Working on multiple projects is a big challenge. Each item needs your undivided attention so you'll meet your deadlines, achieve your goals, and keep clients happy. But you can only work for so long before you run out of steam, right? And, even if you have a flexible deadline, the smallest disruptions can bring about chaos. Here are 3 ideas to manage your boredom, meet your expectations, and get all projects done on time without giving in to stress or finding a way to procrastinate.
1. Follow your schedule and rotate different tasks around
First of all, you gotta organize yourself! You can use a daily planner, a whiteboard, or an online calendar, but PLEASE plan your day beforehand to avoid any headaches. For example, I work with multiple translation projects and, besides completing my own translations, I also supervise colleagues who translate the same documents into their own language. If we didn't use a scheduling system, it would sure be a disaster―that means, missed deadlines and unhappy clients.
So, step one is setting up the slots of time you'll dedicate to each project. If it's something short and simple, it'll be over and done with before you take a break and move on to the next task. But if it's a larger project you're dealing with―let's say, a 10,000-word corporate sustainability report that is only due next week―plan yourself to dedicate a couple of hours to it here and there, intertwined with some much-needed downtime and tasks of a different nature to give your brain a break and still meet the deadline.
Using this 10,000-word translation as an example, one way to approach it is to schedule a couple of hours in the morning to get it started, take a quick break when the time is up (go get some coffee/tea/juice) and then do some unrelated task for the next half an hour or so (managing social media posts, writing a blog entry, answering emails, making phone calls...) Go back to the translation project for another hour and you'll most likely get a boost of productivity and work more easily on it, since it's now familiar to you, while still making progress on your to-do list and keeping your productivity up before it's time for lunch.
Even if you still do the same kind of task, but use a different approach, you're already allowing your brain to switch gears, restart and keep going for longer without getting tired. For instance, let's say I'm translating a long Portuguese-to-English document, so I take a break from it after a couple of hours and fit in a small English-to-Portuguese task to reboot. Otherwise, I run the risk of hitting a roadblock―my brain gets stuck―and my productivity drops.
THE KEY HERE IS TO STAY ORGANIZED and let all the pieces of the puzzle fall in the right places to make your tight schedule work. Still, don't overschedule yourself and leave room for unforeseen circumstances. Few things are really worth stressing about and sometimes it's best to just take a quick break.
2. Find your ideal "attention buffer"
Have you ever suffered from the Watching-the-Clock Syndrome? I guess everybody has, at one time or another. It's not that you dislike the task you're working on in that particular moment―okay, sometimes you keep at something for way too long and end up getting bored! It's usually just a matter of feeling that you're not making enough progress. Sometimes you think you should have written/translated/compiled X pages and you feel like you're trapped in quicksand and not moving forward at all.
Well, besides the "take a break and switch gears" approach above, there's one trick you could try: Implement an "attention buffer!" What I mean by that is simply something that will keep one of your senses preoccupied, providing some sort of time reference, so you don't feel you're lagging behind.
Some people think it's about multitasking and are completely against having any of their senses connected to something other than the task at hand, but what I'm actually talking about here is just allowing your brain to have some sort of an escape, so you don't get tired fast.
I'll explain: if I'm translating a document from Spanish to Portuguese, I like having some Brazilian music playing in the background―especially if it's Wednesday and I get to enjoy the 100% Brazilian mix that Lumen FM plays that day of the week. (And, before you ask me, yes, we speak Portuguese in Brazil... Here's some historical reference if you're still confused about it!)
Listening to something in the language I'm writing in or translating to/from actually helps me relax and stay focused at the same time. Had I been listening to English or Italian while working on the Spanish/Portuguese language combo, then it'd certainly be a distraction! Sometimes, when I switch to an English-related task, having an NPR interview, a TV show, or a movie in the background actually works as motivation to get more mundane tasks done, including project management, scheduling, invoicing, etc.
It also works when I'm eventually stuck on a translation task and, I have to say, more than once Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have actually helped me find the perfect word I was looking for while eloquently making their point across in some of their seriously hilarious reports. You might not have realized it, but these two and their writing staff are true word nerds. Talk about serendipity!
All I know is that, if I have absolute silence while working, I actually feel uncomfortable and restless, as if I weren't making much progress on my tasks (30 minutes end up feeling like 3 hours!) and I soon get tired, distracted, and frustrated. However, there are always exceptions, of course. I usually can't have much going on in the background if I'm translating a novel, for example, because I need to be completely immersed in the universe that the author has created, as if I could see, hear, smell, taste, and touch everything that the characters are experiencing. So, in that case, music is indeed a distraction―unless it's a soundtrack mentioned by the author in connection to characters and events.
There are many naysayers when it comes to having background noise while doing creative work. Well, THE KEY HERE IS THAT DIFFERENT PEOPLE FUNCTION DIFFERENTLY, so what works for me may not work for you. I highly encourage you to find an "attention buffer" that works for you, though!
- Music Multitasking: How 'Background' Listening Enhances Life
- What Multitasking Does to Our Brain ― Listening to Music While Working Isn’t Multitasking
3. Exercise to get a boost of productivity
Okay, this is definitely my favorite trick, because it not only helps me increase my productivity, but it also keeps me healthy and sane. In addition to running, I take a few group classes at the nearest YMCA every week. When people try to make a point that I'm exercising "too much," I tell them I need some endorphin to manage stress―but what I actually mean is this, this, or this!
Anyway, getting up, breathing in some fresh air, stretching and sweating a little bit is a welcome change when your work has you chained to a desk for hours on end. Gardening, walking the dog, chasing your kids around the park, going for a bike ride, dancing, and lifting weights... You can even prancersize if you want to, just get moving already! These are all great ideas to fill in your breaks with some physical activity to compensate for all that mental hard work.
When you exercise, you'll get the obvious health-related benefits, but you'll also be giving your brain a much-deserved break and possibly allowing it to solve any issues you may have encountered. In my case, it's usually a sentence that is difficult to crack, or a word that I can't quite translate naturally. People say they have their best ideas in the shower or when they're about to fall asleep; with me, it usually happens when I'm in the middle of a workout session and my brain can find an answer while working more passively.
Oftentimes you use all your energy to get the job done that you get completely drained, bored, stressed, and frustrated. So, instead of procrastinating, a better way to get things done without driving yourself mad is to get moving and push those problems to the background, so the answer can come to you more organically and without so much struggle.
In conclusion, you don't need to become a marathon runner or a triathlete to start enjoying the benefits of getting your blood flowing and your heart pumping. THE KEY HERE IS TO FIND AN ACTIVITY YOU TRULY ENJOY―otherwise, it's just more added stress!
NOTE: Article also available in Portuguese at eWordNews.com
RAFA LOMBARDINO is a translator and journalist from Brazil who lives in California. She is the author of "Tools and Technology in Translation ― The Profile of Beginning Language Professionals in the Digital Age," which is based on her UCSD Extension class. Rafa has been working as a translator since 1997 and, in 2011, started to join forces with self-published authors to translate their work into Portuguese and English. In addition to acting as content curator at eWordNews, a collective blog about translation and literature, she also runs Word Awareness, a small network of professional translators, and coordinates Contemporary Brazilian Short Stories (CBSS), a project to promote Brazilian literature worldwide.*