Feel Free to Choose A Sub-Section of this Post
1. Random Thoughts on Transcription and Non-Transcription Related Issues
2. Daily Progress – Research Findings, Tasks and Skills Development
Let’s face it, folks – we are drowning in a sea of information these days, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with it all and attain some sort of balance of intake, processing and utilization. Entire books have now been written arguing that “mental illnesses” such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are more the result of the inability of our brains to adjust to the barrage of incoming data than the biochemical abnormalities which have been discovered through research so far :
ADHD: Is Our Information Culture The Cause?
As research in the scientific field of epigenetics discovers increasing evidence that the environment plays a very significant role in biological processes as fundamental as the effect of stress in altering DNA and transmitting those alterations to future generations, it is becoming ever more important to account for, and manage, the various environment factors which effect us in our daily lives. The amount, kind, and quality of information we consume, the “downtime” we allow for our bodies and minds to rest and digest that information, and the strategies by which we maximize our assimilation of information are becoming crucial issue for survival in the digital age. Just as building cardiovascular and muscular/strength via exercise requires a proper balance of rest and exertion, so too does the building and maintenance of our mental processes. Overloading the neural circuits with information is equivalent to running well beyond your distance/speed limits, or lifting weights which are too heavy for your muscular-skeletal system to handle.
Two of the most important and effective remedies to this problem are : organization and pacing.
Through the process of organization you are able to break down the mass of incoming information into manageable units, and then through pacing you create an ideal pace of intake/processing of that information so that you assimilate and utilize the maximum amount of it.
In the excellent book “The Overflowing Brain – Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory” neuroscientist Trokel Klinberg examines in great detail the nature and limits of working memory. Like the RAM of a computer, the working memory is the neurochemical entity which holds information temporarily before selective bits are integrated into the long term storage memory. Just like in a computer, if the RAM memory is not large enough the computer can freeze up if the user forces too much information to be processed relative to the RAM capacity. This will take the form of a web browser crashing if you have too many tabs open simultaneously, or a digital imaging program seizing if you initiate too many processes in a short period of time. In the same way, our working memory malfunctions when we overload it. The human brain’s equivalent t the computer is a decrease (to the ultimate point of virtual inability) to process additional information, or a decrease in concentration/attention when the information processesing capacity threshold is exceeded. This is known as “information overload”, and it is a growing epidemic in the modern digital age, with research showing that the general limit of attention span in people is decreasing.
So, since this major issue of information overload is becoming a growing concern for people in general, it would only make sense that for those of us who work with information on a daily basis it is even more important to implement effective strategies to control the amount of information exposure and rate of processing that information in order to achieve adequate mental balance and minimize mental stress – which is, of course, directly connected to physical stress – as mental processes are biochemical in nature, just as all other bodily processes. A clear example of this connection between the mental physical bodies relates to nutrition. The brain – like every other organ in the body -runs on the nutrients we consume. In fact, the brain has an very high metabolic rate relative to all other organs, and so an inadequate intake of nutrients to balance mental exertion results in all sorts of dysfunction and inadequate function. Ranging from diminished attention span, cognitive deficits, anxiety, depression, and the most extreme symptoms of psychosis in severe cases of sleep deprivation (or even extreme mental overexertion) it is clear that proper control of mental exertion, along with adequate rest and nutrition is a serious health concern.
Incidentally, one of the most important forms of nutrient for the brain is dietary fat (lipids) – especially the fatty acids such as Omega-3 and Omega-6,. After all, the brain tissue itself is essential composed of lipids and cholesterol. Studies have found that general deficiencies in the various forms of dietary fat result in decreased cognitive ability, memory problems, mood instability, and various other issues which effect mental performance and overall health. In a more extreme case, a study was done with a prison population which found that dietary fatty acid supplementation decreased the level of inmate violence significantly. Other studies have found a significant therapeutic effect of coconut oil on Alzheimer’s disease symptoms. So, the next time you are feeling mentally fatigued try taking a few tablespoons of olive oil, or have a few eggs.
In order to not go too far off on a tangent, let me bring this discussion back to the issue of the two fundamental factors of organization and pacing as the main keys to success for online telework – whether that be transcription, editing, writing, data entry, etc. Proper pacing requires that you allow your brain the proper nutrients and rest periods so that it can process the information you have taken into it and build new neural connections (including memory) in response to this input. The brain can’t do that if it is being overworked, not given enough downtime (in the form of rest, sleep, or even relaxing recreational activity) and/or if the proper nutrients – which are the materials which actually build the neural connections) are not consumed in proper amounts.
You could argue that the most logical method to create the proper strategy of organization and pacing would be to start developing the organization part first. It would be possible to do this, but I would argue that by first assessing your pacing needs, you will have a better idea of the limits and needs of your mind and body, and can thus build a more appropriate organizational structure around that. For instance, if you are a person who suffers from some degree of insomnia it will be difficult to create a more highly structured organizational plan if your sleep schedule is erratic. It will be difficult for you to stick to that strict routine. I can attest to this first hand, as I suffer from severe chronic insomnia – and trust me – it is something which MUST be accounted for in your organization plan.
So, once you have assessed your pacing needs you can begin to assess the sources and amount of information which is available for you to use to expand your knowledge of the transcription industry, job skills and tools and people/organizations to potentially connect with to further your efforts. For instance, your pacing assessment will give you an idea of how much time per day you can dedicate to taking in new information and experimenting with and practicing the new skills you have gained through your research. You should break the total time down into the two major categories of “research” and “skills implementation”. You can also add a third category such as “free experimentation”, where you will basically just browse through various resources in a more relaxed, unstructured manner (for example. you may enter a new transcription-related search term into a search engine and just follow the results wherever they lead). This adds a more fun, experimental component to the research, but is also important because it is very likely to produce some valuable new information and resources that you can then integrate into your more structured research. For instance, I often enter new terms (especially transcription-related products and software) into the YouTube search engine and discover some very informative videos which open a new avenue to research (and skills expansion) into my overall development process. One such extremely valuable software program I discovered in this way is the Evernote organization application. I will be writing an entire post about this amazing piece of software genius in a future post, but for now here is a great YouTube channel by mentor Evernote Scott . A great video to start with is the Evernote Tips : The 11 Amazing Features episode. In fact, Evernote is one of the most productive programs to use for developing your organization plan, in addition to collecting, storing, managing and processing all of the your research notes and content. The best thing is that the software is free, and the freeware version offers more than enough functionality to perform the tasks required to design and manage your organization strategy.
So we now have a general idea of the fundamental factors to help minimize information overload and maximize your research effort. It is recommended to assess your mental and physical needs in order to decide on a rough estimate of the amount of time you can dedicate to your research, skills practice and experimentation tasks. Once you have an idea of how much time and energy you can dedicate to the research you can then begin to physically (or more likely virtually) write up a more concrete plan to organize your daily efforts.
In the next section we will look at the implementation of this process in a more concrete example of my actual strategy development.
In line with the discussion of my research and skills development strategy in the first section of this post, as I continue exploring and working in the online transcription industry, the reality is that the amount of information available (from numerous resources, in different formats and covering different topics and aspects of the multi-faceted and extensive field) can easily become overwhelming. Therefore, I think it will be helpful to describe the strategy I have developed over the past weeks to organize and pace my efforts in order to make consistent and comfortable progress reaching the level of being able to make a living in online transcription and editing telework.
The sheer overload of information that I both need and want to consume to move things forward is quite overwhelming. Therefore, in line with the key concept of pacing I have begun writing up a daily strategy plan to help organize the effort and increase the retention of new information. This is quite easy to do, and I have used a simple Evernote note file titled “transcription career development organization plan”. In my specific case I have listed the handful of most urgent and valuable resources (ex. the TranscribeMe Style Guide, a few of the best transcription blogs I have discovered so far : TranscriptionWave blog , TranscribeMe blog , and “General Transcription Work From Home” blog , in addition to the two best online transcription forums – Transcription Haven and Transcription Essentials. Since it is physically and mentally impossible to consume all of the information contained in these resources, or the numerous other valuable ones which I will encounter as I proceed or simply don’t have enough time to include in the daily research program, this is where pacing is most important.
The first essential thing to do after making a list of the most important and highest priority resources you have discovered is to decide how much time you can reasonably dedicate to consuming the information from those resources each day, as well as the daily time allotment for implementing the knowledge/skills obtained. Since one of the main (and ideal) goals I have mentioned is to maintain income from the transcription work while I continue the research and train myself, it is important to integrate practice/work time in with the research and study time. Through experience I have found that good strategy for this is to alternate between research and skills implementation. For instance, you can plan for an hour of research in the morning and the follow that up with an hour of implementation (perhaps with a nice break in between to rest your mind and eat something after spending an hour reading, watching videos or listening to audio). In addition, it is especially productive to do spend your research and implementation hours on similar subject matter. For instance, during your morning research reading through a style guide you may come across a specific issues, such as “the proper use of the comma”. You may follow that up by looking up the subject “comma usage” on an online grammar web site such as : http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp . You could also follow up with some addition resources on comma usage and/or closely related topics to add some depth to your understanding. Then, during your following “implementation hour” you can pay more close attention to your use of commas when transcribing a file. Another example would be reading your one daily post on the TranscriptionWave blog, such as : Tips To Help You Transcribe Quickly , and then take one of the tips (such as : “#3 : Work With Macros”, and follow up by reading the tutorial file in your transcription software which explains how to use macros, and then actually practice using at least one macro while you transcribe a file during your next implementation hour session. You can then practice an additional macro per day in the coming days to reinforce the skill until it becomes routine.
If there is a topic or skill which is a bit complicated, or you are just having trouble grasping for some reason, take some additional time during the next research session to research more deeply into it. Then also spend some more time practicing the new skill during your next implementation session.
During both sessions you should also keep a running note file. During implementation sessions you can jot down any thoughts, ideas, problems, questions, discoveries, etc. which you can then follow up on in the next research session. During the research session you can also jot down thoughts, ideas, problems and questions, in addition to additional resources (ex. links, new blogs/sites, videos, etc.) which you can then follow up on in future sessions. In my experience, it is best NOT to immediately follow new resources you discover. The reason for this is that it tends to throw off the focus and momentum of your research effort. Ideally, you want to create a daily routine of working through small parts of a resource (ex. one blog post per day) as this consistency enables you to build progressively over time. Suddenly introducing a new resource – which is often significantly different in style and uncertain in quality – can really throw off your momentum and focus. I have found it best to record the new resource in your running note and then take some time in the next research session to give the new resource a superficial browse (ex. look over the main blog post menu pages to see what kind of subjects the blog covers, and perhaps record the url of one or two interesting posts from the blog in your running note). For recording urls for future research, the Evernote application is excellent since the program automatically converts urls you post in your note files into active links, and then you can simply click on the link in the note to open the page. Then over the next few days you can slowly evaluate the new research and decide whether it is worth starting to include some of it’s content in your daily research workload. This, of course, depends on how much time you have available during your research session. In other words, you want to ease into (and warm up to) new content. In this way, your organization plan is dynamic and constantly being evaluated and adjusted to fit your specific needs as they arise and change. Sometimes you will discontinue working through a resource because you have found one of better quality or which fulfills new content needs which have arisen through your various efforts and unexpected developments and opportunities.
To give you a more concrete example of my current strategy, I am now allotting one hour per day to reading one blog post from each of the 2-3 selected blogs (mentioned earlier), browsing the main blog post pages for posts to read in the future, recording the urls of those selected blog posts in my running note, reading a few tutorial pages of the various software programs I am in the process of incorporating into the workflow, and reading through one or two pages of the TranscribeMe style guide to continue familiarizing myself with the company’s specific transcription requirements as I work on a few of the short (roughly one minute) files each day. Of course, I also keep the style guide file open and refer to it as I am in the process of working on the transcription files, so as to most strongly reinforce my skills through practical experience. In addition, my internet browser is always on call to perform the common quick transcription research tasks (ex. looking up additional information on companies, people, and/or places mentioned in files I am transcribing, quickly following up on interesting topics mentioned in transcription files, etc.).
To enhance productivity and efficiency significantly, I am using the excellent Evernote application to create and organize my notes and strategy plans, collect all the resources I find (ex. web sites, blogs, videos, audio, photos, etc.) – as Evernote enables you to collect all of these types of media right into your notes so you have access to every component of your research in one place. I am also using Evernote to develop and write the posts on this blog, as it allows me to do everything I need to work on the posts offline, and then I simply copy everything into WordPress to do all of the HTML, publishing and marketing stuff.
Okay. I realize that this is an extremely long (and perhaps a bit tedious) post, but I believe that the points and concepts I have discussed here are very important for laying a solid foundation for developing a productive strategy for building your knowledge and skills related to transcription (and any other form of telework), and doing so in a way which is healthy, maximally productive and efficient in enabling you to attain gainful and consistent transcription work.