The KISS Principle
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Do you ever remind yourself to KISS?
Keep It Simple, Stupid.
I find it comes in handy all the time in my freelance translation business.
I'm a wordsmith, and I tend to be wordy. But I know long emails with big blocks of text are problematic, because people's attention spans are shorter than ever these days! I want to make sure my message gets across.
So it often takes me a few drafts to pare my emails down to the essentials and organize my thoughts in a digestible way. (I try to ruthlessly edit my blog posts in the same way. How am I doing?) I break up long paragraphs and use bullets for the most important ideas. I take out most explanations - they only distract from the really salient points.
If I need the other person to make a decision, I try to give them a few options to choose from (probably in bullet form, knowing me), instead of leaving it open-ended. If possible, I give them the option not to respond. "I'll take care of x unless you let me know otherwise."
Remember the Occam's razor principle. The simplest explanation is usually the right one. I once edited a very poor translation of a medical record that contained many unspecified abbreviations, as they do. One of the original Spanish acronyms was NAMC, and the translator had translated it as nefrotoxicidad asociada a medios de contraste, or contrast-media induced nephrotoxicity. Although this is one possible meaning of NAMC, in context, the much more likely meaning was ninguna alergia medicamentosa conocida, or no known drug allergies.
Keep it simple. The simplest option is usually the right one - use the context and your common sense as your guide, and then make sure to confirm with the client or leave a note before diagnosing the patient with a serious illness!
Translating from Spanish to English, I often find myself keeping the translation simple just by following the principle of "how would we say that in English?" Spanish tends to use longer sentences, more formal and lengthy language, and circle around the point a few times before reaching the finish line. English is more matter-of-fact and to the point. In my opinion, a faithful translation reflects this difference.
It's easy to complicate things unnecessarily when you can run your business any way you want. There are infinite software options out there for every process you might need. Even if a bright shiny new program might catch my eye sometimes, efficiency is one of my core values, so I generally prefer the simplest option. I try not to add any more systems or processes until there is a breakdown in what I'm currently using and it's no longer efficient.
For example, last year I looked into CRM (customer relationship management) software options to manage my prospecting to direct clients. I already had an Excel spreadsheet I was using, but I thought a CRM could help me automate the process. In the end, I did a few free trials and looked into various costs, and decided I was good with Excel and my Google Calendar for now. When that stops working, I'll consider it again.
One place I've run into trouble with keeping things simple in my business is having a centralized place to collect ideas (for social media and blog posts, services to add to my business, random to do lists). I use Google Drive, Evernote, notepads, Google Calendar, and a paper planner. In the book Getting Things Done, the Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen, he explains that when you have fewer buckets for collecting your ideas, you can rest easy knowing that once you put something in its respective bucket, nothing will slip through the cracks. That makes a lot of sense, so it's something I'm currently working on.