Can I do more?
I spent a good deal of the recent METM14 conference talking or thinking about productivity because it’s one of the most intractable puzzles affecting my everyday work. The problem is that I don’t seem to have become more productive for a very long time, not really since I first got involved with CAT tools (first Déjà Vu and now MemoQ). In fact, with the extra checks and processes I now build in to ensure better quality work, the danger is that I could be becoming even less productive, not more. So I prioritised productivity, attending a workshop on a way of speeding up Internet searches, a series of sessions on machine translation and a lunch on the very subject of productivity.
I wish I could say that the result was startling inspiration. However, with one or two exceptions round the edges, I seem to be hard up against a productivity wall. The main exception, which I can see speeding up my work a little, is a gadget called IntelliWebSearch. It’s a piece of software, developed by Michael Farrell, that launches Internet searches directly from whatever program you happen to be working in, whether that is Word or a CAT tool. It does require a little setting up and I’ve still got work to do in that department, but I have no doubt it will be saving me time in the future.
No magic solution
Another type of software that many translators swear by as a productivity booster are speech recognition programs, particularly Dragon Naturally Speaking. However, I have various problems with using these. First of all, I’m a very fast typist, a legacy from my newspaper days. And the brief presentation made at METM14 by Andrew Steel gave me the figures I needed to show that the Dragon is no magic solution to my productivity problems. He said that speech recognition boosted his drafting speed, when translating, to 1,500 words an hour – precisely my average speed with my fingers. In fact, on a very good, hard-working day I can go even faster. So speech recognition may be the answer if you’re one of those who bash away with two fingers, but it’s not going to be much use for a touch typist like me. Anyway, as I share my office, I can also foresee other problems if I ever decide to talk to my computer and, for me, the dragon will be staying firmly in its cave.
So where else should I look? Another session at METM14 was spent listening to presentations on machine translation. Some translators are now, sometimes controversially, using Google Translate or a similar machine translation system to provide first drafts of translations for them to work on. But it was clear from a presentation by Mary Savage, a translator who does use Google Translate, that the versions it produces still need a great deal of fiddly editing before they could be handed in by a professional translator. In fact, from what I could see, very often I would end up deleting the machine translation and starting from scratch, not saving any time at all. Once again, my fast typing means that it’s often just as quick for me to translate as it is to edit. And if I did edit the machine translation, I would have to work very hard to ensure that some of Google’s more subtle and insidious mistakes didn’t become my own. We may all one day end up as machine translation editors, but for the moment I don’t consider it a viable option.
So what do other translators think? I went to a lunch arranged to discuss productivity with a small group including two of the translators I’ve already mentioned, Michael Farrell and Andrew Steel, as well as my fellow blogger Rob Lunn, writer of Legally Yours from Spain. We enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion, touching on the areas of diet and exercise as well as time management and software options, but the conclusions were largely disappointing, beyond general agreement that it was very helpful to use a version of the now famous Pomodoro technique to control distractions. In fact, talking to the others, I discovered I was using something very like it without even knowing much about it other than the name, aiming to work solid for half an hour before allowing myself a short break to check my e-mails and Facebook page.
It is certainly important to prevent getting sidetracked by the Internet when working, but sometimes the so-called distractions are actually an important part of a translator’s job. Leaving the e-mails for half an hour at a time shouldn’t cause too much damage, but much longer could cost money. More than once I’ve missed out on jobs through taking ten minutes to reply to an e-mail. However, not spending too much time surfing seems like common sense to me, rather than a radical approach to the productivity dilemma.
So after looking hard at some alternatives, I’ve found few real answers to the conundrum. Do any really exist? If you know of something that’s worked for you or for someone you know, why not share your ideas here? If there are enough good ones I’ll turn them into a new blog post, with name checks and website links, if you like, for everyone who contributes. Over to you.