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 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.


Thursday, 27 August 2020

Getting out of the rut: An unusual COVID-19 staycation plan

I’m staying put. I’ve stopped translation work for the summer break, and in usual circumstances there would have been endless possibilities as to what to do. My two children are enjoying a whale of a time in Germany with their two cousins, other members of my family and their friends in the village where I grew up, and my husband has headed over to Germany to stay with his mum for a bit, before he’ll travel back to the UK with our children. Until then, I’ll have plenty of time to myself.

With the pandemic still wreaking havoc across the globe, I don’t feel like going on holiday right now. I decided not to travel to Germany with my husband as I’d seen my family there only a few weeks ago. I’d have loved to explore Scotland further this year, and I am still keen to visit Milan. I’m also generally not a beach-and-hot-and-sunny-weather person at all, so am always relieved anyway whenever the beach holiday option is not on the table. So I’ve decided to stay put. I feel safe at home. I enjoy being at home.



Working hard, resting hard 

How to fill a COVID-19-induced staycation? I came up with an unusual plan: I’d both indulge in holiday-type activities on the one hand, and work on my business on the other hand, and I’d do this on alternate days! When I mentioned to my brother-in-law what I was up to, he remarked – perhaps rightly so – that it sounded like this wasn’t going to be a holiday at all. Fair enough, and yes, it certainly wouldn’t feel like a normal holiday. Yet, in these strange times what of anything that we all currently do feels normal?

I’d realised I was really craving this time to be spent at home in this way, so I could work on my business (rather than just in it!). I’d been neglecting this side of running a freelance translation business for what felt far too long. No doubt at the end of it I’d feel glad to have taken this staycation not just to relax, but also to achieve something that would catapult me slightly forward in my job. Get me out of the recent rut. And help me adjust the direction I was heading in with my business.

A theme for each working-on-my-business day 

I gave each of my working-on-my-business days a theme (but would quickly realise that just one day wasn’t going to be enough!): on my “website day” I’d carry on revamping my website. My “marketing day” would be dedicated to updating my CV, sketching out my next marketing campaign etc. On my “tools and software day” I’d familiarise myself with the latest version of memoQ, my translation software, and explore new tools (to be described in my next blog post). Another day would simply be a “decluttering day”, on which I’d tidy up my hard drives and cloud storage spaces, sort browser bookmarks etc. So far, so good.


The luxury of having plenty of time and living slowly 

Every second day, by contrast, would be reserved for holiday-type activities: participating in Jala Flow Yoga live sessions via Zoom at 9.30 a.m. on weekdays (Hatha yoga, Vinyasa Flow yoga and Yin yoga to choose from). Losing myself in a good book (such as currently “The Salt Path” by Raynor Winn). Having a massage. Writing blog articles. Meeting a friend for a socially distanced walk in the park. Listening to YouTube videos. Cycling to Bath to sit in a café. Having plenty of time to sit outside on the patio and read the newspaper. Simple pleasures.

With the pandemic still raging and posing a massive threat, we’ve probably all thought twice about what would be appropriate for us holiday-wise this year. And pandemic considerations aside, there also is something to be said for not splashing out, even if we could afford it, as I read in a minimalism-related article recently. It was a thought I felt I could relate to: living simply and not just within, but perhaps even under our means can make a difference to how we perceive what we experience, whether during a staycation or at other times.

This year, the year in which COVID-19 struck, I’m adhering to an unusual holiday plan that will do not just me, but also my business good. It’s designed to help me adjust the direction I’m heading in with my business. But it is also giving me ample time to engage in activities that I would probably have pursued on a “normal” holiday anyway.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Better contact management with Dunbar’s Number

We can only ever have 150 friends. Our brains can’t cope with more.

150 is known as Dunbar’s Number. It was suggested by Robin Dunbar as the cognitive limit to the number of people who any human is capable of maintaining a close, meaningful relationship with.

It’s therefore hardly surprising that we start feeling overwhelmed when our Twitter community grows to several hundred (or thousand!) contacts. Even if someone should claim to possess the brainpower to handle more relationships, there just wouldn’t be enough hours in a day for managing such a huge circle of friends and work contacts.

Information overload is affecting us all

As a minimalist I am always on the lookout for theories on limitations, boundaries or minimisation, so I was pleased to stumble upon the concept of Dunbar’s Number. I find it fascinating! It should make us ponder the following:

How much information can our brains process on a daily basis?

We all probably reach a point occasionally when we feel our brains are about to shut down. The amount of information that we can take in at any one time is limited. Information overload is affecting us all.

Which of our (many) relationships matter the most?

The social and business environments that we live in today are complex and wide-ranging. Staying on top of all our relationships is becoming more and more of a challenge. Can we even identify off the top of our heads the contacts that are truly important to us?

How best to manage the contacts that are truly important to us?

Interacting and socialising online clearly has its benefits, not least for the introverts among us. Yet in the end, it cannot be denied that getting together physically (Covid allowing!) is best. It is the most effective method for maintaining and nurturing “true” interpersonal relationships.

Constantly adding to our lists of social contacts may seem easy, but isn’t everything; we should invest in cultivating existing relationships, too. And it’s worth remembering that according to the Dunbar’s Number concept, we can only ever have at most 150 friends.

- Guardian: Robin Dunbar: we can only ever have 150 friends at most
- Wikipedia: Dunbar's Number

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Decluttering, digitisation and running: flashback to 25 October 1998

As a minimalist, I love throwing out things which I don’t need anymore. Throwing out things sometimes teaches me lessons, or it makes me realise how much I’ve moved on!

In an effort to further reduce any physical stuff that I have, I’ve started scanning the diaries which I kept for a few years when I was (much) younger. Scanning diary entries (and storing back-ups on hard drives and in the cloud) means I can then dispose of the physical versions.

This entry of 25 October 1998 is among the funniest I’ve found since embarking on my diary digitisation project. It is, in a way, also quite thought-provoking:

Translated into English, it means: I find it irritating that people are staring at me when I’m out jogging, as if they’d never seen a jogger in their life before! I’ve therefore decided that from now on I’ll only go out on runs in the evening, at dusk.

Baffling! Not only had I completely forgotten that I’d already been into running back then, but also it is extraordinary I’d been so irritated by people staring at me that I’d decided to henceforth only go on runs at a time in the day when it was less likely people would see me.

The insight that crystallises from this decluttering find? Clearly, it can only be this one: don’t care about what other people might think of you. It really is that simple.

These days I go running anytime, and even in broad daylight!

I'm grateful to Gary Woodruff, one of our brilliant photographers at Pomphrey Hill parkrun (which, of course, currently is suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis), for taking the amazing running photos in this post.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Book recommendation: “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport

It is one of those books that you’ll probably want to devour in one go. In “Digital Minimalism”, bestselling author Cal Newport offers smart advice on how to ruthlessly strip away any online activities that don’t serve you, and how to regain control of your digital life.

Digital minimalism is a quiet movement and has been defined by Cal Newport as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else”.

Exhausted from leading a digital life

One word that came up repeatedly in conversations that Cal Newport had with people following the publication of his earlier bestseller “Deep Work” was exhaustion. Many people feel exhausted from leading a digital life.

And many people he spoke to mentioned social media’s ability to manipulate their mood. Let’s face it: constant exposure to our colleagues’ and friends’ meticulously curated portrayal of their lives, careers and activities will inevitably arouse the feeling that our own lives, careers and activities are somehow inadequate. (That certainly is the case for me!)

The deep-seated psychological vulnerabilities that every single one of us has

If you’re a social media user, this book will hook you in right from the first page. “Digital Minimalism” is a hands-on guide to minimising screen time and becoming more mindful about technology use. It sets out very clearly and in the most striking way how social media apps target the deep-seated psychological vulnerabilities that every single one of us (!) has.

Digital minimalism is based on 3 principles:

Principle #1: Clutter is costly.

Principle #2: Optimisation is important.

Principle #3: Intentionality is satisfying.

Cal Newport suggests initially performing a 30-day digital declutter. He describes how he was hoping that for his research 40 to 50 brave volunteers would sign up for a digital declutter experiment and commit to recording their experiences along the way. His guess was very wrong: more than 1,600 volunteers signed up! (This even made national headlines.)

At the end of the digital declutter, volunteers had the opportunity to allow optional technologies back into their lives, on the condition that such technologies served something that they deeply valued. Volunteers would, for example, not allow a feature of an app back into their life if it offered just some vague benefit.

The aim of digital minimalism is to no longer experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Instead, as a digital minimalist you already know which specific online activities provide you with meaning and satisfaction.

In “Digital Minimalism”, Cal Newport argues that unrestricted online activity has a negative impact on our psychological well-being. He suggests digital minimalism as an alternative approach: using technologies in a way that supports your values and goals – rather than letting technologies use you!

Cal Newport is a computer science professor at Georgetown University who studies the theory of distributed systems. In addition to his academic work, he writes about the intersection of technology and culture. He is the author of six books. His work has been published in over 25 languages and has been featured in many major publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, Washington Post, and Economist.

(Note that I haven’t yet had a go at implementing digital minimalism in the way set out in the book, but I will report back once I have.)

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Blogging in a foreign language: good or bad idea?

Blogging in English has always been something that I’ve felt uneasy about. I’m a German translator, and my professional association’s code of conduct does not allow me to translate into anything other than my mother tongue. Translating is basically writing, so I can’t shake off the impression that it raises eyebrows when I blog in English.

Yet my English has been “okayed” by numerous people: an American colleague, whom I sometimes run blog posts past for feedback (thank you, Will!); other native speakers who read my blog; and a professional editor whom I’ve approached to ask for input into my English writing (thank you, Matt!). I was assured by everyone that my English is fine. Yet the deep-seated uneasiness remains.

I should add for completeness that my professional association’s code of conduct prescribes translating either into my mother tongue or into a “language of habitual use”. Note that, although I’ve lived in the UK for a very long time, my command of English is not (and will never be) as good as a native speaker’s.

As a German translator, I’m not qualified to translate into English, so blogging in English does not have any immediate benefits to my work. Blogging in English is simply something which I enjoy doing. To me, my blog is the perfect tool to further improve my English skills.

(A German translation of this blog post is available here.)

Monday, 13 April 2020

Book recommendation: “Riverflow” by Alison Layland

Gripping, topical and intelligent, “Riverflow” by Alison Layland is an eco-thriller set in a small rural community in Shropshire on the banks of the River Severn. I warmly and enthusiastically recommend it!

“Riverflow” is Alison Layland’s second novel and is “a novel of family secrets, community tensions and environmental protest against a background of fracking and floods on the River Severn”, to quote from the Booka Bookshop website. It addresses climate change, one of the pressing issues of our time, reminding readers of how frighteningly close we have come to destroying nature and the planet for good.

“Riverflow” reminds readers of how frighteningly close we have come
to destroying nature and the planet for good

While many of us translators like to think of ourselves as writers, Alison Layland is a real writer in that she’s both a translator (who translates from German, French and Welsh into English) and a talented and successful novelist. I met Alison at a Twitter workshop in Birmingham in 2015. You can find a short blog entry about her debut novel, “Someone Else’s Conflict”, here.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I get bored by novels very quickly. I’ve lost track of the number of novels which I started reading, only to put them down again to either do something more exciting or read something much more useful (as you may remember, I’m a non-fiction translator).

So whenever I do read a novel from beginning to end, this must mean something! “Riverflow” with its haunting plot pulled me right in and kept my attention. Alison’s writing style also appeals to me: it’s engaging, original and comfortable to read. And the language she uses is very modern in that it features words like “ecocide” and “upcycling”.

“Riverflow” was chosen as Welsh Book of the Month for August 2019 by Waterstones. You can watch the book trailer here:

Friday, 3 April 2020

The Minimalist Translator is on Facebook

My blog finally has its own Facebook page! Unlike numerous translators and interpreters, I only recently jumped on this bandwagon. What’s more, as some of you will have noticed, I’ve recently put in real effort to use Facebook a bit more generally.

Facebook has always been a site popular with translators and interpreters and also with my other friends. So why has it taken so long for me to set up a Facebook page for my blog

Initial reservations about using Facebook

- Many Facebook users report they feel out of control as they’re using Facebook. It makes them feel uneasy, and it makes me feel uneasy, too. This feeling of being out of control is exacerbated whenever I log on after not getting around to logging on for several weeks.

- Research suggests our brains become addicted to the surge of dopamine that kicks in after every “like” that we receive. I feel this is awkward. I also feel it’s awkward that followers, shares and likes can be bought (for very little money) if they’re what you need for whatever business goal you’re trying to accomplish.


More exposure for The Minimalist Translator

Despite these initial reservations, my blog is now on Facebook. I’ve decided a little more exposure can only be a good thing! Although time leftover for social media is as short as ever, I am keen to share my musings about minimalism and translation henceforth a little more widely.

Therefore, if you’re on Facebook and are enjoying this blog, do please like it.

You can subscribe to The Minimalist Translator on Facebook here or by clicking the Like button:

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Feeling gratitude right now à la Fumio Sasaki

“Goodbye, things” by minimalist Fumio Sasaki, which I've written a book review about (published here yesterday), includes a chapter that proposes a thinking technique for feeling gratitude right now, at this very moment. It is bafflingly easy to implement and, as I’ve found, highly effective:

It involves turning any negative thoughts creeping up on you into positive ones instantly, within the same sentence. Fumio Sasaki lists a whole page of (heart-warming and funny) examples of his thought-processes while he is thinking in this way.

Fumio Sasaki proposes a thinking technique that’s designed to help us change and reframe our thoughts and feelings
(Image source: Image by 昕 沈 on Pixabay)

His technique helped me overcome my disappointment about a translators’ conference I had booked to attend in Milan, Italy, at the end of February 2020 being cancelled due to the sudden coronavirus outbreak in a region in Lombardy near Milan. I had just finished the packing, when I heard the news on the radio. The conference was cancelled the next day.

My thought-processes went like this:

I am so disappointed that I’m not heading off to the conference in Milan … but it is, of course, always better to be safe than sorry! I’m so lucky the outbreak in Europe was discovered a few days before – and not during or shortly after – my journey.

It’s such a shame that the opportunity of exploring Milan this week has evaporated … but it hasn’t evaporated – it’s just been postponed. Now I have plenty more time for current work projects and other things, which is a real luxury!

I was looking forward to chilling out at the hotel spa at the end of the two conference days … but I’m doing yoga right now at my regular yoga class instead and I’m feeling absolutely amazing!

I’d already been gearing up for writing a blog article about the stay in Milan … but there are plenty of other topics I can blog about instead.

See what I mean? It’s thinking that is unbelievably simple and very effective.

Fumio Sasaki in his book “Goodbye, things” describes a thinking technique that’s designed to help us change and reframe our thoughts and feelings. He argues that when we aim for gratitude right now, we become more positive, tolerant and generous.

Note: I tend to batch-produce my blog posts, and I wrote this blog post several weeks ago, but I have meanwhile also integrated this technique into my efforts to mentally cope with the dire situation of the coronavirus pandemic that we are finding ourselves in right now.

It is, of course, very difficult to stay positive amidst all of this, but turning some of those nagging coronavirus-related thoughts and fears around mid-sentence in this way has had the effect that it’s made me feel, admittedly, not great, but at least a bit better.

Figuring out ways how to look after and protect our mental health is vital – perhaps now more than ever before.


Saturday, 28 March 2020

Book recommendation: “Goodbye, things” by Fumio Sasaki

“Goodbye, things” by Japanese minimalist Fumio Sasaki, published by Penguin, is an inspiring and uplifting book. It explores the philosophy and cultural history of minimalism from Zen Buddhism to Steve Jobs. Reading even just a few chapters in it from time to time always puts a smile on my face!

Fumio Sasaki is one of the hardcore minimalists whom we sometimes hear about: he’s a writer who lives in a tiny studio in Tokyo with just three shirts, four pairs of trousers, four pairs of socks and not much else. Minimalism has opened his mind to happiness he’d never experienced before.

Fumio Sasaki is someone like any of us,
who struggled with what we’re also struggling with

I found “Goodbye, things” heart-warming because Fumio Sasaki does not proclaim himself to be a minimalism guru or a decluttering expert: he’s just an ordinary guy. He’s someone like any of us, who was weighed down by too much stuff and struggled with what we’re also struggling with.

As a result, he set out to explore minimalism. He figured out that incorporating minimalism into your life not only transforms the physical space around you, but also can bring about a fundamental shift in life and lead to more happiness.

In the book, he offers 55 tips to help you say goodbye to your things and 15 more tips for the next stage of your minimalism journey. In addition, he sets out 12 ways in which he himself has changed since he said goodbye to his things.

His tips and his insights into minimalism are neatly packaged into short, compact chapters, which are written in a punchy and highly readable style. Special praise to translator Eriko Sugita!

In “Goodbye, things” Fumio Sasaki explores the philosophy and cultural history of minimalism from Zen Buddhism to Steve Jobs. It takes the reader on a fascinating journey into minimalism, which is defined as a lifestyle in which possessions are reduced to the absolute minimum that one needs.

Related links:

- Penguin webpage for “Goodbye, things” by Fumio Sasaki:

- “Goodbye things, hello minimalism: can living with less make you happier?” (Guardian article of 12 April 2017):

- An in-depth look at “Goodbye, things” by Fumio Sasaki (book summary) (by Kyle Kowalski):

- What I’ve learned from “Goodbye, things” by Fumio Sasaki (by Meziah Ruby):

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Coronavirus crisis and using time wisely while stuck at home

Suddenly, with massive restrictions imposed on our work and social lives following the worldwide spread of coronavirus, most of us are finding ourselves stuck at home. I’m sure we all wish to spend that extra time at home wisely.

Minimalist Joshua Becker (whose books back in April 2014 inspired me to want to also become a minimalist) has published an appropriately timed article in which he sets out 14 achievable tasks to help declutter your home while stuck inside. You’ll find it on the Becoming Minimalist website.

Feeling braced for the impact of the cataclysmic coronavirus crisis
(Image source: Alexey Hulsov on Pixabay)

I hope I, too, will be able to set aside some time to tackle some of those tasks, although for the time being I intend to mainly carry on working in my home office, as I’ve done for many years. Right now, I’m fully booked for some time to come, with yet more orders coming in over the past week.

The impact of the cataclysmic coronavirus crisis

Without a doubt, the huge economic shock we’re currently experiencing is going to be felt by everyone around the globe. As far as my translation job is concerned, it remains to be seen what the exact impact will be on the IP industry, which I mainly work for these days.

I am under no illusion that the current cataclysmic crisis has the potential of impacting my business, with perhaps noticeable effects such as fewer translation projects available or a degradation of my current good standard of living. Am I feeling braced for this?

Social distancing, solidarity and love

Yes, the fear of the impending economic downturn and the hit my small business is potentially going to take from it do bother me; yet it bothers me (a lot) less than it would have in the past. After all, less often frees up the space for more, and thanks to my new minimalist mindset, I now know work isn’t the main thing in life.

Over recent days, I have witnessed people coming together (while adhering to the new social distancing rules) in extraordinary acts of solidarity and human warmth. What really matters in life is these things: kindness, empathy, love for oneself, and love for others.

Stay healthy, happy and safe, everyone. And perhaps you, too, will find some time to tackle some of the tasks that are set out in Joshua’s article “14 Achievable Tasks to Help Declutter Your Home While Stuck Inside”.

What really matters in life: kindness, empathy, love for oneself, and love for others
(Image source: drawing by Hannah Heisler)

Sunday, 8 March 2020

My (unusual) approach to minimising social media time

As I work at a screen all day, I’m faced with this problem: I don’t have much “brain capacity” left to absorb yet more online content, such as social media contributions, blog posts or online newspaper articles. However, I want to read online outside of work, too. And I am keen to interact with my colleagues and friends online as well, and want to show an interest in what they have posted.

A minimalist’s approach to social media use

How to make time for (non-work) online reading? As I work all day at a screen already (and blog as a hobby), spending lots of time in addition on social media isn’t really what I’m after. I’ve therefore adopted this approach, which minimises my time on social media and news sites:

I simply copy interesting content (whether in the form of whole articles or even just interesting bits of Facebook discussions) and paste it all (without any photos) into a Word file. Once that Word file is long enough, I send it off to my e-reader. This often takes just a few minutes. I can then enjoy reading it at my leisure – away from my work screen!

I also use social media apps minimally. I maintain an active presence on Twitter (for English here and for German here), whereas I just lurk on LinkedIn. I’ve never felt the need to own a tablet, but I have Twitter installed on my phone. However, I don’t have LinkedIn or Facebook (or WhatsApp, for that matter) on my phone.

Efficient and proper reading of online content

Reading on my e-reader makes sure I am shielded from the myriad of online distractions and can block out interruptions. That way, I can properly absorb the content (AND appreciate the way in which it’s written). If you’ve ever received a response from me to one of your social media contributions one week or so later, now you know why! It does sometimes take me that long to send stuff to my e-reader and read it.

Sounds like this is not for you? Yes, I do realise this approach may not work for most people; yet it works for me. Although my English is getting better, in the end, I'm still a language learner, and this is the best way for me to pick up new words and phrases, including colloquial ones. What's more, as a translator I’m by nature a text-oriented person. I am therefore perfectly happy in the black-and-white, text-only world which my e-reader provides me with.

This is my current approach to social media use. Watch this space as it's likely I'm going to tweak and further optimise it in the not-too-distant future once I've finished my current book, “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport. (Cal Newport's books were recommended to me by Sean Reid from Aye Run, who introduced me to the beautiful city of Glasgow on a sightseeing run last year.)

As I'm usually short of time, I use a dedicated approach to minimise the actual time spent on news sites or social media, while maximising what I get out of it. This approach involves sending online content in a Word file to my e-reader so that I can indulge in interruption-free reading.

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 is impending (or so we've been told).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. 

Why don't human translators fear the rise of 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 produced 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 produced 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.

(A German translation of this blog article is available here.) 

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
(Image source: drawing by Hannah Heisler)

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