Motivation vs. Procrastination in the Life of a Translator
In recent months, many things that I have done and seen have made me think on productivity. What motivates and what hinders our work routine, and how all this reflects in our image and our professional success as translators. Today, I will gather some thoughts and information on this.
From translating an inspirational book
Recently, I completed the translation of a booklet about self-help for a customer, which had a great impact on me (Cannot give you its title at this stage as it is waiting for publication).
I loved doing this translation, with which I also learned a lot.
Small, with tiny chapters, written in simple and direct language, permeated with illustrations, it is intended for businessmen or people who wish to start a business, or maybe not even that. Yet, this one is very different from any other kind of self-help business books out there. It demystifies many notions about business we hear. yet, always with a lot of common sense and almost excessive frankness. Virtually all the topics covered in the book can be applied to freelancers as well, especially to translators who have a business. I’ve found myself reflected in many chapters – or saw my past, my background, past jobs, colleagues. Even in typical day-to-day situations in an office, which have nothing to do with me, I saw relatives and friends there.
To Gaining Valuable Insights Into My Translation Business
There are valuable insights on preparing and launching new ventures, outreach, business concepts, use of technology, distance co-operation, competition, and much about productivity and motivation. I do not want to give away too much here, but a lot of things stuck with me. Not everything is new, but said in such an eloquent way, with great real examples. The text ends up reinforcing what people in the background already know, besides giving us some well-deserved slaps in the face. For example:
— Everything you do, say, write, every phone call, every invoice, every email – everything – is marketing.
— Being a workaholic, turning nights and weekends, sleeping little and eating badly, and still being proud of it, ultimately is being incompetent, disorganised, clumsy. Working a lot has nothing to do with working well.
— Having brilliant ideas or making big plans is no merit; What really makes the difference is in actually realising a succession of little good ideas every day.
— Current interaction tools have revalued writing – emails, text messages, websites, blogs. Communication should be efficient, clear, informative. Writing well is the fruit of the clarity and organisation of thoughts; therefore, when recruiting partners, give preference to those who write well.
— Want to be immune to competition? Make your product your own, something that only you can do, your way of being, something inimitable. Not just the result of your work, but the whole experience of working with you. (Another that applies even more to translators, as opposed to entrepreneurs from other areas.)
— To excel and have a differential, share and teach. The more people want to do what you do, the way you do, the more you establish yourself as a leader.
— Our great enemy is interruption. We only surrender when we can work for a while without any kind of interruption, so you have to schedule work periods like this.
— What drive productivity is motivation, and this is the result of many factors, including a favourable environment, attainable goals and small daily successes – more on this issue next.
— And much, much more.
More motivation to be a better translator
Also recently, I attended a convention for small entrepreneurs. I confess that at first I did not give it much credit – such a public thing, for free… What do I know, right? But it was exceptional. Great lectures, beginning with one of Google’s directors in Australia, and with many panels on digital media, marketing and business tools, etc. In a hall filled with computers, volunteers helped those who wanted to learn and open accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn and other networking sites. At the end of the day, I left full energy to improve my productivity, choose better customers, and make more productive partnerships.
And I cannot say why, but I have the impression that only this motivation, this desire to be effective, to reinforce the things that I clearly have been doing right and to correct what is not, already generates positive results. I think that just setting certain priorities or having clearer headings already translates into productivity – and effectiveness. And productivity translates into praise, better services, more money, more time to do what we like, and all this produces more motivation, of course.
Speaking of motivation, I discovered today, through a Twitter link, this beautifully illustrated lecture on the results of a research on motivation – what kind of reward yields good results, makes us win challenges. In a TED Talk, Dan Ariely does not say anything that we do not already know, but watching and reading him filled me with enthusiasm.
Professional Satisfaction as a Translator
I have seen dilemmas, debates and experiences about unattractive professional choices with huge monetary compensation versus choices that give more personal and professional satisfaction with little financial return. And increasingly I am an unconditional partisan of the second option. Because in the long run, a job that generates a good dose of motivation, which is a priority, that makes sense, inevitably generates financial return as well – and from a certain point, a higher financial return alone does not increase the motivation, quite the opposite.
There is also a crucial difference in the different positions I see in aspiring translators – for example, in the numerous emails I receive from beginners in translation asking for all kinds of opinions, advice or help.
Benefits of being a translator
There are people who, before even trying to translate something, soon show that they are anxious to know how much they will earn. It has to be a lot. It has to be now. In general, these same people want to know which areas are easy to get into, requires a small amount of customer service and guaranteed high salary. It is not uncommon to hear some well-publicised myths out there, such as those sworn translators who earn abysmal sums of money each month translating some nonsense driver’s licence.
Yes, of course! Gee, that must be why so many of my colleagues and my fellow sworn translators live on yachts, and only I have not realised that yet.
The Real Winners of the Translation Industry
The fact of the matter is that – almost always – those who have this type of concern when planning their career are not the ones who will spend half an hour immersed in dictionaries trying to get the perfect translation for an expression. Nor would they usually “waste time” studying in depth, or begin their translation career willing to translate for very little money in the beginning. It is not by chance that these “translators” are not the ones who tend to achieve the kind of professional success they were hoping to get.
Others want to perfect themselves. They want to study more, read more, do more exercises, want you to recommend other courses. There is a passion behind what they do, as well as the relentless pursuit of technical improvement – which is a lot duller and less exciting than the “passion for languages.” I often keep in touch with these people, and I am happy to see how successful they are in the profession. They are great colleagues. And the interesting thing is that they are often surprised, think they were lucky or do not think they work too much.
After 25 years of experience as a translator, now that I have a different perspective, the difference is very clear. People like that are a minority, yes, and they succeed because they have the motivation driven by the right priorities, which lead them to make no effort to improve. They embark on the profession aiming to be excellent professionals throughout their lives, not aiming for a cash-filled savings and early retirement. The difference between these values is huge.
The Worst Enemy of the Translator
To conclude, let me talk about our worst enemy: procrastination. Who does not suffer from that throws me the first stone. We have to be connected all day, easy to be found by clients and colleagues, attentive. Emails need to be answered quickly. We need to be aware of the latest news and debates. Help someone to solve a problem on Facebook. Watching a photo album of our latest trip or someone laughing at a bad translation in a video on YouTube … 1h45 later, you wonder why you are still watching this new episode of the Game of thrones.
Not to mention that Monday morning, when you take a deep breath and open the directory of the next 35-page review of a text on IT, and suddenly that’s the ideal time to mow the lawn (Or update the blog…)
Sometimes, procrastination is more blatant. Sometimes, it is camouflaged as research or confused with coffee time. Anyway, if we’re honest, we all know that we don’t roll up our sleeves more than we should, that we often lose control over the time of rest. Then the blame hits and we work until 3 o’clock in the morning, we skip meals. And when we see it, we fall into the vicious cycle of inefficient workaholism, which can end up compromising quality.
Applying These Reflections to the World of Translation
It was just when I was thinking about these subjects that I came across this article, about the evolutionary, neurological and behavioural reasons behind procrastination, and why it seems to sabotage us in such effective ways. It brings some clues to cheating our own brains, or at least not letting ourselves be fooled. Another read is worth very much.
This text quotes Dan Ariely, a scholar of human behaviours associated with economics who has given excellent lectures in TED. On his site there are links to podcasts he has done on the various chapters. I still do not know how to relate all this to the universe of translation, but all this discussion has attracted me immensely and I feel it will still bring me something useful – even if it is good reflections and reading recommendations.
Now, to work!