Monday, 2 July 2018

The 5-step guide to switching into minimalist work mode

This is my easy-to-implement guide to switching into minimalist office work mode for increased productivity, efficiency and job satisfaction:

1) Remove physical clutter.

Physical clutter invariably leads to mental clutter. Studies demonstrate that physical clutter around you tends to pull at your attention and hence impacts your ability to concentrate in a negative way. Therefore, creating a distraction-free environment by removing all physical clutter from your office will greatly boost your concentration.

2) Create a 3-item to-do list every morning.

I’ve already blogged here on the benefits of a minimal to-do list. I recommend it wholeheartedly! Having a 3-item to-do list in place will create amazing momentum that’ll keep you going until you’ve finished the 3 tasks that you’ve made your primary focus of the day.

3) Keep to your own natural rhythm of the day.

Whether it’s the early morning hours or late in the evening, it is vital to understand when your most productive part of the day is. Then make the most of that time! For example, I function best in the mornings, so I set aside mornings for essential work tasks.

It is vital to understand when your most productive part of the day is!

4) Gear up for concentration.

I find that in my work as a translator – especially ahead of preparing the very important final version of a translation – I can best tap into the power of concentration if I “gear up” for it. For me, this usually involves taking in some fresh air on the morning school run, sitting down at the kitchen table to enjoy a cup of espresso mindfully, or having a power nap during the day.

5) Block out all distractions.

I love shutting out the outside world completely to create a hushed, tranquil and productive work atmosphere. I then most relish being a “minimalist translator” in that there’s just me and my translation for a while – with Twitter notifications, personal e-mail and everything else far away.

Switching into minimalist work mode will remove many motivational barriers and help you become proactive and productive. Try it out!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Why eliminating non-physical stuff benefits translators

“Clutter is not just physical stuff. It’s old ideas, toxic relationships and bad habits. Clutter is anything that does not support your better self.” (Eleanor Brownn)

Are there any ideas, relationships and habits in a translator’s (or indeed anybody’s) life that had better be thrown overboard because they’re detrimental to our sanity or well-being?

"Clutter is anything that does not support your better self." (Eleanor Brownn)

Old ideas
The same old misconceptions about the translation profession annoyingly crop up again and again. Rooting out a few of them would require going out into the world to convince others. Yes, you need to be highly skilled to work as a translator. Yes, it is a good way to earn money. Yes, it is an enjoyable activity, as is working alone at home!

Toxic relationships
Is now perhaps the time to disconnect from people on social media who you constantly get worked up about? Or is the time ripe for saying goodbye to a few clients who, for whatever reasons, you don’t enjoy working with? Track down clients who are amazing, and surround yourself with people who are respectful and supportive.

Bad habits

Bad habits I personally struggle to overcome: being distracted by the news when I should be working; squeezing in rushed jobs, although my order book is already overfull; and eating too much junk towards the end of the day. Quitting bad habits means being intentional about what you would like to change and accomplish.

The benefits of saying goodbye to old ideas, toxic relationships and bad habits will be astonishing: more job satisfaction, higher self-esteem, and greater well-being in the long run!

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Must-have "tidy" tools for translators and interpreters

On 5 May 2018, ITI Cymru Wales hosted an afternoon workshop entitled “Tidy tools for translators and interpreters”. The programme included short presentations about tools designed to improve translators’ and interpreters’ efficiency and productivity as well as the quality of translations, including: Dragon, APSIC Xbench, Protemos, ProjectTermExtract for SDL Trados Studio, PerfectIt, IntelliWebSearch, and ZipDX.

More efficiency: "tidy" tools for translators and interpreters

The event took place on a day blessed with glorious sunshine in the gorgeous city of Cardiff, which I last set foot in for the ITI conference 2017. Cycling down to Bristol Temple Meads train station, heading over to Cardiff on the train and cutting through Cardiff centre on my walk to the event venue (the Centre of Lifelong Learning on Senghennydd Road) therefore brought up lots of good memories for me!

I had chosen to attend because I was keen to catch a glimpse into tools I had heard about before, but had never had a chance (or actually time) to try or see on the screen, such as the much talked-about Dragon. The first thing I learnt, though, was that the word “tidy” in the event name has nothing to do with “neat” or “not messy” (as I had indeed erroneously assumed!), but is a Welsh word meaning “good” or “satisfactory”.

I have gained rudimentary knowledge of tools I had heard about in the past, but had never seen in action. All in all, it was a really worthwhile event and for me a very enjoyable day out, too. Thank you to the organisers of ITI Cymru Wales for putting it on!

I have written up the event for the ITI German network’s newsletter. To request a copy of my write-up, please contact me.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

The minimalist approach to getting extra things done

Is your to-do list overflowing? Do you have no leeway to squeeze in extra things that, albeit not urgent, are somehow important to you? Would you like to have a go at something such as a new hobby or learning a language, but simply cannot find the time for it?

If you’re itching for it, but your life is already filled to the brim with work tasks, family commitments and social duties, then you might want to try out my minimalist approach to getting extra things done. It has worked for me, so chances are it might work for you, too.

Taking minimal steps is better than taking no steps at all!

My minimalist approach to getting extra things done involves building up short, bite-sized habits and incorporating them into your daily routine. Even if you focus on them for just a few minutes per day, commit to repeating these habits every day. They may seem insignificant, but can have immense effects on what you’re aiming to achieve!

I, for example, took to learning some basic computer programming (Visual Basic, Android and PHP) at a time when I was already spending crazily long hours at my computer in my translation job. More screen time was certainly the last thing in the world I was in the mood for. However, I realised that computer programming was relevant to my line of work, so I started reading books on programming and having a go at it on my computer in small but regular steps.

The minimalist approach to getting extra things done by bite-sized, daily habits is easily manageable and won’t take big chunks out of your day. Taking minimal steps is better than taking no steps at all!

If you liked this post, the following posts on this blog may also be relevant to you:
- Super-easy decluttering for busy people
- The minimal to-do list
- 8 Proven ways of minimising screen time

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

How to feel great instantly

Research suggests our brains are hardwired to automatically focus on the negative (as described in the article "Your Brain is Built for Negativity"). It seems to be our brains’ default mode, and it’s neither pleasant nor good for our well-being. But there is a simple technique to combat such negative thinking. It is effective and easy to apply: think back over the last 24 hours and call up in your mind what’s been positive for you.

This can be anything. For example, what happened in the last 24 hours that you can be grateful for? Your children? Was there something that went well? Did you bump into a good friend? Did a client drop you a nice comment, or is there something else about your clients that you appreciate?

There is a simple technique to combat negative thinking.

The mind has a natural tendency to dwell on the negative, which is why it takes a conscious effort to turn our thoughts to the positive. And once we set off this thought-process, there will definitely be a couple of things that we can think of and feel good about.

On a minimalism-related note, there is also a danger that, once we stop appreciating the good things in life, we become prone to turning to an excess of physical objects. Minimalism teaches us that physical objects will not make us feel content. Instead, it is always better to turn inward.

Negative thinking can be instantly offset if we consciously replay in our minds what we enjoyed in the last 24 hours – what made us smile or what we can be grateful for.

You may also want to check out my blog post "The baffling solution to clearing mental clutter".

Note: You can find a German translation of this blog post here.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

The minimalist approach to Twitter

Twitter can be, but doesn’t necessarily have to be, overwhelming. It can instead be used minimally and in an organised, systematic way.

There is obviously no one right approach to Twitter. Some of us have several accounts, while others manage their tweets via just one account. Some Twitterers send out tweets strictly limited to work, whereas others mix in tweets of a more personal nature, too. Some of us are very active, while others just lurk on Twitter. And all these approaches are okay.

One comment by Alison Hughes, the presenter at a workshop hosted by ITI's Western Regional Group in Bristol in June 2017, sparked the idea for me to write the present blog post. Alison commented that she generally avoids information overload, as well as overloading others on Twitter.

Twitter can be used minimally and in an organised, systematic way.

It struck a chord with me in that I, too, generally try to avoid Twitter overload: I aim not to overload others and not to overload myself. It’s become part of what I call my “minimalist approach to Twitter”, which involves the following:

1) Restricting Twitter to my personal needs

If you’re in business, Twitter can be a brilliant marketing tool for acquiring more customers: it may be used in a targeted way to achieve specific marketing goals by engaging with companies and potential clients. Twitter offers a plethora of opportunities and ways for individuals and businesses to interact.

However, I do not see the need to use Twitter in this way. Instead, I use it merely for extracting useful articles and information. I also enjoy having the possibility of socialising with others occasionally as I’m working on my own at home. Restricting myself to this use of Twitter involves less strategising and organising on my part.

2) Minimising Twitter overload by setting up lists

Whenever I visit Twitter, I go straight into one of my personalised Twitter lists, depending on what I’m interested in reading right at that moment. For instance, to catch up on what my ITI colleagues have tweeted, I visit my ITI list. If I want to catch up on the latest Brexit news, I call up my Brexit news list. Or if I feel like indulging in the most recent minimalism tweets, I access my minimalism list.

Lists on Twitter are great for managing tweets: jumping straight into one of them means I won’t get lost in the masses of unrelated tweets that would jump out at me and overwhelm me straight away. For instructions on how to set up Twitter lists, see

3) Reducing Twitter activities

It’s a simple mechanism: the more you tweet, the more followers you’ll gain, and the more popular you’ll become eventually. Maximising your Twitter presence will help you stand out. By contrast, not being present on Twitter often enough may mean losing followers or missing out on interesting discussions or trends.

However, I’ve decided to sidestep those rules and keep Twitter use to a minimum. I don’t visit it every day, and even sometimes have Twitter breaks. As a general rule, I aim to be selective about what I tweet.

As with all things at our fingertips (especially apps on our phones!), it is very easy for them to take over our lives. However, by applying minimalist techniques, I find that Twitter consequently has not taken over my life.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Better and happier at work by slowing down

In the past few years I’ve turned into a keen runner and have even come to enjoy fast running! As of late, though, I’ve become a bit fed up with trying to run as fast as I can. Although I won’t deny that achieving a new Personal Best does give me an immense sense of satisfaction, I’ve switched to a slower pace.

The benefits of slower running are manifold: I do not just eliminate the risk of potentially collapsing with exhaustion at the end, but also consciously enjoy the activity in itself much more. I notice more of the little things in nature around me. And it has the pleasurable effect that running thereby is now (almost!) relaxing.

Pomphrey Hill parkrun, Mangotsfield, Bristol (image courtesy of Heli-air Imaging)

I’ve noticed a striking parallel between running and my job in translation. Working too fast involves running the risk of failing to pick up nuances in meaning, of missing minor details in the text, or of failing to see errors in the vicinity of other errors that I did spot. So reducing the speed (within reason) in whatever we do in our jobs has clear benefits, too.

In translation projects we sometimes whizz through texts, either because of time constraints, or because we’re revising somebody else’s excellent translation that doesn’t require many changes, or because we’ve worked through one of our own texts often enough already. Don’t we sometimes simply want to get the job over and done with to have it out of the way?

When preparing the first translation draft, I tend to work at a fairly high speed. Needless to say, raw translation as I’m rephrasing the text in German calls for creativity, too; however, it is in a way also “mechanical”. This is because for my first draft I make abundant use of internet resources, translation memory segments from previous projects already stored in my CAT tool, as well as some machine translation.

However, I work more slowly on subsequent drafts, especially the final version of the text! I usually prepare the final version in a distraction-free setting, when I’m completely alone at home. As a general rule, I’m up for this in the morning while I’m still feeling fresh in my mind. I then also notice and appreciate the little things in it.

Is it perhaps the consequence of what happens when we do something habitually day in, day out? I’m under the impression that as translators over time we tend to lose the appreciation of the beauty of language a bit. Isn’t beauty to be found in the words of even the most technical or driest of texts? They’re words, after all: the small, beautiful components of language that can be turned into something amazing when put together in a translation.

Reducing my running pace has made me realise that the benefits of slowing down at work are manifold, too. They include an even greater eye for detail, a reduced likelihood of overlooking errors and more appreciation of the words and the text. Slowing down has made me better and happier at work.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Machine translation in human translation workflows

With the cognitive computing age approaching at mind-boggling speed (before humans and technology likely will merge from about 2040), there seems to be a certain urgency in the need to familiarise ourselves with Artificial Intelligence. For translators this involves thinking about how (and if!) to integrate machine translation into their workflows.

Post-editing a translation is not the same as revising it!

On 24 January 2018 an event on the use of machine translation in professional contexts was held at Clifton Hill House in Bristol. It had been organised by the University of Bristol in partnership with Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Seville and the ITI Western Regional Group (WRG), attracting academics, professional translators, translation companies and technology providers.

My main takeaways from the event:

The job of post-editor is a relatively new profession. Post-editing nowadays is either offered as a service in its own right or just used as a tool that is incorporated into the translation process.

Post-editing has been defined in the ISO 18587 standard. Yet, although it’s been defined and hence should be clear-cut, in practice it’s more complicated since clients tend to have different requirements.

Machine translations often are over-edited, rather than under-edited. It is therefore important to note that post-editing a translation is not the same as revising it! They are two different skills.

Ideally, MT should be regarded as an additional tool, or translation memory, or source of reference, which for certain projects (!) can help improve efficiency and productivity.

There will inevitably need to be a move from word count-based pricing to time-based pricing for projects involving the post-editing of machine translations.

There has been a notable shift in the perception towards MT among translators because it’s becoming more capable of producing results that are usable. However, feelings of uneasiness, or strong dislike, towards MT continue to persist.

News headlines about advances in machine translation have led to inflated expectations by clients of what such tools can do. It’s worth bearing in mind we’re still very far from the point where the machines can take over from us!

The upside of such news headlines, on the other hand, is they’ve drawn attention to professional translation and interpreting, an industry which had previously often been overlooked.

My thoughts after the event:

There is a bizarre discrepancy between “human translators are a dying breed” headlines and the real situation human translators find themselves in: All the translators who I know are up to their ears in work. Constantly. And the demand for translations seems to be steadily increasing.

So contrary to what headlines want to make us believe: No, translators are not a dying breed. So where does machine translation come in? Well, it’s been introduced as a new, additional type of translation activity. (And fair enough, perhaps the term “translation” is no longer an appropriate description of this new activity.)

The cognitive computing age is just around the corner, so should all translators integrate machine translation into their workflows? Well, it’s up to each one of us to decide that. As succinctly put by a colleague in an e-mail conversion on that same topic recently: “People are always free to choose what they want to do both with regard to work and life in general.”

Find out more about this week’s event on the use of machine translation in human translation workflows by looking up the hashtag #MTBristol on Twitter.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Minimalism in punctuation

Web page visitors will click away and never return if what they see is a bit too hard to read. It therefore makes perfect sense to implement subtle measures to make such reading easier.

I recently came across a fascinating article entitled “Why you should be a punctuation minimalist” on the Articulate blog. It includes tips on the minimal use of punctuation, advocating the idea that “needless punctuation is a speed bump for readers”.

Web page visitors will click away if what they see is too hard to read.
The writing approach favoured by Articulate is “to minimise everything that gets between our words and the reader’s brain”. This includes, e.g., replacing punctuation marks with words, not using the “Oxford comma” before an “and” in a list, and writing dates without superscripts.

As an aspiring “writing minimalist”, I already aim to give precedence to shorter over longer words when producing online content. And in the editing stage I eliminate as many unnecessary words as possible. However, I’m constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve my writing.

As writers, we choose our words carefully, but how much thought goes into the use of punctuation? It’s clear why applying some minimalist thinking to punctuation, too, is likely to attract more readers and keep them on the page.