According to Aristotle, “You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Both as an Ethics professor at the School of Law where I teach part-time and as a lawyer-linguist, I cannot begin to tell you how many practical applications I’ve found to this one little phrase. Of course, this phrase does not stand alone, it is part of a much more complex line of thought in Aristotle’s philosophy of virtue, but even out of context, it contains a vast universe of meanings and interpretations that, with the help of self-awareness, values development, and good business skills can enrich and improve countless aspects of our professional lives. Today, I’ve decided to apply it to the business of translation, particularly, the development of good organizational skills. The concept of “good organizational skills” has an internal and external aspect that encompasses both physical and mental organization as well as time management abilities. As far as translation, I interpret each of these aspects as follows.
Physical Organization: Not just eliminating clutter from your work area (unnecessary papers, invoices, dictionaries you’re not using, etc.), but also keeping neat, well-organized, well-maintained and updated technology. Outdated or otherwise less-then-optimal technology will lead to translation blunders, sloppy work and missed deadlines. One wastes a lot of time troubleshooting when things go wrong and this can be easily prevented with organized physical maintenance of our work area and tools.
Mental Organization: Keeping our minds organized can be challenging when meeting multiple deadlines or juggling many clients. Poor mental organization leads to stress, stress leads to mistakes, mistakes lead to low quality work. Not all techniques work for everyone. Personally, I resort to running as a way of clearing my mind, de-stressing, thinking matters through and coming back reloaded. The important thing isn’t so much how you do it, but just that you do it. And this means making clearing your head and organizing your thoughts a habit.
Time Management: In a prior post, I talked about what to factor in when organizing your agenda. However, since time management is tricky, we will discuss it further in Part 2. All I’ll add here is that being organized will decrease the amount of time you spend looking for things, solving problems, uncovering important information, troubleshooting, etc. In my experience, the main secret is understanding where your time goes, what can be cut down, what needs to be prioritized, how to eliminate distractions, and how to optimize your time.
The BIG Picture
Organizational skills matter beyond whatever translation you are working on right now. A well-organized translator is usually an efficient translator. Being organized will not only increase quality and productivity, but when combined with a solid business plan, it will help your freelance business or company grow and evolve. Organization leads to success via many paths, the most obvious of which is that time is money, being organized helps manage your time effectively and will translate into earnings. But that’s not the only way in which it matters, good organization improves your relationship with your clients and, if you outsource or have an in-house team, with your linguists. Because excellence is, as Aristotle tells us, a habit, in my next post, I will discuss a few tips for developing that habit. So stay tuned in! There’s more to come on this subject.