Five Things That Ruin a Translator’s Concentration

As mentioned in the last post, a translator’s career is like a marathon. The many little tasks are shorter sprints within the marathon. So, when we work, we really need to work and get it done with concentration. If you ask me, I would say concentration is one of the translator’s most important assets. Unfortunately, our concentration is a very limited resource, so a wise translator would protect it rather than let it slip away because of trivial distractions. In this post, we will take a look at five things that ruin a translator’s concentration.


When you work in your translation office, there’s side work in translation that does not require as much concentration. You can do it intermittently or while listening to music. But when you are actually translating, you need to be extremely focused.  This short period of concentration is similar to a cheetah’s sprint.




The cheetah is a sprinter. If you’re a runner, you know that running requires a great amount of energy within a short time, and that once you start running, it’s important that you don’t stop in the middle, as it’s quite difficult to regain momentum once you lose it. You’ll have to exert a large amount of energy all over again to get back to the speed you were at. Unfortunately, there are many factors that disrupt our work. These are factors that can trip a runner over. We lose precious time when our concentration is broken. I’ll point out a few of these factors and tell you how I deal with them.






No surprise here. It’s quite common to hear that SNS can be disruptive, so I won’t discuss it further. You can just turn it off.


Email notifications



Email is the main communication method for translators, so it’s very likely that it will be disruptive during work. It doesn’t help that translators work in front of computers. Even if the notification is turned off, at times you’ll be itching to check your email. Also, you’ll tend to think that your business will benefit if you respond to emails quickly.


From my experience, however, there’s no need to treat emails like instant messages. The translator does not have the responsibility to reply to emails quickly. Nor is it required. It’s more important that concentration is not broken during work. Nothing bad will happen just because you’ve delayed your email response for a few hours. There are times when you’ll be waiting for an important email, but if that’s not the case, I just close the browser entirely. I can turn it on again when I’m taking a break. (It differs from person to person, but I can concentrate for 50 minutes at most. That’s not even that long if you think about it, so there’s no problem if I want to check my email during breaks and take care of other tasks.) There won’t be one solution that works for everyone because of different circumstances and work styles, but this works best for me.





I’m sometimes surprised at how lenient people can be with their phones. Some people pick up their phones during important meetings, and even leave their seat to talk… You’ve promised your time to someone and arranged to meet. That meeting is more important, no matter how critical that phone call may be. What would you do if you got a phone call while you were translating? Will you check to see who it is and pick up if it’s a person you know or someone important? Or will you ignore it? If you do decide to check it at all, it’s already too late. Once you check it, your mind is already somewhere else. When you return to your screen, you’ll need to perform a small reboot. It would be like if a cheetah stopped for a little bit while running—all its momentum will be lost.


Most phone calls are not important.They can wait. You can also see who’s called at a later time and the caller can leave a message, too. There’s no need to tend to the call immediately.


Some PMs will call for things that aren’t that important. I don’t really like PMs who do this because I think they lack respect for translators. I know they want to check on things and confirm projects as soon as possible, but that is their problem. Translators need to concentrate on their work. That’s why I don’t pick up when PMs call. I listen to their message if they leave any, and if I feel that I should reply, I reply via email. After a while, they learn to email me first instead of calling. (There’s an agency that still calls me, but I still maintain a relationship with them for other specific reasons. There’s also an agency I’ve fired specifically because they wouldn’t stop calling. I will discuss how to cut ties with such agencies in another post, but simply put, I raised my unit price by about 30%. If they accept, it’s a good thing because I get more pay for my time, and if they don’t, it’s still good because I no longer get annoying calls.) As you probably noticed, I don’t like answering phone calls. I treat my clients with respect and kindness, and I am always grateful for them, but I am sensitive to phone calls because I value my time very highly. If I don’t value my time, who will?






For those of you who have Skype installed, you’ll will know that it’ll keep sending you disruptive notifications about things that aren’t really relevant when you’re logged on (who’s currently logged on, who’s requested what, etc.) I’ve deleted Skype from my list of applications that open up automatically. I open it manually when I need it. Agencies often ask that you make sure to include your Skype ID when you bid on projects, because they’ll need it to contact you quickly. I don’t work with these agencies. (Frankly, I despise them.)


I do use Skype every now and then for voice calls and instant messaging. Skype is effective when you need to solve issues immediately. Calls via Skype to resolve urgent matters can be arranged through email. But agencies that ask you to leave Skype on plan to use it as their main method of communication. In another words, they are asking that you give them all your time, and that you always be ready when they need to contact you. This is quite disrespectful. But translators are responsible for translation projects that require advanced knowledge and concentration is crucial in this process. Agencies that frequently call translators for small things they need are either ignorant of what translation entails or just plain disrespectful. Or it could mean that the PM is only thinking about his or her own convenience. If you want to be happy in your work and your personal life, it’s best not to work with these agencies.


Web Surfing




The Internet is the biggest temptation for people who work in front of a computer, because it provides infinite information, knowledge, and entertainment. For today’s translator, the Internet is their market, their workplace, their method of receiving payment, their dictionary, and their encyclopedia. But when you are working, you must not float around the web and call it researching. You will eventually need to look things up on the Internet. When you find something you need, bookmark the page so that next time, you can access the website directly via the bookmarked link without any detours that waste your time. Have all the specialized dictionaries or websites you need together in one place that you can access easily.


The CAT tool I use, Fluency, allows me to connect to websites I need within its interface, so it saves me rebooting (not literally) time and effort. This function is why Fluency is my favorite CAT tool. The biggest time suck for translators is having to minimize and reopen windows during work. This back and forth will break your concentration.


The above are not the only distractions and I bet you have lovely distractions, too. So, it is best to have your own office and dedicated time for work and have your loved ones know you need concentration. You know, time, concentration, and energy are practically all the resources a translator’s got. We must value and protect them.


[bctt tweet=”Time, concentration, and energy are practically all the resources a translator’s got. We must value them.” username=””]


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