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Procrastination and flow January 21, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings, Translation Sites.

Ryan at the GITS Blog has a fabulous post on Translator Flow. Rather than me summarize his insights, I encourage you to check it out.

It took me forever to get into the flow this week, but now I am firmly in it – and am now taking a few minutes to write about it and hope to get back into it when I’m done. I had a client call on Monday with a 3,000 word job due Wednesday morning. I procrastinated on Monday and only translated 500 words of it, because I figured I could finish it yesterday – forgetting all about the Inauguration. Oops. I spent yesterday scrambling to finish and stressed out. I moved my work computer into the living room to listen with half an ear while translating (never a good idea, BTW). I took time out to watch the actual swearing in ceremony, but then promptly turned off the TV to devote myself to my translation. I finally started getting into the flow about 4, which only left me about two hours before I had to leave for my dinner plans. Since I was the organizer I couldn’t bail, but I did cut out earlier than everyone else to go home and finish the translation. I finished it at 2 AM and sent it to my colleague to proofread, who wakes up earlier than me and had it ready for me when I woke up this morning. I delivered it on time – maybe even an hour early – and the PM told me she looks forward to working with me again soon.

Procrastination is a hard habit to break, but as a freelance translator with deadlines you soon learn how to not procrastinate in order to meet your deadlines and be ready to start another job. Back in November Scientific American explored the topic of procrastination in its article Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit. The article defines procrastination as:

Procrastination does not mean deliberately scheduling less critical tasks for later time slots. The term is more apt when a person fails to adhere to that logic and ends up putting off the tasks of greater importance or urgency. That is, if just thinking about tomorrow’s job pricks the hair on the back of your neck or compels you to do something more trivial, you are probably procrastinating.

A penchant for postponement carries a financial penalty, endangers health, harms relationships and ends careers.

The article goes on to state that most people procrastinate and offers tips on how to break the habit of procrastination. I find if I am dreading translating a text or even a sentence or paragraph in a text I have a tendency to procrastinate (the article calls it “task aversiveness”). It is hard to motivate yourself and break through the wall, but it can be done. I am pretty good at not procrastinating if a deadline is far away, but if I have no deadline (just a “oh, whenever you can get to it”) I will procrastinate until I finally realize it’s been a week and I haven’t even touched it.

The article claims “the third oft-cited explanation for unreasonable delay is arousal”:

The “arousal procrastinator” swears that he works best under pressure, loving—perhaps needing—the rush of a last-minute deadline to get started. Such a person believes procrastinating affords a “peak” or “flow” experience, defined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi of the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University as being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. Time disappears. The ego dissolves. … But procrastination does not facilitate flow.

Which made me think of Ryan’s blog post, which I had just read moments before. Funny how I read two similar articles today on the subject. I think the universe is trying to tell me something, so I should probably wrap this up and get back to my 12,000 word job that is due Friday.

The best way to avoid procrastination for me is to stick to my job board and ensure it always has a couple jobs on it at all times. But I’d love to hear from you as well. Are you a big procrastinator? It’s ok to admit it as long as you always make your deadlines. As Ryan states, the client doesn’t care how long it takes you to translate something; they only want it delivered on time.

What strategies do you invoke to keep from procrastinating? Share your tips in the comments.



1. Ryan Ginstrom - January 21, 2009

Nice article, and thanks for the mention. 🙂

I tend to procrastinate when I’m mentally tired, and when a task is difficult or unpleasant. The only long-term solution is to get my rest and do work that I enjoy and am good at as much as possible.

Deadline pressures help us focus and concentrate. Samuel Johnson famously said, “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Stress and stimulation start our brains pumping out the hormones that increase focus and concentration. Exercise does something similar. But fueling your mind on stress isn’t a long-term solution — it’ll burn you out eventually; if you’re lucky it’ll do it before it ruins your health.

I don’t think the intense concentration possible when one is under stress is the same as flow. Flow is relaxed and effortless; I imagine the concentration of the mind before hanging is anything but relaxed. 🙂

2. Judy Jenner - January 21, 2009

Interesting stuff. I am not much of a procrastinator (with exceptions, of course). Once I get a project, I usually joyfully start working on it ASAP and don’t get too distracted. My strategy, in general, is that I very rarely accept project with tight deadlines: I am very thorough, but not that fast, so if I accepted a very tight (say 24-hour) deadline, I might just be paralyzed by the task, which might lead me to procrastinate. 🙂 My other strategy, just like Ryan’s, is to really work on projects that I am truly excited and delighted to work on; which is, luckily, most of them! Right now I am working on a small project due Friday, and as I gave myself plenty of time, I am still keeping up with other work-related things.

3. Deborah Hoffman - January 22, 2009

Enjoyed this article. Procrastination can be a problem, but there is something else I also encounter, something I can only term as “brain fatigue.” In other words, some days I can fly through things, and others…well, every word is a struggle. It’s hard to pin down what influences these things. Today I had a cold but was able to work completely “in flow” for quite a while and some of the knotty problems of yesterday presented their own solutions quite easily. It would be interesting if anyone could figure out a scientific way of analyzing this translator’s form of “writer’s block.” I’m sure I’m not the only one…

4. Karen Tkaczyk - February 27, 2009

Jill, this is excellent. The links were great too. I procrastinate with certain types of work and I usually say ‘I’m on a roll” when I’m in the flow. Once this week I was up late working because I hadn’t got in the flow all day. I acheived lots, but not my translation.

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