Most of the time I work on shorter and easier to digest projects. I like this mode of work: it’s more dynamic, less boring and equally rewarding. I can translate for some time and spend the rest of it perfecting my work, polishing the surface and rounding up the edges. But larger projects do come in, and keep me engaged for days and days of the same text.
It just happened about 2 weeks ago. I got trapped with the same text for 7 hours a day from Monday to Friday (almost 9 to 5!), and I noticed that my brain starts to slip. It doesn’t happen that often if texts are different, or if you can be more flexible and move your activities around. But how to deal with block translating?
It was very tempting for me to spend the first couple of hours translating all the time, thinking: the more I manage to translate now, the sooner I’ll finish. Not a great idea. It is much better to take a break every hour and to let your brain breathe for a while. I translated for 55 minutes, and then took a 5 minutes’ long break, closing my eyes and listening to my favourite, soul-brightening Norwegian music. Thinking about green slopes, calm fiords and white sheep… Anything but policies, regulations and penalties for infringement.
I used to think that a quick coffee in a morning is a must to start me off. Well, one cup sounds fine. But in my own experience, problems start when you’re trying to stay awake after 2-3 hours of translating slurping yet another large black. Coffee worked against me, leaving my brain fed up and my translating self bored and dumb. Water works much better, with a slice of lemon. Keeping my body hydrated allowed me to keep my hourly turnover steady.
I avoid large and heavy on a stomach food anyway, but you may want to try eating light while you work. I usually eat fruit and nuts to get more sugar and energy, instead of eating bread and dairy products. Oh, and… chocolate really helps.
For large projects, I always have a daily planned turnover and I know I have to keep up to translate according to it. Make sure that it is reasonable, and that you’re not left with too much time on your hands. At first, I estimated I’ll translate much slower and I ended up cheating: if I can do it in 5 hours, not 7, I can spend these 2 hours killing time… Wrong. I’m sure that a habit like that would impact my overall capacity and after some time I’d end up translating a half or a third of what I can do now. My best tactics: plan to translate enough to rush a bit. If you have time to check your e-mail or Facebook, that means not enough work. (By the way: checking e-mail during small breaks is a NO GO. Before you realise, you’ll end up wasting away at least half an hour).
Don’t laugh at me, but I couldn’t work without that. A quick series of stand-ups, or energetic dance (to the very same Norwegian music), or a healthy stretch can do wonders with your levels of concentration. I also try to go to the gym every other day, and I find it really beneficial for my translation work.
Long projects taking days are mind-bogging. I was getting mad in front of my computer, so I used crime stories and thrillers to exercise my mind. Don’t let your mind get too engrossed in one topic, or you’ll end up completely exhausted and brain dead by the end of the project.
We’re all only human and we’d do everything for a treat. If you’re struggling with a project and you wish you studied accountancy or law, think of a nice motivational bonus. Sometimes little things work, and sometimes we need massive gratification. I made an official promise that if I manage to keep up with my plan till the end of June, I’m going for my great Scandinavian trip: Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Turku, Oslo, and Bergen. Playing Norwegian music in the background reminds me of my bonus. But again, chocolate works almost equally great!
I appreciate this certain stability that long projects provide us with, but I may suffer from a sort of professional over activeness, and I can’t imagine myself translating the same texts for longer than 2 weeks. It becomes too mechanical, taking away my most favourite part. But well, no-one can be too picky nowadays.
How do you take care of your brain? How do you deal with large and heavy projects? Do you have any secrets that keep you carry on for ages?
Cf. original piece: http://wantwords.co.uk/school/lesson-27-translation-brain/