The Distraction Trap

By Claire Harmer

This week I wanted to share some insights from a book I read recently: ‘The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World’ by Frances Booth. This post follows on from the last one I wrote on time management for translators.

In The Distraction Trap, Booth looks at how demanding email, smartphones, social media and the Internet can be and to what extent they distract us: ‘Digital distraction means that our behaviour has suddenly changed. We’re damaging our relationships and literally rewiring our brains. We are convinced that we can do 10 things at once – it all seems so high-speed. But the reality is that we’re failing to get anything done. We’re constantly overwhelmed and never have time… we are losing the ability to pay meaningful attention to anyone or anything.’

I should mention that this post is not meant to discourage people from using social media, email, the Internet etc. (far from it!), rather to encourage us to be mindful of how much time we spend ‘plugged in’. After all, couldn’t we all benefit from more ‘unplugged’ time? I must admit that I often find myself feeling ‘wired’ and as though there is a background buzz (caused by my smartphone bleeping and pinging, perhaps?!). I hope that Booth’s tips will help if anyone else feels the same.

The author talks about the importance of deciding how long you will stay ‘distracted’ for once you’ve lost focus. She suggests that you should try to stick to the time you set so you don’t spend half an hour browsing the Internet when you’re trying to work, for example. Being distracted by something online for 5 minutes might be fine, and perhaps a much-needed interruption. In non-digital terms this is a bit like going to make a cup of tea: something to break the work cycle and refresh your mind, but not tempt you into spending ages on the net (suddenly you’re looking up the average temperature in Greece in July and it’s October… oops!)

What I found particularly interesting in Booth’s book was her description of some of the things we are losing through digital distraction:

  • Reading

Do you ever find it difficult to really immerse yourself in a book? Research shows that we are so used to analysing text, clicking on links, scanning information etc. that we find it hard to read deeply and in an engaged way, without distraction. I read a really interesting article about this yesterday. Take a look:

  • Solitude

Sitting with our thoughts and being alone can provide us with ‘creative space, new thoughts, and a sense of calm’.

  • Memory

Not being engaged in ‘the moment’ (due to digital distractions) means that we only process what is actually happening at surface level. In addition to stopping us from making memories, we forget facts, dates etc. Have you heard of the Google effect?

  • Sleep

Using the computer or other light-emitting devices before bedtime can stop the body from making and releasing melatonin, which helps the body to prepare for sleep properly.

  • Journeying

Next time you take the train somewhere have a look at how many people are on their phones/computers/tablets…‘what about the world going by outside?’ Booth asks.

  • Creativity

Blogger and author Leo Balbuta argues that creating is a completely separate process from consuming and communicating – he believes that the two things can’t be done simultaneously. Perhaps translating could be seen as a form of ‘creating’?

  • Learning

Learning new things is hard work! Surely you have more chance of absorbing the information when you’re not distracted?

  • Relationships

Bringing your phone to the dinner table, not switching your phone off when you’re having some much-needed family time, etc.

So, how do we regain these things?

By creating a strategy for managing emails and your mobile devices. I’ve recently adopted the Inbox Zero approach, where you aim to keep your inbox empty or almost empty all of the time. We explored a few more strategies in time management for translators.

  • Taking regular breaks and doing something you enjoy every day, preferably something that also recharges your batteries and helps you to switch off from everything else. Perhaps yoga or mindfulness? Booth mentions that putting these activities into your diary and making them part of your weekly routine might make you less likely to skip them.
  • Sometimes, the constant stream of information can leave you feeling tired and overwhelmed. If you are planning on going on holiday, consider making it a ‘digital-free’ one, i.e. no computer, tablet or email and (if possible) no phone. At the very least, you’ll feel refreshed when you return to work and it will encourage you to make the most of your time off, rather than spending it staring at a screen! These holidays are becoming increasingly popular and more structured ones are sometimes referred to as ‘tech cleanses’ or ‘digital detoxes’. Have any readers ever been one of these?
  • Having a bit of ‘unplugged time’ everyday
  • Getting back to nature and out of an urban environment, to restore attention (Booth even talks about something called ‘Attention Restoration Theory’ – which I didn’t even know existed!).

It would be great to hear your thoughts on ‘digital distractions’ and what you do to keep these at bay!


A Review of the London Investor Show 2014

by Katharine Mears

With this year’s Investor Shows taking place later this month, I thought this might be an appropriate time to post about my experience of last year’s London Investor Show, how I prepared for the event and what I got out of it.

I started out working as a freelance translator a little over four years ago. Specialising in the international development field was an obvious choice for me; I worked in this sector in a previous career and had a network of existing contacts in place. My focus on financial translation has developed more gradually however, and I have built up experience working with language service providers in the investment fund and financial accounting fields in particular.

Approximately 18 months ago, I decided to start targeting direct clients in the financial sector and began researching UK-based financial trade shows, conferences and events. Many proved to be extremely expensive or restricted to those working in a particular financial field. I was therefore delighted to stumble across the London Investor Show, taking place at Olympia London in October, at the bargain price of £25!

The exhibitor list featured some interesting prospects, including a French bank, a Swiss brokerage company, numerous wealth management firms and some investment research companies. I was also attracted by the extensive seminar programme on offer. The Investment Workshops carried a £25 entry fee per workshop, but there were also plenty of free seminars on a wide range of subjects throughout the day.

In the week prior to the event, I read through the exhibitor list in detail and noted down the companies I wanted to ensure I met with on the day. I then conducted some further background research into these companies to familiarise myself with the latest company developments that I could potentially draw on in conversation. I also decided to prepare a short elevator pitch in order that I could be confident about describing my services succinctly and the benefits of working with me.

Upon my arrival at the Investor Show, the first thing I noticed was the stark lack of women! Having attended the Language Show at the same venue in the past, it was also clear that this event was significantly smaller with far fewer exhibitors. Nevertheless, the prospect of walking up to the stands and engaging the company representatives in conversation was still a little daunting. The exhibitors were there to meet potential investors, so my main concern was finding a way to turn the conversation to translation without appearing overly pushy and off-putting! After an initial conversation, in which I launched in with my elevator pitch a little too hastily and left the man in question (who knew nothing about the translation process at his company) looking a little perplexed, I realised that this approach wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I quickly changed tack and decided to simply explain that I worked in financial translation and ask whether they had any materials that I might be able to use to assist me with terminology and in my translation research. Many were more than happy to pass on fund reports or financial statements or point me in the direction of glossaries on their websites for example. This proved to be an extremely good icebreaker and made a subsequent enquiry as to whether they had any call for translation services in their company seem much more natural.

I attended four seminars on the day, one paid and three free of charge. The paid seminar was on stock selection techniques, presented by Stockopedia. The content aside, one of the most useful aspects was listening to the presenter’s use of stock-related terminology and jotting down any terms and concepts I was unfamiliar with. Another seminar I attended was titled ‘A Perspective on European Equities in Q4 and Q1’. The overview given by the speaker, Chief Market Strategist for IG, provided a fantastic testing ground for gauging how comfortable I felt with a discussion on equities at this level. I was pleased that I was largely able to keep up, again noting down a few key concepts and terms for further research at home. The only downside to the selection of free seminars was the heavy focus on crowdfunding and trading, neither of which are my particular areas of interest, but that said there was still enough on offer to keep me busy for the entire day.

The week after the conference, I sent a follow-up email to five of the company representatives I had spoken to that I felt were genuine prospects. I was pleasantly surprised that all of them responded, and three went on to provide me with the contact details of a colleague responsible for translation. From past experience, I know that it would have been virtually impossible to have identified this individual through a cold call or email, and without this valuable introduction. Two of these contacts referred me to the agencies they already work with (a source of potential work nonetheless), one of whom I have carried out fairly frequent work for since. The other called me to discuss their upcoming translation needs, largely out of English unfortunately, which resulted in them adding me to the list of freelance translators they were compiling at the time. Although I am yet to secure any work from a direct client as a result of the show, the event did lead to me securing one new agency client in the financial field and was an invaluable learning experience regardless. I will certainly feel much more confident about attending a similar financial event in the future.

Please note that this year’s Investor Shows will take place in Leeds on 15 October and in London on 23 October.