Saturday, 15 February 2020

The unfortunate thing humans do in conversation

How often do we say something to others, only to regret it afterwards? This often happens because we didn’t take enough time to think. How often do we allow ourselves the luxury of a pause in a conversation to think?

The astoundingly short gap between spoken turns

My friend Kasia last year tweeted an article about a (rarely thought-about) phenomenon that is typical of conversations between humans: the astoundingly short gap between spoken turns. This gap is usually just 200 milliseconds in duration (although there are slight variations across different cultures). 200 milliseconds is, for example, the time that runners take to respond to a starting pistol. So it indeed is not very long! Read the article here.

It means that when we’re engaged in a conversation, we are pressed for time (which never is a nice state to be in). We are forced to think about and form our responses while we’re still listening to what the other person is saying, to be able to reply at the earliest possible opportunity. It’s a culturally imposed conversation pattern: we minimise the gap of silence between turns in a conversation because it’s expected of us.

A culturally imposed phenomenon:
when we’re engaged in a conversation, we're pressed for time
(Image source: Mohamed Hassan on Pixabay)

The lasting effect of childhood experiences

The article reminded me of how as a child I was once mocked (first by a stranger, then by a relative) for not replying quickly enough. It wasn't the first time it was suggested to me something was wrong with me in that respect. In some odd way, certain experiences from our childhoods tend to have a lasting effect on us, although the human mind is also good at simply shoving such memories away. But the memory of being mocked for not replying quickly enough stuck with me subconsciously: I henceforth believed conversations were supposed to be a quick exchange of spoken turns. 

As children we tend to believe what the grown-ups tell us; as grown-ups we’re free to think our own thoughts. As a grown-up, I now think it should really be the other way around: conversations should not be of a rapid-fire nature, but ideally should be deep, perhaps even slow. And pauses for thinking, by all means, should be allowed.

The benefits of pauses in conversation

Pauses for thinking may be necessary for various reasons: so that we don’t offend the other person; so that we’re able to come up with something better than the usual platitudes that mark a lot of our conversations; so that we can give our full, undivided attention to what the other person is saying.

What does it take to have a really good conversation? To take one step in the right direction, let’s prolong what Stephen Levinson from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the article terms “the minimum human response time” at least a bit. Time in our day and age is a luxury and should be employed wisely, not least in conversations!

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Why translators don’t fear the machines

The takeover of translations by machines apparently is impending.Why then don’t human translators fear the much talked-about rise of the machines?

As I see it, it all boils down to one simple answer: translators don’t fear the machines because a translation is created in a series of stages.

Most translations require human input

Machine translation is sometimes helpful in the first stage of creating a translation, but it then cannot contribute to what happens in subsequent stages. And where machine translation is no longer helpful, a human translator’s input will be required. 

The takeover of translations by machines apparently is impending,
but why don't human translators fear the machines?
(Image source: Peggy and Marco Lachmann-Anke on Pixabay)

The translation stages where machine translation is not helpful include, for example:

- Researching terminology in the particular field of the text

- Identifying and pointing out issues in the source text to the client, using appropriate grammatical terminology to describe and explain those issues, suggesting improvements

- Discussing the approach to “untranslatable” terms with the client

- Finding workaround solutions to tricky terms and phrases

- Applying client style guidelines to the translation

- Creating coherence between the individual parts of the text

- Improving the first draft of a translation (also known as “rough translation”)

- Improving the translation further

- Checking that correct punctuation has been used

- Formatting the file

- Eradicating errors (including errors potentially introduced by machine translation!)

- Printing off the translation and checking it on paper

- Double-checking that correct numbers and/or reference numerals (in patents) have been used

- Rewriting the translation (where required) so that it reads like a text that is idiomatically phrased in the target language

- Ensuring that the underlying meaning of the original text has been accurately conveyed (as we know, language is full of ambiguities!)

- Checking that technical terms have been used consistently throughout the translation

- Editing, fine-tuning and polishing the translated text

- Putting a human touch to the translation

Anyone who believes that a translation can be created by the simple push of a button is unaware that a translation is created in stages. Machine translation may be useful during the first of those stages, but creating a fit-for-purpose translation is a long, drawn-out and intricate process.

A good translation cannot be created by the simple push of a button
(Image source: Gerd Altmann on Pixabay)

Afterthought: Nobody knows, of course, what's still going to happen on the AI front, and some of the tasks above will maybe be taken over by robots one day. Right now, we're still very far away from it. I also personally believe that we will never get to a stage where robots will be like humans.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Why negative thoughts exist and how to counter them

For a long time, I thought it was just me: vortices of negative thought, with negative thoughts occupying my mind. Then I realised it wasn’t just me. I found out: negative thoughts are a “by-product” of evolution!

Negative thinking is a primordial instinct that helped our ancestors survive millions of years ago

Survival of the fittest

Our brains are more receptive to bad than positive news. As John Cacioppo demonstrated, our brains react more strongly to stimuli that it deems negative. There is a greater surge in electrical activity.

The negative thoughts pestering us today have derived from a primordial instinct that originally was designed to protect. So today we are still heavily influenced by the brain’s same negativity bias which millions of years ago helped our ancestors be alert to potential dangers around them and which helped them survive.

A primordial instinct: alertness to dangers

Whenever the mind perceives a threat (of whatever nature), it attends to it very quickly. This has implications: negative information is prioritised over positive information; criticism has greater influence on us than praise; worries about our jobs, health, families, the future of the country that we live in can all easily drag us down (Brexit-related thoughts are a notable example!).

So even when a string of good things happens to you, it will be enough for one (possibly trivial!) negative thing to happen, which will then become the only thing occupying your mind. Suddenly, all your attention is drawn to that one negative thing and will stick with it (while the many good things will suddenly be erased from your mind). It’s an evolutionary reaction.

Techniques for amplifying positive emotions

As I’ve already noticed in a previous blog post, negative thinking is the default mode of our brains, but the good news is once we’re aware of it, we can learn to switch to a different mode of thought. We can learn to control our thinking, even amplify positive emotions! Of the techniques I’ve adopted to keep my primordial gloomy thoughts at bay, these are my favourites:

1. Affirmations

I have a set of ‘customized’ affirmations that I tend to repeat to myself whenever I find my thoughts are drifting into negative territory. They’re statements that are both positive and powerful. I have found that diverting thoughts to affirmations is hugely effective. I often also switch to my “affirmations mode” whenever I don’t quite know what to think of in particular (e.g. during a run).

2. The morning gratefulness exercise

This is an easy and popular exercise: it involves calling up in your mind 3 things that you’re grateful for right before getting up in the morning. They can be ordinary things that we maybe take for granted: the health of our children, our own health, having a job, being able to afford so many things. Also life circumstances in general. (Tip: I’ve heard you can increase the effect if you stay with each thing in your mind for at least 20 seconds.)

3. The engagement in flow activities

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi argues we can learn to control our consciousness by engaging in so-called flow activities, which strengthen our sense of purpose. Flow is defined as a blissful mental state in which you are totally absorbed in an activity, unaware of how the time goes by. While we’re engaged in flow activities (I’ve described mine here), we don’t waste time on worrying.

4. Living in the moment

Life can take unexpected turns from one minute to the next. We all know that. What’s more, wandering thoughts frequently are negative thoughts. I’ve found that therefore one of the best techniques to counter negative thinking really is “living in the moment”, living in the here and now.

At first I thought it was just me, then realised it wasn’t: negative thinking grips us easily, but is really just a primordial instinct that helped our ancestors survive millions of years ago. Once we’re aware of this mechanism, we can aim to control our thoughts – even amplify positive emotions – by using specific thinking techniques.

We can learn to control our thinking, even amplify positive emotions

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

A minimalist’s approach to combating climate change

If the Earth becomes uninhabitable, what alternatives do we have?

My colleague Claire Cox recently had one of her excellent articles, entitled “Going greener in your office”, published in the ITI Bulletin. In it she argues that when it comes to freelance working practices, there’s an awful lot we can do, even on an individual level, to make sure we are more environmentally aware.

I’d like to chip in as well and contribute my twopence worth, also from a minimalist’s point of view. Climate change is the biggest threat faced by our generation and will become an even bigger threat to future generations. The outlook is scary, daunting challenges lie ahead, and unprecedented and far-reaching changes will be needed.

If the Earth becomes uninhabitable, what alternatives do we have?

The following are actions which I implement to do my bit to combat climate change. To my mind, they are simple actions which we can all take to contribute towards preserving the planet and to enhance our quality of life in general.

1) No to beef and cows’ milk

The food sector, especially the meat and dairy sector, is among the biggest contributors to global warming. When cows burp while digesting food, they release methane, a greenhouse gas. It’s said that if cattle formed their own nation, they would constitute the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the US).

Therefore, it is clear we can help the planet simply by changing our diets and minimising our consumption of meat, especially beef. This, by the way, seems a wise thing to do for health reasons anyway. Although I’m not a fully-fledged vegetarian, these days I nevertheless often opt for plant-based foods, which are healthier than meat and can also be incredibly tasty!

For long-term health benefits, to slow down my aging process etc., I also avoid cows’ milk wherever I can. Cows’ milk is not meant for humans. There are other, much better milk alternatives available that are safe for consumption by humans: almond milk, coconut milk, goats’ milk and others.

2) Minimal driving

Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are hugely damaging to the planet and are accelerating global warming at a frightening and very dangerous pace. It’s a fact that there are too many vehicles on our roads. So it really is a no-brainer that – if and to the extent possible – we should use our cars less and instead cycle, walk or use public transport more.

Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are accelerating global warming at a frightening and very dangerous pace

I know it’s very easy for me to say that because, as several blog readers will know, I’ve been terrified of driving all my life. (Even just sitting in the passenger seat causes similar stress levels.) I haven’t driven for almost five years, but instead cycle to all places within cycling distance, or I walk, go by bus or travel by train. And I love it!

Incidentally, I’m a patent translator, and I usually gladly accept projects about inventions pertaining to autonomous driving/driverless cars, but also projects about inventions pertaining to electric vehicles. I don’t mind helping the state of the art in these fields along a bit by translating patent claims and descriptions, while hoping I can postpone getting back behind the steering wheel for another while.

So admittedly, my reason for not driving is not primarily my concern for the environment. However, I believe we should all at least make the effort to drive less to help avoid climate breakdown. Cycling is not just very enjoyable, it’s also sustainable. What’s more, in many cities (especially in Bristol!) it’ll often take you faster from A to B than a car.

Switching to a climate-friendly vehicle is a cool option!

Fuels will need to be replaced by renewable energy sources, so switching to a more climate-friendly vehicle is another cool option. Here’s hoping that electric cars will become more affordable in the not-too-distant future.

3) Reduction of carbon footprint from flying

Since I aim to minimise my carbon footprint from fossil fuels, I don’t fly often. Again, I know it is easy for me to say that. I am very fortunate in that I live in the UK, a country that I would probably head off to on holiday often if I still lived in Germany (where I’m originally from): I love spending time right where I’m based now! My idea of a perfect holiday destination is the English coast (or the Scottish coast, which I was lucky enough to explore a bit last summer).

I was born with a heightened sensitivity to bright lights, so sunshine is not even among the first things I look out for in a holiday. I am therefore perfectly (and indeed very) happy in places with less exposure to sunshine. (Having said that, the weather here in the UK is usually way better than most people on the continent think it is!) However, I do have empathy for anyone who craves sunshine and heat and therefore opts for aeroplane travel to head off to far-flung holiday destinations.

South West Coast Path near Lynton/Lynmouth on the North Devon coast in the UK

Occasionally, though, I hop on a plane, too. After all, it’s so convenient and fast (and too cheap). However, of course, planes run on fossil fuels. The Germans have a word to describe that awkward feeling that creeps up on you when you take a flight that’s unnecessary because you know it’s harmful to the environment: “Flugscham”. So could we change our flying habits, for example by looking into the possibility of virtual meetings for work?

4) Minimised shopping and consumption

Since almost everything that we buy has a carbon footprint (either in how it’s been manufactured or/and how it’s been shipped), it seems wise generally to shop, consume and throw away less. To counteract the dangers we’re confronted with from climate change, let us, at the very least, consume consciously and make informed decisions about what we buy.

This message incidentally chimes with what minimalists repeatedly proclaim: Less tends to be more, and happiness can’t be bought in a shop anyway. Acknowledge that there are benefits to reducing and minimising on all fronts, benefits to recycling as much as we can, and benefits to reusing and repairing things. Opting for quality, not quantity, is the thing!

Less is usually more, and happiness can’t be bought in a department store

Have you ever toyed with the idea of creating a capsule wardrobe that is tailored just to you? For inspiration, you may want to check out my blog article in which I describe three minimalist wardrobe principles. A minimalist wardrobe is not just good for the environment; it’ll also make you look and feel great!

5) Digital footprint minimisation

Every search query that we type into Google, every email that we send, and every work project that we complete on our computers causes CO2 emissions because energy is required to operate the computers to carry out these activities. Frankly, I cannot see how as a translator I could use my computers less. After all, I need them – and need them a lot – to secure my livelihood.

However, I guess it could be argued that what I do on a computer is generally far less energy-consuming than, for example, streaming videos. After all, I often just use a word processor to draft, rewrite and polish my texts. Or I search online materials in a textual format to retrieve relevant information for use in my work.

The Ecosia search engine could help us become greener in our online habits

Have you heard of Ecosia? I’ve recently learnt that Ecosia is an alternative, so-called “green” search engine. The company, based in Berlin, Germany, donates large parts of its profits to non-profit organisations which focus on reforestation. According to the Ecosia website, as of 24 November 2019, more than 75.2 million trees have already been planted thanks to Ecosia. Worth looking into, it seems, if you aim to become greener in your online habits!

From avoiding meat and cows’ milk to becoming greener in our online habits, there’s a lot that we as individuals can do to minimise our environmental impact on the planet. If we don’t act now, the outcome will be catastrophic. For if the Earth becomes uninhabitable and can consequently no longer be lived on, what alternative living spaces do we have?

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Earth from space: seeing what is (and what isn’t) important

In a recent piece in New Scientist, Helen Sharman, the first British person in space, recounts in an interview that being in space made her realise that physical possessions and material stuff are absolutely meaningless. She makes the point that we tend to use our possessions as an extension of ourselves, encouraging us that we should think about what’s really important and generally consume less.

I think that’s minimalism in a nutshell. It couldn’t be summarised better!

Physical possessions are meaningless

Helen Sharman describes herself not just as a scientist, but also as somebody who cares for the world we live in. The interview with her caught my eye not just because of her minimalism-related comments, but also because I’d been meaning to write an article about climate change for this blog. Climate change, after all, is one of the big topics of our time.

There is an acute danger that the Earth might become uninhabitable at some point
(Image source: PIRO4D, Pixabay)

Climate change has come upon us much sooner than predicted: it’s affecting us (and will be hitting our descendants even harder) in the form of global warming, extreme weather, the aggravated risk of bad floods and other climate change-induced weather phenomena.

Caring for the world we live in

The Earth is very fragile. This becomes especially noticeable when, as Helen Sharman did, you look at it from space. There is an acute danger that the Earth might become uninhabitable at some point.

Being in space made Helen Sharman realise that physical possessions are absolutely meaningless

Watch out for my next article, in which I’m going to share what I do (and could perhaps be doing better) to help combat climate change. I’m also going to muse about how my minimalist thinking plays a role in it.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

The 5 Golden Questions of Translation

I love decluttering, especially because my ongoing decluttering frequently unearths (long-forgotten) gems from the past. And some of the things I find are downright amazing!

They often put a smile on my face. From 2000 to 2002 I was a student at the Institut für Fremdsprachen und Auslandskunde in Erlangen. While going through the materials from a class in translation of certificates, diplomas and public documents a few days ago, I found this:

If I remember correctly, the question “Do I need a cup of coffee?” was supposed to serve as a reminder that taking a short break from translation can be very beneficial in that you often come up with a solution while away from the desk (for example, to fetch a cup of coffee).

I’d completely forgotten about the “5 Golden Questions of Translation”: Do I need a cup of coffee? Can I leave it out? Can I find a synonym? Can I find a paraphrase? Can I risk translating it literally?

Saturday, 28 September 2019

The refreshed minimalist approach to Twitter

These days, I tend to hang around less on Twitter. Ever since Twitter ditched its 140-character limit and allowed 280 characters per tweet, for me it’s lost its early minimalist appeal. Tweets have become too long, and I feel less inclined to open my Twitter app in the evenings.

Absorbing information on Twitter

As someone who processes mentally a lot of information onscreen for work all day, I now find it hard(er) to additionally absorb information which I find on Twitter. Certain tweets are more difficult to find. This is deplorable as Twitter used to be my favourite social network, due to its easily digestible tidbits of information.

Social networking for the busy person with little time

Twitter had always been the perfect channel for the busy person with little time to trawl through the oft-impenetrable thicket of information and discussions that can be found online. In the past, tweets used to be succinct, brief and to the point – they had to be well thought out.

In Twitter’s early days, tweets had to be minimal in terms of the number of characters allowed

Fair enough, since the change was implemented on 7 November 2017, the average tweet length apparently hasn’t changed. It’s even been claimed that there has been more engagement on Twitter overall. However, I suspect I am not the only one who now feels a bit overwhelmed.

Tweeting “minimally”

I am, of course, not immune either to using many words, rather than a few, when I’m allowed to. However, brevity is still the soul of wit! I’ve therefore set myself a new tweeting approach: I will keep tweets short and simple, cut out unnecessary words, and aim to communicate using minimalist language.

In Twitter’s early days, tweets had to be minimal in terms of the number of characters allowed.  But in late 2017, Twitter ditched brevity – previously its most defining feature. In this blog post, I therefore suggest a refreshed minimalist approach to Twitter.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my post in which I describe my original minimalist approach to Twitter (published on 22 March 2018).

Friday, 6 September 2019

Travelling like a minimalist

Who hasn’t yet savoured the lightness of living in a hotel room temporarily with just a few things packed into a suitcase? Regardless of whether we’re minimalists or not, when we’re travelling, surely we all experience the sense of satisfaction of living minimally for a while. The freedom that comes with not being surrounded by “stuff” (as many of us are at home) is just incredible!

The benefits of packing lightly

It’s that moment when you realise that you really don’t need that much to live and be genuinely happy. It’s a feeling which I, when I’m travelling, deeply relish. It was in fact the frustration with heavy luggage that set me off on the minimalism route back in April 2014. These days, I don’t lug much stuff around with me any more!

Packing lightly includes choosing mainly things that could fulfil several purposes

Packing lightly has resulted in the pleasurable consequence that I’ve come to enjoy travelling much more. Packing lightly includes choosing mainly things that, in theory, could fulfil several purposes. Example: I pack running shoes that don’t look too flashy, which I can wear for running, but also (in case a second pair of shoes should be needed) as ordinary walking shoes.

The minimalist way: Going digital

The BDÜ course in Forlì which I attended recently was excellent for a whole host of reasons. For example (and to stick with my minimalism theme), we were provided with the course materials in the form of files to which we could add our own notes using computers that had been set up for this purpose. And the files were immediately transferable either to our own storage media or uploadable to our cloud storage spaces. No piles of paper to lug home afterwards!

After my course in Forlì, I spent one night in Bologna and participated in an early-morning sightseeing run with Bologna by Run. It was already my second running tour in Bologna this year (this time with Andrea, last time with Alessandro), which just goes to show what an amazing experience it is!  I highly recommend sightseeing running tours: they’re slightly more expensive than “normal” guided tours, but worth every cent!

Guided running tours are slightly more expensive than “normal” guided tours, but worth every cent!

Combining several activities into one

As a minimalist, I love combining several activities into one, and my sightseeing run with Bologna by Run provided another opportunity to do exactly that: I was able to combine sightseeing, running, and (especially useful for me!) practising more Italian.

Minimalist and runner Anthony Ongaro recently noted: “I’m pretty certain running is the simplest form of exercise for most able-bodied humans. It’s as organic as it gets. Some bodies are made better for it than others, but I don’t think there’s anything that really gets simpler than that.” (Read the whole interview on the Run With Less blog by Grant Milestone.) And it is one of the reasons why I, too, love running. It’s so minimal!

Capturing the fleeting, beautiful moments

As a minimalist, I also consciously enjoyed the small moments during my “CPD mini-holiday” – however fleeting they may have seemed: savouring the taste of “real” Italian espresso; taking in the beauty of Piazza Aurelio Saffi in the centre of Forlì during an extremely mild evening; or the moments in the company of all the friendly people around me.

Minimalists, whether on holiday or at home, treasure experiences more than things

Minimalism in its essence is about being, not having. And I am all for becoming aware of the present moment and living in it. It’s not a state that we find ourselves in naturally as our thoughts tend to drift (often needlessly).

Minimalists, whether on holiday or at home, treasure experiences more than things. This is why spending money on experiences, rather than things, makes a lot of sense to minimalists. And the joy of travelling can be increased by minimalist means: by packing lightly, going digital or fully relishing those little moments!

I have since discovered that guided running tours have popped up and become popular in other cities, too. A few weeks ago, I participated in this guided running tour with Sean from Aye Run, exploring the sights and sounds of Glasgow, another beautiful city rich with history and culture:

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Jumping in: Italian legal translation in Forlì

Translators, how good are we really at our second (third, fourth) foreign language?

I recently returned from a short course in Italian legal translation, which was held in Forlì in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy from 1 until 3 July 2019. It had been organised jointly by BDÜ Fachverlag mbH and the Translation and Interpreting Department of the University of Bologna.

BDÜ Fachverlag mBH and the University of Bologna ran a short course in Italian legal translation in Forlì

I’ll be honest and admit I felt a bit like a fish out of water, because I found myself among seasoned Italian translators, who work with Italian (and German) more or less every day, whereas I almost exclusively work with English (and German) these days.

It is, in fact, not unusual for translators to give up their second (usually weaker) language at some point to henceforth focus on just their main language in their work. I, too, had been considering this move not so long ago, but then decided that I would want to keep my Italian after all.

This consequently involved implementing certain measures that would help me bring my Italian back up to speed again. I did this by initially just dipping in here and there (for example, by listening to Italian radio at home) and then, without further ado, by jumping right in: I signed up for a translation course in Italy.

The topic of the course was Italian and German civil procedure law, an area I admit I do not know anything about and do not aim to specialise in. My motivation for signing up for the course (as opposed to that of all other participants) hence was as minimal as it could be: immersing myself into the Italian language. No more, and certainly no less!

The topic of the course was Italian and German civil procedure law

In my next post, I’m going to share some of my experiences from my trip to Italy. Note that I’m not going to write about the course and its contents, but in the interests of wider readership appeal am going to focus on the minimalism theme of this blog.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Maximising leisure time with the 80/20 rule

How do you like to spend your spare time ideally? How do you usually spend it?

The 80/20 rule, the topic of my previous blog article, can even help us adjust our leisure priorities for the better! Think about it: 20% of all leisure activities that you usually engage in will probably provide 80% of the joy and satisfaction in your life.

The 80/20 rule can help us identify the leisure activities that nourish us – whether that’s cycling, music or writing

Categories of leisure activities range from entertainment via spending time with family to community work. Leisure activities typically involve mental or physical recovery from paid work or housework. It can be either time spent with others or time “spent with ourselves”.

I (want to) lead a busy work life, hence my spare time is limited. Of the activities in the “time-spent-with-myself” category, I most relish yoga, running, reading and writing – I don’t need much else to feel good.

Realising this was eye-opening! I therefore now deliberately spend MORE time on those 4 activities – and less on all others. Applying the 80/20 rule has had the effect that a minority has generated a majority.

The 80/20 rule can help us identify the leisure activities that nourish us. We can consequently make more space for them and incorporate them better in our everyday lives.

Friday, 19 July 2019

The 80/20 rule: Achieving more with less

It is astonishing: we tend to use just 20% of our possessions 80% of the time. We habitually wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. And 80% of our phone and text communications typically are with just 20% of the contacts saved on our phones.

Since this is a blog about minimalism, I feel an article about the 80/20 rule has long been overdue. The 80/20 rule is widely used by minimalists in their decluttering approaches. Many minimalists choose to give away the things that don’t matter (about 80% of what we own), while making space for those that are important (roughly 20%).

The 80/20 rule, or Pareto principle, is named after Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), who discovered that 20% of the pea plants in his garden produced 80% of the healthy peas. Following on from this, he noted that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by just 20% of the population.

The 80/20 rule can be extended to many areas of life and in business. While, of course, those percentages do not always apply exactly, it is true that most things in life and business are not evenly distributed. And a minority often generates a majority!

The 80/20 rule can help us adjust our priorities, declutter our everyday schedules, and stay sane

In what ways might the 80/20 rule be helpful to translators and freelancers in how they go about their work lives and manage their businesses? How could we leverage this principle to our advantage? Here’s some food for thought:

Easy prioritisation of tasks

- If indeed 20% of the tasks we carry out account for 80% of the results, can we pin down what these tasks are? PRIORITISING those tasks accordingly would most likely benefit us in most surprising ways.

- If 80% of results come from just 20% of actions, should we not then expend more energy on, dedicate more attention to, and aim to OPTIMISE these actions?

- If 80% of the value of a work project is achieved with the first 20% of the effort put in, should we not then plan our workdays in such a way that this happens at a time when we know we WORK BEST?

Better customer relationships

- Who are the 20% of customers that, according to the Pareto principle, provide 80% of our revenue? In what ways can we STRENGTHEN RELATIONSHIPS with them? But note also: is it safe to rely on such a ratio of our income, or should we better collaborate more with other customers as well?

- How much time do we spend on HANDLING CRITICISM? If 80% of complaints (especially unjustified complaints) tend to be raised by 20% of our customers, is it actually worth continuing to work for those customers?

- According to the Pareto principle, 80% of a business’s TURNOVER typically is achieved by 20% of its products or activities. I am aware that we sometimes feel we occasionally need a break from the areas we usually translate in. But against this background, perhaps translating too many texts outside our subject areas isn’t advisable.

- Marketing is time-consuming, and thinking about where to start in a campaign is daunting. Here’s an interesting thought, though: 20% of the marketing messages you come up with can produce 80% of the results. What’s more, 20% of the overall marketing effort often brings about 80% of the SUCCESS OF A MARKETING CAMPAIGN.

Eliminate, automate or delegate?

- Which activities can we ELIMINATE or AUTOMATE? Are there activities that don’t move us towards our goals? For instance, it might not be worth spending so much time on updating online profiles if perhaps in our current circumstances we don’t actually need them to be successful in business.

- And are there any tasks that we can DELEGATE? For example, wouldn’t it be better to entrust accounting tasks with an accountant and focus on translations instead? Find a cleaner? Pay for a meal occasionally (or regularly), rather than waste time in the kitchen, when work is piling up on the desk?

- 80% of software users apparently use just 20% of their software’s features. So could we undertake further training to also learn about other features of our software? Learning to use more than the usual 20% of features could make us more EFFICIENT.

Is it really necessary that all business tasks are completed to perfection?

A word on perfection

- No doubt we should strive for PERFECTION in producing our translations, but is it really necessary that other business tasks are also completed to perfection? Should we seek perfection in writing blog posts? Maintain a regular Twitter posting pattern? Zealously reply to every single message that reaches us?

- And lastly, how about deciding for yourself that your order book is full once it’s filled with orders up to 80%? A buffer or some EXTRA TIME that can be handled flexibly can feel like pure luxury.

The 80/20 rule can help us adjust our priorities, declutter our everyday schedules, and stay sane. By taking stock of the time percentages that our work activities take up, we can implement steps to free up space in our schedules and move ever closer to business success!