How to Keep Working While the Ground Is Shifting
This post is a reblog, originally published in the Tool Box Journal Newsletter, Issue 22-3-335 on March 15, 2022. It is reposted with permission from the author.
Maintaining a normal work pace can be difficult in challenging times. If you are like me, you’ve spent way too much time following the news on the horrible war in Ukraine over the past weeks. For the T&I community with its roots in multiple countries and dedication to bridging cultural and communication gaps, the experience of watching the escalating violence is especially jarring. As someone who grew up in post-WWII Europe, I also find it painful to see my parents’ generation reliving memories as they watch yet another refugee crisis unfold. If you are in a state of advanced fatigue from following the events, you are not alone. And yet, for many of us, projects keep rolling in and we must somehow concentrate on our work and keep going. This column offers a few tips to help you focus, at least briefly, on your projects and tasks in times of major distractions.
A sense of sanity is the key to holding daily life together, for yourself and others. I am not talking about false cheer or adopting a breezy ‘don’t worry — be happy’ approach. Staying balanced means keeping up your strength. Here are a few points to keep in mind:
- Things you can control: People with active minds and a lively imagination are especially good at coming up with the worst possible scenarios and worrying about them. When you find yourself obsessing over disastrous outcomes, remind yourself to return to your current situation and the things you can control. Divide your work into reasonable chunks (e.g., 30 minutes of concentrated work at a time) and break work activities down into clear steps to keep yourself going. Writing the details of such work steps on paper can create a useful visual aid. If you find that your daily worrying affects your work output, both in terms of quality and quantity, be clear with yourself how much work you can reasonably accept and process in the quality your clients expect. Turn off all continuous news coverage while you work and make it a point to only open the browser tabs you need for your business. If you can, set up a separate device (e.g., a tablet) in a different room to check the news in reasonable intervals.
- Maintain a few routines: Daily activities can seem pointless in times of high stress, but they offer a helpful framework. Neglecting the daily maintenance of your small business, e.g., by not returning calls or letting your email inbox fill up, will make it much harder to reengage later. If your household is like mine, you may also need to anticipate more communication time to check in with friends and family (and the associated transition time). Pick at least one or two daily activities, such as a walk or regular mealtimes to stay with a routine. That is especially important to help children and pets cope with stress. Your project work may appear trivial compared to the horrors of wartime, but it needs your full attention and guarantees stability.
- Take care of yourself: It can seem almost selfish to enjoy exercise or healthy food when others are desperately fleeing their homes to find shelter in other countries. At the same time, coping with stress and grief is hard. You need to keep up your own strength to help others. Getting enough sleep and breathing fresh air is a big piece of staying grounded. Keeping a simplified daily structure creates the necessary framework to keep up with your work responsibilities.
- “Doing something” has many aspects: Many of my clients seem to be jumping from one thing to another in their effort to find structure in the chaos. I completely understand the urge to “do something,” but check with yourself and others in your household before you jump into further projects that consume energy and money. There is no solidarity race, no need for huge, dramatic action. Anything you can do, from donating money to raising awareness, is a meaningful contribution.
Finally, don’t forget to extend kindness to counterbalance the dreadful violence we are witnessing. As linguists, we are deeply invested in human communication as the core of living and working together peacefully on a global scale. Translate that commitment into caring for others. Give encouraging advice to newer colleagues. Use your knowledge of international affairs to raise the bar in online discussions. Address unhelpful stereotypes. Show others what it means to be at home in multiple cultures.
“Be kind whenever possible,” the Dalai Lama has said. “It is always possible.”
About the Author
Dorothee Racette, CT has been a full-time freelance GER < > EN translator for over 25 years. She served as ATA President from 2011 to 2013. In 2014, she established her own coaching business, Take Back My Day, to help individuals and organizations solve problems related to workflow and time management. As a certified productivity coach (CPC), she now divides her time between translating and coaching. Her book Complete What You Started (2020) provides a blueprint for carrying big projects across the finish line. You can read her blog at takebackmyday.com/blog.
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