You’ve probably heard of FOMO before but if you haven’t, it stands for “fear of missing out” and this disease runs rampant in our age of instant gratification and technology. You probably have it to some degree even if you don’t think you do. I know what you’re thinking, “but if I don’t check my e-mail every .02 seconds, I might miss a job!” You’ve probably also heard more experienced translators talk about how they only check their e-mail something like once a year and do just fine as you check your e-mail for the 8th time that morning and wonder how they stay in business. Take a few deep breaths and keep reading.
First, let’s talk about the impact that interruptions can have.
According to Gloria Mark, associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and a leading expert on work, once interrupted, it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the original task. While it might not take you as long to return to a translation from an e-mail, there is a definite loss in productive time every time you’re interrupted when you consider:
1) Time to orient to the interruption task
2) Time to accomplish the new task
3) Time to reorient yourself back to the original task
If this loss multiplies over the course of an hour and subsequently a day, it can have a significant impact on your productivity. Just 10 lost minutes every hour is a loss of nearly 1.5 hours in an 8-hour workday.
While unfortunately, I can’t check my e-mail once a year like some of the top translators might seem to (OK, I might be exaggerating slightly), I think that it is important to take note of this potential time thief and make sure you minimize it without compromising responsiveness.
Strategies to eliminate FOMO-induced productivity losses
1) Carve out dedicated time at the beginning of your day for e-mail
I have found that if I spend a dedicated period of time early in the morning reading and answering e-mails relaxing with some coffee, I can step away from my Inbox and translate for much longer without needing to check my e-mail.
2) Use an auto-reply to help automate e-mail
If I’m booked up for a couple of days or more, I’ll set up an auto-reply stating that I’m booked so any incoming project request e-mails are already answered via the auto-reply. If the e-mail isn’t a project request, it’s unlikely it needs immediate attention.
3) Mindfully adjust your e-mail checking based on your workload
I have a specific ratio I use based on how booked up I am. If I’m booked for a week, I will probably check my e-mail a couple of times in a day because the auto-reply has taken care of project requests so that only leaves less urgent messages needing my attention. On the other hand, if I find myself with full availability the following day, I might check my e-mail once an hour or every 45 minutes until I’m booked and can revert to checking less frequently.
4) Use a public availability calendar
I use a public Google calendar (with a link in my out of office message) so that clients can get a general idea of my availability without having to e-mail me at all. This means if I’m fully booked, they might not bother to contact me with project requests I can’t take anyway, which saves us both time. It also allows clients in other time zones to see whether I might be able to accept their job or not without having to wait for me to be in the office.
Important note: Be general if you decide to use this. For example, if you write that you can accept 2,000 words a day, which might be your average, but a client has a 3,000-word job with fairly simple language and you could take it, they might ask someone else without talking to you because it exceeds your listed capacity. I use full availability, partial availability and unavailable to avoid that scenario. I also include a disclaimer that being listed as available does not constitute confirmation that I am accepting a job.
5) Determine if an interruption really warrants your attention
Being mindful of the cost-to-benefit ratio of interruptions, is a great start to increasing your productivity. Start taking note of interruptions in your workday. Ask yourself:
Is this task truly urgent?
Does the benefit of stopping to do this new task outweigh the loss in productivity?
If you answered “no” to either of these questions, keep working. I turn all notifications off while working so that I’m not tempted by FOMO—yes, I have it too. This includes both e-mail and phone notifications. That way, instead of being constantly distracted (even a few seconds add up!) wondering what I’m missing, I’m in control of my attention and I can check notifications during my scheduled break from translation. When you really stop to think about it, most “urgent” things aren’t actually all that urgent and the loss in productivity is often more significant than you think.
Curious about your own productivity? Check out my time diet and post your results in the comments!