Chapter 8

Productivity tips

The one thing that all translators have in common is the number of hours in the day that they are able to work. So, making sure your business is efficient in order to enhance your productivity is the key to success.

“The first way to improve your productivity is to improve your skills” – Wise Old Man


Touch typing

Have you ever seen a world-class pianist looking down at the piano to find the right keys? Thought not. This is the first thing you can do to improve your work speed. As basic as it sounds, there are plenty of translators that cannot touch type effectively. Since your profession revolves around writing on a computer, it goes without saying that you should be among the best typists around. The issue is that we often don’t learn the proper way to type and it becomes difficult to then go back and change old habits. How fast are you? Try this speed test.

Searching online you will find lots of tutorials and exercises that will correct your typing form. These two are pretty good:

Dictation/speech recognition software

Why type when you can speak? Although there is an initial time investment involved to train the software to recognise your voice, diction and accent, a lot of translators swear by voice recognition software, particularly when translating into English. Admittedly, there are some free options out there (for both Mac and Windows), but they currently don’t seem to be good enough for professional use.

Most people swear by Dragon NaturallySpeaking, arguably the best paid option out there at the moment, and certainly the most popular.

Additional Speed-related tips:

1.    Become an expert in the CAT tool of choice
2.    Bookmark sites that are already translated in your industry
3.    Only translate within your area of expertise

Additional reading: Check this out for a comparison of Mountain Lion Dictation vs Dragon Dictate


Your ability to focus has a huge impact on the speed at which you can translate. Use the following tips to improve your concentration:


Although some people prefer to work in silence, music can help you get “in the zone”, especially if it has no lyrics and is of a repetitive nature

Beautiful classical-style music with no lyrics, created purposely to create “flow”.

Over 900 video game songs. Video game songs are created to induce hyper-focus without getting in the way of gameplay, so they might be useful for aiding your concentration.

pomodoroPomodoro Technique

The good old Pomodoro Technique makes the most of the human brain’s window of attention (25 minutes on a task, 5 minutes break). You can go low-tech with an egg-timer or pick one of numerous online options [for example, or their chrome extension]

blockBlocking websites

According to a poll by ProZ, unrelated internet activities rank first among the reasons translators get distracted. This trend is increasing as using social media to market yourself and constantly being online to do research mean that you are highly vulnerable to distraction. Use this extension to get work done by blocking a selected website for a certain amount of time.

  • Strict Workflow – uses the Pomodoro Technique and blocks access to selected websites during the 25 minutes of concentration;
  • StayFocusd – as an extra touch you get told off (“shouldn’t you be working?”) every time you are tempted to open a blocked website.
  • WasteNoTime – very useful blocking extension with added motivational quotes.


Email can be an enormous distraction, especially if you are one of those people that checks your email every 5 minutes.
  • Turn off email desktop notification and set specific times to check email and adhere to it. This way you can decide when it’s time for email, not the opposite.
  • Don’t use your inbox as an archive: it’s not good for productivity, it forces you to keep checking your emails and it is daunting to keep reading the same tasks over and over again. Want more? Check this out:

chairYour office

The location-independent lifestyle is both a blessing and a curse of the translator. As you strive to minimise distractions and increase your output, the location where you work has a huge effect on how well you do your job.

  • A good home office should be well equipped, minimising the need for you to go elsewhere to find work-related items. At the same time it helps if it is clean, tidy, and uncluttered.
  • If possible, it should be in an area of your house that is relatively quiet and where you won’t be disturbed for a set amount of time. To help you separate work and leisure, try not to work in your bedroom or living room.
  • If you live with other people, make sure they know you are “at work”—share your schedule with them if you wish.•    In terms of extra equipment, consider investing in a second monitor (no, really, it’s great).
  • If you work from a laptop, an external keyboard might be easier to use and allow you to type faster.
  • Get a good chair—you are spending a lot of time in it, make sure it’s comfortable and promotes good posture.

suitGet dressed up

You don’t have to wear a suit, but staying in your pyjamas all day can make you less productive.

work“Go to work”

Some translators have suggested going out in the morning, having a walk around the block and going back home to start working. Not only does this force you to get dressed (see point above), it also prepares you psychologically to the working day ahead. Repeat in the evening for a “proper” commuter’s experience.


“How do you become more productive?”“Work out.” The above quote is from Richard Branson. When the founder of 400 companies gives you advice, it’s a good idea to listen. Besides improving your productivity, finding time to exercise is particularly important in this profession, as you will spend many hours sitting down in front of a screen.

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