Day 12 : Pacing Is The Key To Success For The Freelance Transcriptionist

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Feel Free to Choose A Sub-Section of this Post
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1. Random Thoughts on Transcription and Non-Transcription Related Issues
2. Daily Progress – Research Findings, Tasks and Skills Development

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Random Thoughts on Transcription and Non-Transcription Related Issues

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?
http://huff.to/1ykiCOV

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.

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Daily Progress – Research Findings, Tasks and Skills 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.

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Feel free to donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.

Donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.

Day 4 : Plugging Into the Virtual Global Community : The Lifeline of the Freelance Transcriptionist

crowd

Following right along with the plan, I spent the day evaluating the trickle of new jobs which rolled onto the “available jobs” board of the online system. The experience of the past few days has shown that there seem to be batches of regular, ongoing projects which arrive in waves and then pass. The current regular project at this time is a “focus group” type of setup. Basically, it is 30 minute audio files recorded in a classroom setting. The problem is that the recording set up is far from ideal, there are many speakers who often speak over each other, and many of them are native Spanish speaking (second language English speakers) who often interject Spanish terms and sentences into their speech. This is in addition to the often heavy accents of BOTH the students AND (often) the teachers themselves (many of whom are immigrants from Asian countries). The bottom line is that these are NOT the ideal kind of files for the newbie to be working on to build confidence and motivation. Early success is key to progress in ANY endeavor.

I listened to several of the files, but just found them to be so boring and complicated that I decided it was not worth the aggravation to attempt to transcribe them. However, I did accept a few to edit. Although the editing was indeed tedious and boring (as expected) it was at least a chance to get a feel for how the other transcribers were handling the transcription of these audio files. The good thing about being able to choose to edit, instead of only transcribing, is that you take less risk of failing to do the job properly, yet you benefit from being able to follow along with the various methods and styles of the actual transcriber. While some are done well, and others terrible, you learn through example from each one.  By doing this you gain confidence by seeing what the transcriber has done right, wrong and the variations of correct and incorrect transcribing techniques that different transcribers use.

In addition, it is not like you are taking the easy way out by choosing to edit. Having a separate person edit/proofread the transcription is indeed a very valuable component to the overall process, and produces the highest quality end product for the client. The editor often catches subtle mistakes that the transcriber missed – especially in long transcription files where the transcriber grew tired over time and their accuracy level declined (especially towards the latter portion of the transcript. as they are using racing against a deadline). In addition, the editor may very well likely be able to decipher some of the words the original transcriber couldn’t. Thus, including this additional editing/proofreading step into the production process has a significant positive effect on the quality of the final product. This benefits everyone : the company, the transcribers/editors and the customer.

Since  there was a general shortage of new files coming on to the available job board which I judged to be interesting and easy enough to take on, I started feeling the desire to find out more information about what kinds of jobs I could expect from the company and the general frequency that I could expect new jobs to be posted to the available job board. As a result of this I looked around the site to find more information. Unfortunately, the only information available was that on the FAQs page and that information was quite slim. The only way to contact the company administration was through the inline email form on the “support” page or a direct email to support@xxxx.com.  In fact, I had already sent them an email with a few questions the day before and had gotten no response. I began to get concerned. This lack of adequate communication with the company was making me nervous (especially since I had done several hours of work up to this point and I was now concerned about potential payment problems).

As an experienced online marketer I am well aware of the value of proper communication between an online organization and its consumers. While I had been impressed by the professional design presentation of the company’s overall web site (including their polished recruiting and testing systems) I was now beginning to see that the equally important communication element was nowhere up to par with the former. In addition, there was no system set up to have communication with the other freelancers who were transcribing/editing for the company. The combination of my intuition and experience begins raising some red flags, calling into question the integrity of the company. I motivate myself with the fact that if this turns out to NOT be a legitimate opportunity I should AT LEAST take maximum advantage of the overall learning opportunity presented so far.

At this potential crisis point my experience in online marketing and social media kicked in and I immediately began to initiate what I like to call “the connection process”. Since I had already been a member of the “Freelance Editing Network” group on LinkedIn, and had made some excellent connections and gained great information there, my first impulse was to search the LinkedIn groups for something more specific to the “transcription” task at hand. Sure enough, LinkedIn has a fine “Transcription” group to fill the exact need for connection and information that I have at this point. This specific group is an “open” one, and so immediately upon request my membership was confirmed and I was able to begin reading through the posts and initiate the process of building connections.

On the LinkedIn groups and/or industry forums I always like to practice the proper etiquette of taking some time to read some posts before posting. Often the question(s) you have will already have been addressed and the older members of the group/board will prefer that new people make their presence known more gradually and subtly. What I usuallly do is read some posts, “like” some of the comments, and if one of the members really has something interesting to say I will click “reply privately” and send a polite and brief comment. Usually I introduce myself a little, inform them that I am new in the group, and open for information if they care to share any tips with a “newbie”. In general, if you approach members politely and strategically most are glad to offer some helpful tips, suggest some resources, and often refer you to some helpful connections in their personal network. Just try to avoid asking them for information which is already posted somewhere on the group board. Many groups have a special introduction section where new members can post their information, situation and needs. Be sure to take advantage of this.

As evidence of the power and effectiveness of the LinkedIn groups, I was able – within an hour of reading a few threads – to gather a few powerful leads to several more online transcription companies (similar to the current company I was connected with). It turns out that there are HUNDREDS of these online transcription companies, AND that they vary in the specific niches they serve, the type of work they offer to transcribers, and the quality of their operations and transcription file audio quality. Thus it only seemed logical to gather the names and web site addresses of some of these companies (specifically the most highly rated) and take some time each day to evaluate their sites and proceed through the application process if the quality was adequate. I spent a few minutes doing just that. This process is another important element of the research process. Through the groups and forums you are able to get reviews of these companies by the many people who have had actual experience working for them. Reading through the threads you can CLEARLY get a sense of which companies to court, and which ones to avoid like the plague.

The best lead I got on that first browse through the group was a post made by the owner and moderator of the top-notch Transcription Haven forum. Her post in the linked in group was very informative, so I decided to follow through to the forum and register. As it is a closed forum you need to pass a quick quality check. The moderator basically sends you an email shortly after you register asking you to answer a few questions to prove that you are serious about being a member (ex. using the forum information to legitimately develop your transcription skills and not being a troublemaker). They also ask how you found the forum. So I figured the best response would be to refer to the post I read in the LinkedIn group. I also mentioned clearly that I had “no intention of causing trouble”. I sent the email off and within a few minutes I got a verification email with username and password and was able to log in to the forum.

As if the LinkedIn “Transcription” group wasn’t helpful enough, the Transcription Haven forum is a VERY professional and user-friendly gold mine of information on essentially everything related to the transcription world. The forum is clean, welcoming, very well organized and a pleasant social venue above and beyond all of the quality information related to all things transcription. As the sheer amount of information is vast I proceeded as I always do with dense web resources – that is, one post at a time. Starting with the “Introductions” section I began reading a few posts per day to get a feel for the kind of people who are involved in the transcription world. For those who resonated specifically well with my situation I sent them a quick introductory PM (private message). Within hours I was already getting very valuable responses with advice and links. Over the next few days members were introducing me to additional online companies who I was able to connect with and get more work. Members often post leads for immediate projects and short term overload work. In the coming days I spend an hour or two per day getting familiar with the various sections of the forum (including : “Motivation and Moral Support”, “Tips, Tools and Tricks-Of-The-Trade”, “Vent Away” and more) and working through three or four threads per day.

The bottom line is that there are NUMEROUS resources which exist which are absolutely free, and which can get you moving along in the development of your transcription career if you have decent research skills and are willing to do the footwork. More importantly, you can see how my situation changed so quickly from working in frustrated isolation with a company which provided no sort of mechanism to connect with colleagues to one in which I had established a direct line of communication with a vast GLOBAL network of supportive and experienced people working in the field I was in the process of moving into. I can’t stress what a difference it makes to have this support. Especially in the digital age of social media, it is common knowledge that networking is the most powerful component for success in any endeavor.

In the next post we will look at the process of evaluating the various online transcription companies, and developing your research strategy for helping avoid some of the scams which manage to get past the radar of the online transcription community.