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Learning vs. Implementing: A Simple Strategy to Overcome Overwhelm and Start Taking Action in Your Freelance Business

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A good number of us translators and interpreters would classify ourselves as lifelong learners. This is an excellent trait to have as people who study and use languages in their work and daily lives, and also as small business owners. The same can be said for professionals in many fields, but I feel pretty sure that many translators and interpreters would actually classify themselves as lifelong learners and perfectionists.

With so much information available to us with the click of a button these days, we can learn in a variety of ways – whether online or in person. And while it's excellent to continue gaining knowledge and honing our skills, this can sometimes create a bottleneck in our businesses when it comes to actually implementing what we learn. It can be hard to know how to overcome the overwhelm as a freelance translator or interpreter when there is so much to learn (and do).

As I was listening to a business podcast recently, the interviewee mentioned how important it is to do a "learning vs. doing ratio" check-in with ourselves. So, I started to think about how this could apply to myself and to my colleagues.

The concept, in a nutshell, is that we need to be conscious of how much learning we're doing versus how much we are (or aren't) implementing what we learn. I think we can all raise our hand at some point in our career if asked whether we implement only a small portion of what we learn in workshops, conference sessions, webinars, online courses, etc. We set the best of intentions, but life and work quickly take over, and we find ourselves not implementing as much of what we learned as we'd originally intended.

This could be due to many reasons, of course, but it got me thinking… How many of those reasons not to implement something we learn are simply due to fear of that thing not working out, or even due to imposter's syndrome

Could it be that we don't think we'll succeed or that we don't yet have all the information we think we need to move forward?

I can tell you, I see this a lot, especially in the courses and webinars I teach. There are a few students who take my advice of "done is better than perfect" to heart. And there are others who tell me they know the best approach to actually move the needle forward in their businesses is to take action, but they just don't have something quite perfect yet. That tells me they don't actually get it.

So, they pause. They hesitate. They stall. They come up with a million reasons why they can't take action. We have all done this, right?

So, I'd like to challenge you to start thinking of how much you learn and how much you implement as two dials that you can turn up and turn down.

A Simple Strategy to Overcome Overwhelm and Start Taking Action

One dial is the learning dial. Anytime your learning dial is turned up, the implementing dial is likely to be turned down. In some courses and cases, your learning and implementing dial will both be turned up to about the same level. However, as most of us know from experience, this is not sustainable for long periods of time.

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If we intentionally turn up one dial – let's say, learning –, then we know that we will soon need to turn it down. This allows us to turn up the other dial – implementing. 

Problems arise when you turn down both your learning and your implementing dials for long periods of time. This is the best recipe for stagnation that I can think of. And it's fairly easy to do. 

If you do happen to turn down both the learning and implementing dials, ask yourself:

Is this because I'm feeling overwhelmed or burned out in my business? Or is it an intentional and temporary decision?

Once you know whether the dials are turned down due to overwhelm or an intentional decision, you can then make plans to turn one of them up again soon.

Ideally, the best pattern is to turn up the learning dial, and then simultaneously turn it down a bit while turning up the implementing dial. Once you implement what you learn on a given topic, then turn up the learning dial again, and turn down the implementation dial until you're ready to put into practice what you're learning. A steady pattern like this will keep you moving forward intellectually and professionally. 

Be careful not to keep the implementation dial turned down for too long, especially if you realize it is fear of failure that's keeping you from turning it up. Work out the reasons why you think you might fail, and then decide that it's okay if you do. Great things come from failing. Just ask any of the successful people you know.

One thing I tell myself when I'm procrastinating the implementation of something new I've learned is that everyone has to start somewhere. I only have to take the first small step, and then usually, momentum will allow the rest to follow.

Do you find yourself turning up the learning dial and then finding reasons not to turn up the implementation dial soon after? What would you like to start implementing in your business soon?