Productivity and wellbeing for translators

A review of CIOL’s Translation Division event by Vasiliki Prestidge

Professional translators know that translation is not easy. Clients have unreasonable demands, the deadlines are unrealistic and rates don’t reflect your hard work. All these factors can lead to a reduction in quality of work. Add to these the fact that freelance translators often work in isolation, so when under pressure, they may fell alone and helpless. Being a solopreneur means investing in the most valuable asset of your business: yourself. So booking on this CIOL event was a no-brainer.

For once, my train to London was not late and I arrived in time to register. I was welcomed by familiar faces, grabbed a cup of coffee and started catching up with colleagues. Too excited for the day ahead, I made sure to go into the seminar room early to reserve a seat for myself in the front row.

The Translating Division Chair, Liz Guyatt, welcomed us and introduced the theme of the day: productivity, quality of life and how the two can interact and feed into each other.


Konstantin Kisin, English-Russian translator, interpreter and stand-up comedian started his talk on productivity. And why productivity? Because productivity means being competitive and happy by saving time, earning more and feeling stimulated. But how do you become productive is the million dollar question. An important thing to remember is that wherever you are right now, there is a good chance for progression. So for example, if you’re producing 2000 words a day today, if you continue working as a translator, deepening your specialisation, this time next year, you’ll be able to deliver more.

And the top practical tips to achieve that include doing things right (efficiency) but also doing the right thing (effectiveness). So, if you specialise, you’ll become more confident in your area and familiar with the terms. If you invest in a CAT tool, you can save time by not having to translate the repetitions. If you teach yourself keyboard shortcuts, you’ll save time navigating through tabs, files and windows. If you generate email templates as replies to your most common customer queries, you won’t have to write that email again. The whole point of productivity is to work smarter, not harder. We are freelancers, not slave-lancers.

Just like an Olympic athlete, we have to pick our ‘battles’. So, if you are a marathon runner, you may not be able to compete and receive the gold medal in high jump. Working hard on the wrong things won’t benefit you. It’ll frustrate you, you’ll feel negative and that will make you unproductive.

Believe, train, focus and rest

It may sound cheesy, but the ‘Impossible Case Study’ showed you need to BELIEVE — believe you can do it. Up until 1954, nobody had ever run a mile under four minutes. Medical professionals believed that if you did, you would die immediately. Sir Roger Bannister did it and a year after that, 60 more people managed it. This illustrates perfectly how our filters of what’s doable or not, may dictate our abilities.

As already mentioned, translators can and should treat themselves just like Olympic athletes. Even the top ones in the world TRAIN and conduct their life on a strict schedule. Most of the time when you want to stop working and do something else, it’s probably because you’re tired.

But you can’t achieve productivity unless you’re focused. Most of us work with multiple distractions around us that impact our FOCUS. Productivity plummets without us realising and the solution is to generate the productive environment we need.

The fourth and most important tip is REST. If we’re not well, physically or mentally, productivity suffers. Rest in this context means to stop working, taking frequent breaks and engaging in recovery activities. These could be anything from a short walk, breathing exercises, stretching, quick yoga, reading, going outside in your garden or meditating. Choosing what rest-activity works for you is personal and will be different for each one of us.

Managing your time

The Pomodoro Technique could be used as a time management guide. Based on this technique, you break down your work into chunks and then you implement breaks in between the chunks. Focus declines after the first hour of work. So, breaks with rest need to be inserted after each work chunk as productivity recovery mechanisms. And that’s how you do things the right way.

Doing the right things, though, is the other trick. It requires self-awareness and acceptance to decide what you’re not good at. Things you’re not good at, you can either get better at or stop doing by assigning to someone else.

Professionalisation via chartership

Konstantin’s productivity talk was followed by an update by Jane Galbraith, Head of Membership, on CIOL’s work on professionalisation via chartership. Being a Chartered Linguist is a protected title. Being a Chartered practitioner is synonymous with experience, qualification and professionalism. It’s a license to practice. There are registration criteria, but the process is easy, quick and free. It relies on linguists being honest, adhering to the Code of Professional Conduct and attending CPD. It can be beneficial even for the more experienced linguists, as it raises the bar for the entire profession.


The second part of the day focused on wellbeing. Claire Dale, a movement specialist, spoke to us about ‘physical intelligence’ (PQ) and how we can engage our body to influence our confidence, strength, flexibility and resilience.

Claire guided us through practical posture and breathing exercises that help us cope with pressure and high-performance tasks, such as taking a stressful phone call or attending a difficult meeting. The reality is, our body is a set of chemicals. We need them to perform. For example, testosterone is needed in difficult situations, cortisol wakes us up, oxytocin helps us build relationships, serotonin is the hormone of happiness and helps us sleep better. Finding the perfect cocktail is the target.

Being a translator means sitting down for a big part of the day and typing on a keyboard. Posture often suffers and so does our wellbeing with recurring back problems or carpal tunnel syndrome. Body expansive postures boost confidence, strengthen and generate stability. The head can be imagined as a helium balloon that keeps us tall and expanding.

Breathing affects our cognitive function, coherence and smooth operation of our systems.

Fast breathing can be used to re-energise ourselves, especially after lunch.

Speaking of lunch, Claire’s advice was to spend time tasting our food, to focus on eating and only on eating when we eat and to hydrate well. Opting for protein sources and organic food, full of amino acids, boosts our health. And then if we do feel sleepy, perhaps fighting it off causes prolonged unproductiveness which is contrary to what we’re trying to achieve, meaning naps and power napping are encouraged!

Habit stacking

But how can one do all these? In today’s fast pace of life, all these tips can easily overwhelm. Who has the time to eat well, drink plenty, sleep enough, exercise and meditate? Claire gave us practical advice regarding how we can start implementing small daily changes in our routine, that will have immediate results and at the same time, we’re training ourselves for greater changes. And the way to achieve that is through the habit stacking method.

Take one daily habit you already have such as brushing your teeth in the morning and insert right after it a new, small, healthy habit, such as taking three deep inhalations and exhalations. Or perhaps, when you go to bed, the moment you set your head on your pillow, you can take a minute to appreciate your achievements of the day. Serotonin levels will rise, and you’ll sleep better. This way, you use existing habits as the triggers for new life-changing habits. Regardless how small these sound, they can make a big difference in your wellbeing as you reprogram yourself for better performance.  

Making the most of membership

The day closed with Jane’s second update on membership and how CIOL members can make the most of it. We were reminded that under ‘My CIOL’ we can download invoices, receipts, logos and online certificates, which is a new feature. Members can also amend their ‘Find-a-Linguist’ listing, manage email preferences, gain access to the ‘member check’ link and link back to that from their website which looks reliable to prospective clients. The wide range of benefits can be found on the CIOL website and members were encouraged to keep checking, especially those newly added discounted webinars following the acquisition of eCPD Webinars. In addition, CIOL’s magazine The Linguist is now published on a new digital platform that is more user-friendly, responsive and searchable.

Life-changing experience

Speaking for myself, I can say that this event was a life-changing experience. I was going through a tough month with work stress levels being high and tons of work making me feel unproductive and low. I left feeling equipped with solutions, new strength and the realisation that it is precisely when we’re busy that we should be investing more time in ourselves and our health so we can better respond to the demands of our profession. I now meditate five minutes before bedtime, I do my wonder woman pose while my coffee is brewing and I stretch before lunch. I also try to have a break every hour, but I can’t say this is something I have achieved yet!


About the author
Vasiliki Prestidge is a Chartered Linguist, translator and interpreter working from English into Greek. She specialises in marketing & advertising, business & government and legal. She runs Greek to Me Translations from Oxford and she blogs at
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