Sunday, 25 October 2020

How I put digital minimalism into practice

Digital minimalism, as defined by Cal Newport, entails focusing your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimised activities that strongly support things that you value, while happily missing out on everything else. You’ll find my recent review of his bestselling book “Digital Minimalism” here.

In today’s post I’d like to report back on my endeavours to implement digital minimalism. As a translator I work in front of a screen most of the time (apart from when I’m revising translations with pen and paper), so it is downright impossible for me to become a full-blown digital minimalist. I am pleased to report, though, that I’ve managed to make tweaks to some of my digital habits. 


Digital minimalism is a proven, highly effective approach to
cultivating a more intentional digital lifestyle


We can probably all relate to the electronic busyness and related feelings of being overwhelmed that define our modern lives. My brain certainly can feel very crowded! This isn’t so much of an issue when I’m working on translations, but can happen after work: it usually results from too much tapping, swiping, tweeting, favouriting, liking, sharing or online-commenting. My brain is then all over the place.

Digital minimalism encourages us to reflect on whether the use of a particular technology ultimately is the best way to perform an activity that’s of value to us; if it’s not, it should be replaced by something better. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve realised, for example, that meeting with translator colleagues on Twitter is indeed the best way to meet with them in an everyday context.


Is the use of a particular technology ultimately
the best way to perform an activity that’s of value to us?

Online encounters with colleagues 

In-person encounters would be even better, but have, of course, all taken a virtual format recently and even pre-pandemic had been (relatively) few and far between. I have fond memories of my last pre-pandemic meeting with colleagues, which was the ITI German network’s 2019 convivial Christmas dinner at The White Haus in Farringdon, London. Online encounters with colleagues therefore are one example of online activities that I deeply value, so as a digital minimalist I still hang out on Twitter.

Shunning phone apps

I’m continuing to shun phone apps which almost everyone uses. For example, I don’t use WhatsApp. I already receive a lot of (work and personal) messages, my phone is usually in airplane mode during the day anyway, and even if it wasn’t, I simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with what seems to me a constant stream of WhatsApp messages on other people’s phones. What’s more, I recently even went ahead and uninstalled Twitter from my phone. Now that Twitter as the last social media app has left my phone (if Strava is disregarded), I feel a lot calmer. I just feel I have to draw the line somewhere!


Gone are the days when I would give in to the temptation of
compulsively checking my social media notifications

Twitter breaks 

One behaviour that’s changed since I read “Digital Minimalism” is that I now take (longer) Twitter breaks. Twitter had always been the social media platform I was trying to keep up with, but I no longer attach so much importance to regular engagement with it. I no longer feel I need to “put myself out there” to be visible to my online community constantly. This means that gone are the days when I would often give in to the temptation of compulsively checking my Twitter notifications.


Adopting a digitally minimal life ideally involves developing or rekindling real-life relationships

Phone conversations instead of email 

Adopting a digitally minimal life ideally also involves developing or rekindling real-life relationships, instead of just focusing on virtual ones. As an introvert, I generally feel more comfortable communicating by email rather than by phone, and email (or other forms of written communication) will always be my preferred means of communication. Yet, in line with digital minimalism I now often aim to pick up the phone, rather than send out an email, to make contact in this way instead.

Blocking of websites 

I used to be quite good at not letting myself become distracted too much, but the pandemic and related recent events somehow have changed that. So, to prevent me from accessing news websites (and also certain clothes shopping websites!) while I should be working, I’ve added LeechBlock to my browsers. LeechBlock is a productivity tool that’s designed to block any sites that you choose to add to it. It’s available for Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge and other Chromium-based browsers such as Brave, Opera and Vivaldi. 


To prevent me from accessing certain websites while I should be working,
I’ve added LeechBlock to my browsers

Renewed focus on hands-on activities 

Digital minimalism ideally also goes hand in hand with a return to hands-on activities. For example, I’ve never been into cooking, and I have a tendency to neglect hobbies like playing the piano as I feel often more drawn towards activities like reading, writing or computer work. Reading “Digital Minimalism” has reminded me of the benefits of such hands-on activities, and I’ve resolved to focus on them a little more in future.

Using physical books

It seems we can absorb the contents of a physical book way better than any material found online. Plus, the contents of a physical book tend to be more reliable. I therefore no longer aim to rely so heavily on internet content when it comes to checking terminology or background theory for work. Instead, I will now more often pull a physical book from my shelves in order to read relevant content or look up terminology “in analogue mode”.


We can absorb the contents of a physical book
better than any material found online


I will probably never be able to call myself a “true” digital minimalist because as a translator I will always spend a lot of time at screens and online. I have nonetheless managed to cut down, to some degree, on my engagement with technology in certain areas. Generally, I wholeheartedly recommend digital minimalism as an approach to cultivating a more intentional digital lifestyle. It is designed to help us declutter, and regain control of, our digital lives.


Further reading:

For tips on practical steps to reduce your screen time, check out my blog article “8 Proven ways of minimising screen time” of 16 March 2016.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Working more efficiently with AutoHotkey

AutoHotkey has recently started making a notable difference to my computing life in that I can now, relatively simply, automate certain repetitive tasks and hence work more efficiently. AutoHotkey is a free, powerful tool for writing scripts that will run in any Windows application. It’s beginner-friendly, so previous coding experience is not required. I highly recommend this tool!


My attention had been drawn to AutoHotkey following the publication of an ITI Bulletin article about it by Richard Lackey MITI. Richard has also published a blog post here in which he explains the basics of AutoHotkey and another blog post here in which he lists AHK scripts useful to translators.

I find AutoHotkey intriguing also because I’ve always been fascinated by IntelliWebSearch, which is based on AHK scripts. What’s more, AutoHotkey hotstrings work exactly like the Autocorrect feature in memoQ, which I rely heavily on for those recurring long compound nouns in patent translations.

AutoHotkey can be downloaded from To write a script, you then create and run an .ahk file, which you can later edit in a simple Notepad programme whenever you wish to change or add to the script.


Text expanders

The most typical use of AutoHotkey is the creation of hotstrings to expand abbreviations into full text. To give a simple example, typing the string thx will automatically produce the following sentence: “Thank you for your email”. This is my script for it:

::thx::Thank you for your email.

When I type tn, the script will enter the word translation. Here’s the script: 


When I type @@k, the script will enter my email address Here’s the script:



(Note: Using the asterisk * means that an ending character, e.g. Space, ., or Enter, is not required to trigger the hotstring.)


Instant access to folders or websites

When I press the Ctrl key in combination with the dollar sign on my keyboard (i.e. Ctrl + Shift + 4), the script will instantly open my folder for the 2020-21 tax year. Here’s my script:

Run, C:\Users\User\Documents\Accountancy\Cash Books tax year 2020-21


(Note that in AutoHotkey ^ stands for the Control key.)


To access TweetDeck, I first press the Alt Gr key and then the t key. Here’s my script:

<^>!t:: Run,

To access Woxikon (a site for German synonyms), I press the Alt Gr key and then the d key. Here’s the script:

<^>!w:: Run,

(Note that in AutoHotkey <^>! stands for the Alt Gr key.)


Quick access to several folders, displayed in a pop-up menu

This is a slightly more complex script that enables me to access, in an instant, the folders which I (currently) visit most frequently, for which I simply have to press the Alt key and x. The folders will then be displayed in a pop-up menu (at the location of my cursor).


This is my script for it (which needs to be written into a separate AHK file, not the one already created for other AHK scripts!):

Menu, Folders, Add, &Downloads, !1
Menu, Folders, Add, &OneDrive, !2
Menu, Folders, Add, &Murgitroyd, !3
Menu, Folders, Add, &Terminology lists, !4
Menu, Folders, Add, &Patent translation, !5
Menu, Folders, Add, Temporary, !6

!x:: Menu, Folders, Show

!1:: Run, C:\Users\User\Downloads       

!2:: Run, C:\Users\User\OneDrive

!3:: Run, C:\Users\User\Documents\Clients\Murgitroyd

!4:: Run, C:\Users\User\Documents\Terminology lists

!5:: Run, C:\Users\User\Documents\Patent translation

!6:: Run, C:\Users\User\Documents\Temporary

(Note that in AutoHotkey ! stands for the Alt key.)


Adding the ampersand symbols (&) to the script above has the effect that I don’t even have to use the mouse to open any of the folders in the pop-up menu. Instead, when I open the pop-up menu (by using Alt + x), pressing the letter d on my keyboard activates Downloads, the letter o activates OneDrive, and so forth.

Note that not including an ampersand symbol before Temporary in the Menu, Folders, Add, Temporary, !6 line means that I do have to use the mouse to open a folder which I’ve called Temporary (since pressing t will open my Terminology lists folder).


Finally, a word of caution, as also pointed out by Richard in his article: do be careful of any AHK scripts which you find on the internet as they have the potential to do anything assigned (even in an extreme case to wipe your hard drive!). It is vital that you understand the code before running any scripts.

AutoHotkey is a free, powerful tool for writing scripts that will run in any Windows application. It is used to automate certain repetitive tasks. AutoHotkey can make a huge difference to your computing life!

Friday, 4 September 2020

Coronavirus pandemic: 4 more new post-lockdown habits

Reduced consumerism, putting less pressure on ourselves, prioritising friends and family and ethical action, as described in a recent article on and referred to in my previous blog post, are fantastic good intentions that have emerged from the lockdown. The article on sets out 4 more new post-lockdown habits:


1) Exercising daily

Many people who hadn’t previously been into fitness (or had been “too busy” for it) have taken up running, yoga or other activities during the lockdown, also as a way to cope with the constant onslaught of depressing coronavirus news. The explicit “permission” to engage in one form of exercise per day, either alone or with members of your household, has been vital to maintaining our sanity.


My personal experience: 

I’ve always been into cycling and running and, more recently, into yoga as well, to wind down after long work days, but have recently come to appreciate these activities for what they are even more! My yoga classes at Emersons Green Village Hall with Hayley McAlinden from Empowered Living were cancelled until further notice, but I then joined live online yoga classes with Louise Hunt from Jala Flow Yoga. Doing yoga at home is a new habit I’m definitely going to keep!

As the pandemic was unfolding, parkruns also had to be cancelled, yet it was great to at least be able to follow what my fellow athletes had been up to in terms of their running and cycling via the social fitness app Strava.


2) Baking, vegetarian cooking, and growing herbs

Growing and making your own food is both sustainable and rewarding, especially during a pandemic and in the light of rampant uncertainty about whether the next time you pop round to the supermarket the shelves will actually be stocked! Interestingly, there’s recently also been a mindset shift regarding nutrition in that more of us now opt for vegetarian meals more often and deliberately aim to avoid meat.


My personal experience: 

I’ve never been into cooking, baking or gardening, and the pandemic hasn’t changed that! I did, however, take time out to have a go at making these rum balls:


Making your own food can be rewarding
(image source: rum balls, photo by Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler)

As a family we also enjoyed our weekly HelloFresh food and recipe box deliveries, chosen via the HelloFresh website. A perfect option for family meals “delivered safely to your door”, which helped avoid going out for food shopping!


3) Spending more time in nature 

Spending time outdoors has benefitted the overall well-being of many of us as lockdown had descended upon us. No doubt it’s helped us manage our mental health better and calm our worrying minds in the face of coronavirus-related uncertainty. The wish to spend more time in nature post-lockdown ties in with the intention to exercise more regularly in future noted above in this blog post.

Spending time outdoors has benefitted the overall well-being
of many of us as lockdown had descended upon us
(image source: field near Shortwood, photo by Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler)


My personal experience:

One of my favourite lockdown running routes has been a 5km route up Coxgrove Hill (or down it, depending on which direction I was running in) and through Shortwood, a nearby village. Being out on runs and in nature certainly kept my spirits up and was a great way to “get away from it all”!

And I’ve resolved to cycle a little more in future! I’m drafting this blog post sitting in the Southgate Street branch of Pret A Manger in Bath (near the station). I’ve cycled over from Emersons Green on the Bristol-to-Bath cycle path, which always affords the opportunity to take in the beauty of nature and striking surrounding countryside. 

4) Working from home, if possible 

Working from home comes with its own set of challenges, but also unique benefits and can be convenient in many respects. For us translators, the rigorous implementation of the lockdown hadn’t come as such a huge shock, as we’re used to working from home anyway. As translators, we were kind of trailblazers on that front.


My personal experience: 

To tell the truth, life in lockdown didn’t differ hugely from my pre-lockdown life, and I was a bit taken aback to realise this! I’ve therefore decided to henceforth engage a bit more in “outward-facing” activities and have volunteered to become one of the two interim membership officers of my local translators’ and interpreters’ network, the Western Regional Group (WRG) when this opportunity came up recently.

I had also initially been worried about how all of us (my husband, my 14-year-old son, my 11-year old daughter and me) being home all the time would pan out as I generally find it easiest to do translation work when I’m completely alone at home. Yet it all worked out fine in the end. 


For me as a translator, life in lockdown didn’t differ hugely from my pre-lockdown life
(image source: office door and sign, photo by Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler)


The pandemic has shaken us up, but also opened our eyes. These fantastic new habits that many people have vowed to maintain have emerged from the lockdown, as described in a recent article on Can you relate to them, too? 

Read about 4 other new post-lockdown habits in my previous article “Coronavirus pandemic: 4 new post-lockdown habits”.

Monday, 31 August 2020

Coronavirus pandemic: 4 new post-lockdown habits

Quarantine, no doubt, has changed us – but not just for the worse! This article on, entitled “Quarantine has changed us – and it’s not all bad”, struck a chord recently as we were gradually coming out of lockdown. Note that I was originally going to publish this blog post much earlier, around the time the first lockdown restrictions were being lifted, but am only now getting around to it. I am positive, though, that it’ll still make for uplifting reading!

The following habits emerged during lockdown, and many people resolved to maintain them: 

1) Reducing consumerism

The most popular response to which habits to keep post-lockdown was the intention to reduce consumerism. The pandemic has led many of us to realise that much of our previous consumer behaviour had really just been about instant gratification, rather than enduring happiness. Reduced consumerism incidentally chimes with the principles of minimalism: being confined to our homes has prompted a large-scale rethink about our excessive, often mindless consumption of goods and services.  


Much of our consumer behaviour is just about
instant gratification, rather than enduring happiness
(image source: shop in Florence, photo by Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler)


My personal experience: 

Once it became evident that opportunities to meet friends and colleagues would take a virtual format for some time to come, I also realised that placing orders for new clothes or accessories was, in a way, pointless. Did you know, by the way, that the business for the sale of dressy tops and shirts (as opposed to bottoms), due to the extensive use of video work calls, has been booming over recent months?


2) Slowing down and putting less pressure on ourselves

Of course, not everyone has been able to benefit from the slower pace of life necessitated by the lockdown; yet for those who have been able to enjoy it, it felt pleasant. It has led to the wish among many to build additional space into post-pandemic life, too – for reflection, more relaxation, a focus on what really is important. Gearing down does us good! Many of us have resolved to put less pressure on ourselves in future. 


My personal experience: 

I carried on translating, but was able, finally, to slow down a bit as far as other, non-work commitments were concerned: by no longer rushing out to yoga at Emersons Green Village Hall every Monday and Wednesday evening; by not getting up early for parkrun on Saturday mornings; by not having to cook lunch in a rush on Sundays, as had often been the case previously to make sure my son wouldn’t be late for football. Don’t get me wrong: I do miss all these things! In a way, though, it did feel nice, just for once, to gear down.


Gearing down does us good!
(image source: David Schwarzenberg on Pixabay)


3) Prioritising family and friends

In a recent blog post related to the pandemic I noted that work isn’t the main thing in life. The acts of solidarity and human warmth which we experienced during the lockdown have been extraordinary. For what really matters in life is these things: kindness, empathy, love for oneself, and love for others. We all have come to appreciate the family members and friends who’ve been there for us during this taxing time. 

My personal experience:

As a family we spent a certain amount of time together, yet also kept busy with work commitments, business tasks, school work and household chores. Being busy is, of course, good and can even serve as a distraction when the world around you seemingly is falling apart.

At one point I started contacting one person per day to check in on them and ask how they were doing. In the end, though, it turned out that the lockdown hadn’t been long enough for me to make contact with yet more of the people who I have the privilege of knowing and mean a lot to me!


The pandemic has given us a glimpse of a future with cleaner air
(image source: sky over Lake Lugano, photo by Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler)

4) Ethical action and activism in our highly interconnected world 

As a result of the lockdown, we have seen the effects of climate change slow due to massively decreased carbon emissions from vehicles. The pandemic has given us a glimpse of a future with cleaner air. The outlook on climate change hasn’t been as upbeat as this for a long time! Many of us have set the intention to finally get a grip on reducing our carbon footprints, but also to donate more money to charity, buy from independent shops, and engage in political activism.


My personal experience: 

Many small businesses have been suffering severely because of the pandemic. I’ve resolved I’m going to buy more often from smaller, independent businesses in my area such as Melanie’s Kitchen in Downend or the Chapel Arts Café in Bath. During a recent mini-break in Dartmoor, my husband and I bought a large-scale photograph of Haytor from independent photographer Rob Hutchinson, both because we loved the photo and to support his work.

The pandemic has wrought havoc, human tragedy and economic turmoil across the globe, yet there are some reasons for optimism and even to feel cheerful. A recent article on sets out new habits that many people have vowed to maintain post-lockdown. Can you relate to them, too?


Read about 4 more new post-lockdown habits in my follow-up article “Coronavirus pandemic: 4 more new post-lockdown habits”.

Friday, 28 August 2020

10 useful tools for translators

Handy time-saving, efficiency-increasing tools are not as out of reach as we may think. Some of these tools are freely available. Or they’re so good that, once we’ve tried them, we’ll want to use them all the time, even if that means paying for them to have access to their more advanced features.

During my current staycation, I finally got around to checking out a number of tools which I know several translators regularly use and highly recommend. They were described in an article on Alina Cincan’s blog some time ago. I am grateful to Alina for putting together the article and to my fellow translators for recommending them! I’ll list my favourites (in random order) below:

NaturalReader – a smart text-to-speech reader that will read texts to you in natural sounding voices (free to use for 20 minutes per day). Choose your favourite voice amongst several options for English (US), English (UK), German, French, Italian, Swedish or a few other languages.

LockHunter – a useful file unlocking programme, which allows you to identify, unlock, delete, copy or rename a locked file and to kill any locking processes on your computer.

Count Anything – a handy word-count utility for Windows, which supports the following file types: MS Word (.docx, .rtf), MS Excel (.xls, .csv), MS PowerPoint (.ppt); OpenOffice Writer (.odt), OpenOffice Impress (.odp), OpenOffice Calc (.ods); and HTML, XML, Text and PDF.

Everything Search Engine – a sophisticated file name search engine for Windows, which rapidly and reliably finds files and folders by name. For example, search for dm:today to locate any files and folders that were modified on your computer today.

Google Keep – a versatile note-taking app for photo notes, voice notes and checklists. It syncs between, e.g., your PC and your smartphone. It is possible to set up audible reminders or colour code notes.

Canva – a fantastic graphic design tool for creating customised graphics for social media or blog posts, posters or other visual content. Its basic features are free to use, although paid subscription options offering additional features are also available.

Flipboard – a convenient news aggregation site for the curation of articles, blog posts, videos and other pieces of content according to topics of your choice. A great site that’ll make it easy for me to quickly find articles on topics I often translate about, such as autonomous driving or AI!

Noisli – a fascinating programme for listening to background sounds that will help you focus while you’re working and that can even be mixed. I was intrigued by the sounds imitating the background noises of a coffee shop! Its nature sounds are similar to the nature sounds I regularly listen to on iTunes.

KeePass – a secure and proven password manager. Passwords are stored in an encrypted database, which can be unlocked with one master key. I’ve been using KeePass for managing my passwords for a while now, but was thrilled to find it was mentioned by a colleague in Alina’s article.

IntelliWebSearch – a must-have internet search tool for Windows which is designed to save translators, interpreters, editors and terminologists time when using the web in their work. Not new to me either, but I’m mentioning it because I, too, highly recommend it.

This blog post lists 10 handy, proven tools for translators, described in an article on Alina Cincan’s blog some time ago, which I familiarised myself with recently and which I warmly recommend. Some of them are freely available, or they are so good that, once you’ve tried them, you’ll likely be happy to pay for them.


(An English translation of this blog article is available here.)