. The benefit is that you get to experience it all at once and you’ll really start to notice patterns and remember notations from letters previous.
I’m on the Slow and Steady plan. I can’t read much more than 30 minutes at a time, so I need to take lots of breaks anyway, and that’s definitely going to add up to reading every day. I hope that I’ll start craving my daily dose of Buffett – but who knows, maybe it will cure of me of all Buffett reading for quite a while! I’ll let you know.
Each of us has our own plan and our own practice, myself included, and it’s going to be really exciting to see how it goes. Good luck to us all, and here we go…Investing Intensive!