Productivity: Get Some

Alas, the time has come to post something a bit more serious. A bit more professional.

When I was thinking about how to organize this post I kept thinking to myself, “jeesh, this is going to be BORING.” Now that I think about it, though, perhaps a boring post would be appropriate in that, productivity is boring by nature. Sure, the outcome or output of your hard work may not be so boring but the actual process of being productive is.

Think about it. What is productivity? In short, it’s work without distractions, and most work in and of itself is not exciting. Of course there are exceptions–movie actors, fighter pilots, Donald Trump’s PA– but even within the examples of “interesting careers” you are sure to find some people who are bored and ready to change. But the day-to-day work that Joe Sixpack and I enjoy is far from entertaining.

The translation industry is purportedly interesting and fun because of all the exciting material you can translate. Err….there are some interesting translation texts and most translators will remember a “fun” or “interesting” job they had back in ’92, but the majority of the stuff that needs to be translated is mentally stultifying at best. “Wow, I just translated a user’s manual for a push broom!” “Those governmental white papers were riveting!”



Independent of industries and career sectors, productivity comes in many forms. One of the factors I believe has brought Amaia and I close is our disparate approaches to tasks. You know, that opposites-attract theory. I like manageable tasks to be organized at the start of the day; I like even more triumphantly crossing them off my to-do list. (I say cross off but I am just clicking the box on the to-do list on my calendar, but I click it really hard.) Amaia on the other hand is, well, different. I don’t know what the opposite of task-oriented is but Amaia is that. I don’t really know how, nor do I need to know, but she manages to get all of her work done. I will illustrate our differences with an example of a typical work day for the two of us.

My day: During breakfast I will vocalize my goals for the day. She may or may not listen/care/internalize the message but that is OK since it’s really for me. My vocalization might go something like this: “Today, I am sending out 5 resumes, preparing a lesson for my student tomorrow, finishing proofreading my translation that is going out at 4pm and if I have time I am going to continue drafting my blog post on productivity.” (A typical response from Amaia is, “Uh huh, very good, txurri.”) After breakfast we will both go to the office and I will make my to-do list on my calendar and get started on the first task.

Her day: During breakfast she will put up with my vocalized tasks floating around the breakfast table. When it’s time to get to get to work she’ll open her computer and get situated. This is where she loses me. From that moment on, the lines are blurred as to what she is actually doing. She’ll have her headphones on and her translating software up, so I assume she is listening to music and working on her translation. Little do I know that actually she has an Internet window open and she is watching/listening to an episode of Gossip Girl. Also in that same window she has 13 other tabs open: one to a Wikipedia article on digital whiteboards, one to Facebook, one to our company’s Twitter feed, one to El País, one to an article she found yesterday on running she hasn’t finished reading yet, one to Gmail, one to a dictionary in German, one to the European Union’s terminology database…

So what is she doing?

All of it. Her ability to multitask is astounding. She spends her day working, constantly taking in the spewing forth from her computer of information, media, TV, news and knowledge. I had to see it for myself, obviously, because I couldn’t and still can’t, comprehend her way of working. I have seen her translate a few segments and perhaps get stuck on a word, which will lead her to the dictionary. BUT instead of going straight to the dictionary, she will check back on Grey’s Anatomy for a minute or two, then check Twitter, the blog site stats, Facebook and in doing so, read an article Sierra posted, check her email and then perhaps glance at the dictionary to make sure her option was correct. If that weren’t enough, sometimes when I’m working I’ll hear her speaking, seemingly to herself. However, in reality she took a break from all of that to Skype or listen to a speech and practice her simultaneous interpretation. Wow.

Needless to say she needs less help being productive since her work day is made up of distractions and mine is derailed by the tiniest one. So, in order to up my productivity by curbing my distractions, I have installed LeechBlock, an add-on to Firefox. What it does is literally block access to time-sucking websites. Of course you set the configurations so you need a kernel of self-discipline to begin with or someone to set it up on your computer without your knowing. It has helped me read the news faster and scroll down the news feed on Facebook way faster. I have only given myself two minutes an hour for Facebook, SFGate and the NY Times, total.

There are, however, some distractions that even LeechBlock cannot curtail. In our house there are two: both have four legs, fur and really bad breath. Our cats, Araña and la Lía. There is nothing like a purring cat on your lap or the mewing of a kitten with one eye….just not half an hour before a deadline.

Araña helping

"Don't worry, I'll help you with your blog post later."

la Lía helping

"There's only one "s" in distraction, dummy."

To combat these hirsute hindrances, I resort to a much more medieval tactic: I shut the door to the office. I have found a 64% increase in productivity with the door closed. I will go out and play with them every little bit just so I don’t actually become a part of my desk chair.

Taking a survey of many days worked and more lived, I have come to learn when I work the best and how. Morning is the best time for me, the cats are usually asleep, the coffee is still coursing through my veins and the onset of lunch-induced lethargy has not hit. After lunch, around 3 or 4pm, forget about it. I usually have a nice little surge later in the evening, possibly a relic from my college days, but although I feel like I am being productive and working hard, I am in reality only working at about 75% of my usual speed.

How do you stay productive? What part of the day are you in the zone? How do you combat distractions? Let me know because the more efficiently productive I can be, the more time I will have to enjoy the funner parts of life. Like grammar.

[the dk]


  1. Tere

    Love this blog entry. I work just like Amaia. Interactive whiteboards in one tab, Make-up tutorials in other tab. Even though it might sound crazy, it helps me a lot to stay focused.

  2. I concur here. If I learnt something during my years at MIIS, it was to multitask. It was not really a choice, we had to.
    I guess that, like Tere and Amaia, now it’s harder for me to focus on just one thing than having a dozen on my plate, and I feel more productive and engaged when I have several things going on at the same time. If not, sometimes I fee like I am not working a 100%, like I am wasting part of my time by just doing one thing.

    It’s like silence: I’d rather work with music, or listening to an old TV show, or to the news. My attention is split most of the time, and yet, I think this helps me to stay focused. It would be interesting, though, to see how much productivity is wasted on the way.

    Anyway, thanks for your posts. 🙂

  3. Great post! Like you, I want to avoid falling into the rabbit hole of distractions. I have just installed LeechBlock to give it a try. Another tool you may want to try (if you don’t really need the internet for your work) is on Then there is if you like to work in stints and then walk away from the computer for a break.

  4. LeechBlock for chrome = Chrome Nanny. I need that.

    • Hehe, it really does work but like I said, you have to control yourself when placing the parameters 🙂 Hope you are well and thanks for reading!

      • I use StayFocusd for Chrome. It is BAD: when my daily time limit is up, I can’t access Facebook, my favourite online newspaper and that tennis website I used to spend so much time on. Also, it doesn’t let me change the maximum amount of time until the next day!

      • Seems like this tool is not as refined as LeechBlock 🙂 But, I think you don’t have that much of a problem staying focused, Mr. E-book, multiple websites, entrepreneurial classes….

    • Focus, Miriam. 🙂

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