How does it feel when a small child incessantly asks you questions? Or when you are interrupted by another question from a colleague while working on your answer to the first one? There is an important lesson in these experiences: aggregating questions, i.e., asking several questions together rather than throwing them at another person one by one as they come up, is a must for reducing interruptions and sustaining concentration. This post discusses why such a habit reduces the stress for people you interact with—and yourself.
- A client sends every single question about your translation by e-mail as soon as it pops up. As he continues checking, some of these questions are resolved naturally, and your answers are already unnecessary.
- An editor keeps asking you about your translation choices by Skype, instead of sending a well-laid-out, easy-to-use error report with her comments.
- A freelance translator bombards a project manager with questions about the project, instead of reading the project kick-off e-mail designed to answer these questions.
The best practice in these and similar scenarios is postponing and aggregating your questions until you get to the end of whatever your current task is—translating a project, editing a translation, reading an e-mail, and so forth. Then and only then, do you send an aggregated report to the recipient.
- Postponing a question often means letting it simmer and resolve itself naturally, as you find the answer in the very content of the task. For instance, an editor may wonder why a translator translated an acronym in a particular way, but finds the explanation a few pages later. Postponing saves you the time required to ask the question and the time to answer it for the other guy.
- Interruptions are counterproductive, and doubly so in translation, which is often a creative process requiring full concentration. By packing questions into one message, you limit the number of interruptions, ideally to just one. Fewer questions asked on an ad hoc basis means fewer interruptions, resulting in higher productivity.
- When you ask a question, especially in a face-to-face situation, you tend to wait for the answer, wasting time. When the other person is listening to you, he is wasting his time. Making an aggregated written report saves time for both sides—while one side is writing, the other is free to work, and vice versa.
- By firing questions incessantly you are putting unnecessary pressure on the recipient, making it difficult for her to concentrate and come up with the best answer. Sending an aggregated report allows her to work at her own pace, resulting in better answers.
Additional productivity tip
I find it very helpful not to answer questions that come incessantly. Answering them right away prompts the other guy to ask more, because (a) you are sending a message that a constant stream of questions is okay with you, and (b) he gets instant gratification, which only reinforces the desire to ask more questions.
I know your mind craves the quick fix of an immediate answer, and so does mine. However, a more mature and productive approach is asking questions in an aggregated form. This best practice reduces interruptions, eliminates stress, and improves the quality of answers.