Focus – a key asset in the 21st century
It has been always clear that proper time management makes our business and our workday more efficient, but in today’s accelerated and attention-poor world it is particularly true.
We published a blog article in 2018 on the topic of time management, but let us examine the closely-related subject of focus as well.
Stephen Synes, a trainer and coach, writes in one of his articles that focus has become a real superpower nowadays. If we don’t fight it consciously, our day can be torn apart by all the content that keeps coming our way, all the little bits of information we are bombarded with (whether work-related, such as emails, or distracting messages from our friends), and the continuous notifications from social media and our mobile apps. What’s more, due to the many short audiovisual stimuli we are exposed to, our attention spans are getting shorter. In such an environment it is especially hard to focus and concentrate on the tasks that require more time. But if we are doing intellectual work, we can achieve 4-5 times more during a 30-60 minute period focusing intensively on one task at a time than if we keep jumping from one task to another, slicing our attention into many parts.
Whether we use the pomodoro technique (25-minute periods of intensive and focused work with 5-minute breaks) discussed in the above-mentioned blog article) or not, it is very useful to set apart a window of time, preferably in the morning (or, for owl types, shortly after waking up), when we are still rested and fresh. Our creative energies peak at that time. We should not let small distractions get in our way or stress us.
If we don’t like putting off tasks, we can choose to do a couple of smaller tasks in 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the day, but then we should make sure to dive into the bigger tasks, and only check our email and other incoming messages during breaks. It is an illusion to think that our incoming messages require immediate replies or action. If we take a break every half hour or hour, most of the messages can surely wait until then. During a pomodoro session, it is better not to pick up the phone, as in most cases calling back within 30 minutes will not do any harm.
How to deal with administrative tasks
Every freelancer, but also all internal translators and project managers of language service providers, face less creative, administrative tasks as well. Most of these are “two-minute tasks”, so they can be dealt with in between the periods of focused work. But what happens if they are longer or many of them pile up?
It is also advisable to dedicate a focused time period to these cases. Even if they do not require creativity, a minor lack of attention, for example a typo in an important number, can cause serious difficulties. In the afternoon, when our creative energies are down, we can dedicate a 30-60 minute time period to more routing, administrative tasks that still require attention. But it is important not to put off this period, as keeping “unfinished cycles” (unsolved tasks) in our minds is a considerable cognitive burden.
What is the solution when we have many different tasks of various sizes?
Of course, it is only in an ideal world that we could focus on a single important and urgent task at a time. In real life, it is very hard both to prioritize work and to shut out distractions.
Writing down tasks is an old method – but these days we don’t need to use a paper, as there are a multitude of digital planning and to-do list apps available. Writing down tasks is not a waste of time even if we can remember them all: as soon as they are written down, we will feel relief. We should organize them by urgency and importance. It is good to take care of some smaller tasks in between the longer ones, because clearing them from the list makes us feel better. And if our to-do list is in a particular order, we should try not to deviate from it, so as to avoid feeling “I can’t even stick to my own plans”.
A final piece advice: practice focusing! This is a skill that can be learned, and while today’s world pushes us to unlearn it, many studies show that focused work is the most effective, and multitasking can be a cul-de-sac. Eliminate as many distracting factors in your environment as possible: phone notifications should be turned off, and the temptation of aimless internet browsing should be resisted. This will result in an end of the day when you have much more time for entertainment and recreation.
There is a wide scale of different tasks in the life of translators and translation project managers, and these can require varying amounts time and attention. We hope that this article will contribute to a more organized and efficient way to carry out your tasks. If you have additional ideas, you are welcome to comment on this blog article or the related Facebook post.