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 3 : Evaluating Prospective Transcription Projects and Training Resources

person contemplating_evaluating

Successfully editing the 90 minute interview transcript yesterday has put some confidence under my belt. I now know that it is at least possible to complete transcription/editing jobs as long as I choose ones which are within my capabilities. However, this process of evaluating the prospective project in relation to one’s skill level is a complex one. There are multiple factors which affect this assessment on both ends. As a result, it only seems prudent and logical to take some time developing your skill of evaluation.

At this point there are three types of evaluation which seem important to work on. Firstly, there is the process of evaluating the prospective project made available to you. With the online transcription systems these files are usually all laid out in the “available jobs” section as they are made available by the company. Generally, the audio/video files are displayed along with information about the length of the file, instructions on the type of edit (ex. verbatim, clarity, with timecode, without timecode”, etc.) supplied by the company, special instructions given by the customer related to the project, the TAT (turn around time, or “deadline”) within which time you need to have the transcript submitted, and the amount of payment upon completion of the project. You are able to listen to the file via the inline audio/video player so that you can evaluate the it before accepting the project. Some companies allow you to evaluate the ENTIRE file, while others allow you to evaluate PART of the file (for instance, one minute of a six minute file). This limitation is actually beneficial to the workflow of the company, as it minimizes people choosing only the easiest files, and leaving the more challenging ones undone. The companies are under a deadline with the customers, and this is a mechanism of protection for the whole business.

As I have already outlined the basic factors which determine the difficulty level of an audio project in the last post (Day 2 : Editing As A Gradual Step Towards Transcription) here I want to discuss the other main component of the evaluation process which involves factoring your skill level into the equation. That is, the difficulty level of something is somewhat relative to the skill level of the person doing the evaluation. While there are surely down-right abysmally bad audio files (ex. high background noise level,  multiple people speaking over each other (a.k.a. “crosstalk”), muddled speech due to bad recording set up, etc.) the reality is that the more skill you have the the more likely you will be able to mitigate these issues. For instance, an experienced transcriber who is skilled with digital audio editing software can easily transform a “bad” file into something manageable. Another thing to consider is that a decent company will automatically filter out such bad files, or if dealing directly with a private client you will have discussed the problems and prepared for what will be done in the worst case scenario (in other words, the ability to get out of the agreement without penalty).

So, since the evaluation of the difficulty level of a prospective file is dependent on the capabilities of the person who evaluates it then it only makes sense that developing your general skills (related to transcribing and its associated skills set (ex. audio editing, typing, grammar skills, etc.)) enables you to expand and improve your ability to evaluate prospective projects more accurately. This then leads to accepting and completing suitable projects, which creates a positive spiral of progress, instead of descending into the abyss of frustration, minimal enjoyment of the work, and friction with a client.

I decided that the most practical and efficient strategy during this beginning phase would be to spend some time each day on two major tasks. First, I would read the descriptions on, and listen to, as many of the files on the “available jobs” boards as possible as they came in throughout the day and night. This allowed me to have a steady flow of input and get a good feel for the types and characteristics of the general projects offered. At the same time I would spend an hour or two a day searching for, collecting and absorbing all of the best quality free resources available online related to transcription and the numerous related subjects. Luckily, I was going to be pleasantly surprised to find that there is more than enough high-quality and free (and even some paid, if you are so inclined) resources to completely self-train yourself into a certified, working and successful freelance transcriptionist. So let me give you the positive assurance that if you put in the time and effort you CAN methodically and steadily build PAID experience in the online transcription industry, while earning money to further self-education yourself, and gradually gain the experience to move up the ranks to have more choice in the types of content you transcribe, the quality of audio/video, and the amount of compensation. Just keep motivational statement in mind as you proceed through this diary blog.

Since anyone with basic online research skills will be able to get started finding information to get the ball rolling immediately (ex. via a Google search for “general transcription job training course free”) I think it is most appropriate to focus here on my own personal research process so that you can see my strategy, progression of topics and how I put the puzzle pieces together over time. So, I will attempt to document as precisely as possible just exactly which resources I found and studied and when in the process I did so. Since I had the idea of writing this blog from the very beginning (as a result of my years of experience as a blogger and social media marketer) I made the wise decision to keep notes throughout the research process.  Using these notes I am laying out the progression of research as it actually unfolded. I will also explain the REASONS why I made certain decisions throughout the process, so that you can get a deeper understanding of my method, and hopefully incorporate the components of that method which resonate best with you, personally, in order to maximize your progress while minimizing wasted time and energy.

One of the very first resources I found was  the :

http://www.generaltranscriptionworkfromhome.com/

site. This is a very informative site with blog. The blog posts include entries for essentially ALL of the basic topics which a person new to the transcription world could have. Since I had a very low budget at the time I decided to work through the free blog posts (one or two per day) while at the same time I read through ALL of the pages of the site in order to get an idea of the kinds of products they offered (in case those paid products might become feasible options in the future). As an experienced internet marketer I operate under the philosophy that if someone puts out high quality free information online I will AT LEAST evaluate everything they have on offer and seriously consider paying for their content if it becomes feasible in the future INSTEAD of from someone else who did NOT provide such valuable info. The bottom line is that in the digital age “content is king”. Or maybe, more accurately, “content is currency”. This is a major reason why I put always try to put as much free and valuable information onto the internet as I possibly can. After all, if my success has been built significantly on the free information provided by other people, then it is simply good karma to give something back to the universe, in my opinion. This is in line with my general philosophy on life, which is to help people who need it – NOT for personal gain or expectation of reciprocation, but because it is just the right thing to do, plain and simple.

In the process of working through the blog posts on the above site I also kept a running note file.  I use a simple notepad file onto which I copy and paste words, terms, sentences, urls for web pages and YouTube videos, and any other important text information which I encounter through the research process. I then follow up with as I have time and/or as each becomes appropriate. For instance, for videos I will often click on the link through to the video on the YouTube site and then click the “watch later” button to add the video for watching). In this way I can most efficiently flow through the research without distracting myself by going off in all different tangential directions, in a disorganized and unfocused manner, and/or being slowed down waiting for too many web pages or video/audio files to load. If a page/audio/video looks ESPECIALLY interesting when I encounter it I will take a few seconds or a minute to download it for future reference, and if it is a relatively short file I will take a minute to watch it before saving it, and then return to the research task. The key to ANY research is to stay focused, and proceed in a methodical, and controlled manner.

In fact, here is a You Tube playlist I have created with links to many of the high-quality videos I found and watched throughout the research process (and which continues to be updated) :

Now that I had found and committed to consuming the content of a decent quality blog whose posts would keep me busy for several weeks of daily reading, I started spending around an hour a day following up on the subtopics which resonated most powerfully and immediately with my situation. The first concept which came up was the fact that there are three main types of transcription – medical, legal and general – and that general transcription was the one which anyone with basic skills can do without needing to invest a lot of money on education, equipment, or obtaining a rather costly and time-consuming official specialized certification. It seemed that with general transcription the only real investment you need to make is that of your time in educating yourself and practicing your skills. In addition, there ARE several important industry standard programs which you can make use of, but the good news is that they all have free versions which are adequate while you are starting. You can then decide to upgrade in the future as you earn transcription income and as/if you find value in the professional versions of these programs. You can find reviews of (and links to) some of these free programs in the “Transcription Powertools” section of this blog  :

https://diaryofafreelancetranscriptionist.com/category/transcription-powertools/

Therefore, I began focusing my research using the keywords “general transcription” and quickly found some informative pages like the concise Do-It-Yourself Transcription Training  page.

At this point I believe the reader has enough research leads and information to conclude this post and let you assimilate and work the ideas into your own research. Ultimately, the goal is to SIMULTANEOUSLY build your knowledge about transcription and related topics so that you will be more competent in evaluating prospective projects (whether they come in through the automated system of an online transcription company or through a freelance client) WHILE you gain experience (and some income) by working on files. In other words, “on the job self-education”.

In the next post I will discuss the vast virtual community of people working in the global transcription world, and how you can connect with them to significantly accelerate your efforts (through information sharing and networking) towards becoming an income-generating master freelance transcriptionist.