Skip to content

Advice for Success as a Transcriptionist

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

I was recently featured as one of four general transcriptionists on the Transcribe Anywhere blog:

If you have questions about how to start your career as a transcriptionist, I’m happy to answer them and help in any way I can. Just send me an email. To learn more about the course I took to get started, visit Janet’s Transcribe Anywhere website. I highly recommend both the General Transcription and the Legal Transcription courses.

Moving & Transcription

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

I am happy to report that moving to a new state and working as a transcriptionist are perfectly compatible. That’s all. 

Here is where this post becomes like some cooking/recipe blogs, you know, the ones where there’s a zillion photos and lots of verbiage before you get to the actual recipe, which is all that some of us wanted in the first place? However, if you are considering a career in transcription, I thought you might find it helpful to hear a bit more about a big change in my life and how it affected my work.

I have been planning to move to Colorado for two years now. My bbf, who is also my sister, and her husband, who is an all around great guy, offered to let me move in with them after my (then) husband left. But I still had a daughter at home finishing high school, and there was no way I was going to uproot her before she finished school. So moving to Colorado had to wait.  In the meantime, I resigned my teaching position, took the General Transcription Course from, and started Norman Transcription.

Finally, last month, it was time to actually move! My awesome daughter headed off to college, and I packed up and sold the family home. While my limited amount of stuff was in transit (remember, I’m becoming more and more of a minimalist), I was still able to work and bring in income. All I needed was my laptop, foot pedal, headphones and a lap desk. Because I have total control over if and when I accept work, all the extras that come with selling a house and moving were much less stressful to manage because I didn’t have to take vacation days from my job to get all those details attended to.  

I took my time driving from Arizona to Colorado, driving for about 6 hours in the morning and transcribing in the hotel in the afternoon and evening. That was my choice. If I hadn’t wanted to work while making the trip, I could have opted for that instead.  

Once I arrived in Colorado, I had about 3 days before my stuff arrived. Again, no problem.  I took advantage of the beautiful weather and worked outside on my sister’s (now mine too) back deck. During that first week, I also took a full day off and we drove up into the mountains hoping to see moose, and we did — two cows and a bull with a full rack. I am so excited to be living here!

After a couple of days of unpacking, I got my desk set up in my office space in my new home and everything is back to a normal schedule. So although I had a crazy schedule for the past two months, I didn’t have to “miss” any work and I didn’t have to worry about a loss of income. I feel so fortunate to have found a career that gives me the flexibility and stability that I need at this time in my life.  

Time Tracking & Transcription Productivity

by Joanna Norman

Some folks find working at home challenging because of all the distractions that present themselves: the dishes that need to be loaded, the dogs that want to play or be let out, the three phone calls that need to be made to the dentist, the dog groomer, and the kid’s school. For me focus is generally not a problem, so when one of my favorite bloggers shared that she was experimenting with time tracking, my first reaction was NOPE! NO WAY! 

Part of the reason I work at home as a general transcriptionist is so that nobody is tracking my time and so that I can structure my work day however I want. Time tracking seems antithetical to everything I want out of working for myself. I thought it would increase my stress. But dang it if the idea didn’t stick in my brain, and I got curious about it. What if it did increase my productivity without increasing my stress? That seems like a win/win. 

So over the past several weeks, I’ve experimented with two different time tracking ideas to see if it increased my productivity while transcribing. 

The 52/17 Rule

Research has shown that the most productive employees work in intense, focused sprints and then take breaks to rest, completely. The magic numbers are 52 minutes of working followed by 17 minutes of rest. I decided to try it out.

For three days, I used a timer on my phone and transcribed for 52 minutes. I did not check email. I did not get up and stretch. I did not answer phone calls. After 52 minutes, I set another timer on my phone and rested for 17 minutes. I got up and walked away from my computer and crocheted or played with my dog or daydreamed while looking out the window or did a few yoga poses and some neck and shoulder stretches. My goal each day was to repeat this cycle four to six times. Keep reading and I’ll tell you how it worked for me.

The Pomodoro Method

While looking for an app to track my time rather than using the timer on my phone, I ran across information about the “Pomodoro Method”. The idea here is also intense sprints of work followed by short breaks, specificly 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5 minute break. You repeat this cycle 4 times and then take a longer 25 minute break.

I decided to try time tracking this way for a few days too so I could compare it my productivity results using the 52/17 rule. There are several free apps you can use on your phone that have the timers all set up for this. Would you like to know how it worked for me? Read on.

Reflecting on the 52/17 Rule

 I really, really liked this method of structuring my time. I didn’t expect to like time tracking at all for the reasons I mentioned above. I was surprised to discover that the 52/17 rule for time tracking indeed increased my productivity! I found that 52 minutes was enough time to get a good chunk of an audio recording transcribed. Depending on the complexity of the audio, I could transcribe a solid first draft of 15 to 20 audio minutes. I stayed mentally focused and physically comfortable for that length of time. I think having the timer going helped me to stay focused and avoid things like checking email or text messages. The 17 minutes of rest felt luxurious, long enough to really rest. Occasionally, I would use some of my rest time to change a load of laundry or make a phone call, but more often than not, I really did rest. I stretched, played with my dog, crocheted a bit, whatever I felt like. After a nice long 17 minute rest, I was physically and mentally refreshed and ready for another 52 minute work sprint.

Reflecting on the Pomodoro Method

After my success with the 52/17 Rule, I was curious how I would like a different method of time tracking. I discovered that the Pomodoro Method did not work as well for me for several reasons:

  • I found the timing less flexible and less compatible with the structure of my day. For example, if I started working around 9:00 (after a nice long walk with my guide dog puppy in training and my career change pet, a high priority for me), I would finish my first cycle of 4 rounds of 25 minutes of working and 5 minutes of rest around 11:00. Then it was time for a longer break. This seemed too early for lunch. If I started another round, then I wouldn’t be done until 1:30 which was too late for lunch. By then I couldn’t focus because I was too hungry.
  • The five minute breaks didn’t feel long enough to really rest, so I didn’t want to get up from my computer, and I ended up not getting a real rest, mentally or physically.
  • This method of time tracking increased my stress. I usually felt that I hadn’t accomplished much in 25 minutes and having only 5 minutes to rest barely gave me enough time to stretch my neck and shoulders, get a glass of water, and rush back to my desk. Ick!

My Conclusion on Time Tracking & Transcription Productivity

I’m surprised to be telling you that I liked it! I find that I’m using 52/17 Rule on at least half of the days I’m working. I find it does increase my productivity by helping me focus intensely, and it keeps me relaxed and physically comfortable on long days at the keyboard.

Of course, what works for me might not work for you, but if you give either of these methods a try, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

How To Transcribe “And”

by Joanna Norman

Sometimes there is a comma before the word “and”. Sometimes there’s not. This Norman Transcription Grammar Tip helps you decide when to use a comma.

You are welcome to download a beautiful free infographic of this blogpost. Click on the button above. The infographic will appear in a new window. Right click and save to your computer.


“Yesterday I was at the grocery store and I did not feel safe and there was a lady there who was coughing and sneezing constantly and she was not wearing a mask. I always wear a mask and gloves and I only needed to get a few things like milk butter bread peanut butter and cupcakes. An employee stopped her and asked her to put on a mask. She was embarrassed and said she’d forgotten it and quickly put one on and the employee was very kind and understanding.”


Yesterday I was at the grocery store, and I did not feel safe. There was a lady there who was coughing and sneezing constantly, and she was not wearing a mask. I always wear a mask and gloves. I only needed to get a few things like milk, butter, bread, peanut butter, and cupcakes. An employee stopped her and asked her to put on a mask. She was embarrassed and said she’d forgotten it and quickly put one on. The employee was very kind and understanding.


And is a coordinating conjunction. It is used to connect two or more like things (two nouns, two verbs, two clauses). If and is used to connect two independent sentences, a comma is placed before and. Otherwise, no comma is needed. If and is used before the last item in a series or list, a comma is optional.


When and is used as a coordinating conjunction (think FANBOYS) to connect two complete, independent sentences, put a comma at the end of the first sentence before and:

  •  Yesterday I was at the grocery store, and I did not feel safe.
  • There was a lady there who was coughing and sneezing constantly, and she was not wearing a mask.

When and is used to connect two nouns, two adjectives, or two verbs or two phrases, there is no comma:

  • Two verbs: was coughing and sneezing
  • Two nouns: mask and gloves
  • Two adjectives: kind and understanding

When and is used at the beginning of a sentence, no comma. It is also acceptable to omit in standard transcription:

  • And there was a lady who was …
  • There was a lady who was …(and is left out)

When and is used before the last element of a list, a comma before it is optional (this is the infamous oxford comma)

  • like milk, butter, bread, peanut butter, and cupcakes
  • like milk, butter, bread, peanut butter and cupcakes



Commas & Complicated Interview Questions

by Joanna Norman

If you transcribe qualitative interviews, you will often hear the interviewer combining several questions at once. This Norman Transcription Grammar Tip helps with transcribing those complicated interview questions.

You are welcome to download a beautiful, free infographic of this blogpost. Click on the button above. The infographic will appear in a new window. Right click and save to your computer.


“what are the biggest challenges you’re facing at Harvey and Smith Clinic and what are the biggest challenges you face in serving your patients”


What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at Harvey and Smith Clinic, and what are the biggest challenges you face in serving your patients?


You should always have a comma before coordinating conjunctions that join two independent clauses. An independent clause has a subject and a verb. Two independent clauses make up two complete thoughts.

Remember FANBOYS for coordinating conjunctions:

For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.


  • first independent clause is “what are the biggest challenges you’re facing at Harvey …”
  • second independent clause is “what are the biggest challenges you have in serving …”
  • each clause has a noun and a verb making it an independent clause
  • coordinating conjunction is the word “and”
  • comma goes BEFORE the coordinating conjunction


This would also be a correct transcription of what was said:

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing at Harvey and Smith Clinic? What are the biggest challenges you face in serving your patients?

In this transcription, I have omitted the word “and” and broken it into two separate sentences. In standard transcription, it is okay to omit some spoken words for the sake of readability. One of the companies I work with requires that sentences never begin with the word “and.” This would be a way to meet that requirement. Note: You would not be able to do this with strict verbatim transcription.


For help identifying subjects and verbs in questions:

See Me on TranscribeAnywhere’s Blog

by Joanna Norman

Not to sound completely full of myself, but I was recently featured on the blog at I got my start as a general transcriptionist by taking Janice’s outstanding transcription course. So check out her course and read about my first year as a transcriptionist:

If you have questions about how to start your career as a transcriptionist, I’m happy to answer them and help in any way I can.

Three Alternative Work Spaces for Transcriptionists

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

As you may know if you read my blog regularly, part of what I love about being a transcriptionist is that I get to work in the comfort of my own home. I’ve shared my minimalist home office space in this blogpost. But I don’t always choose to work there. It takes me almost no time at all to pack my laptop, foot pedal, and headset in a tote bag, and I’ve got everything I need to work in a different location for an hour or two or a whole day.

Back Porch Office

When I want some fresh air, I like to work on my back porch. All I need to make this work is an office chair and a small folding table. Arlo, my old mini poodle, loves to sunbathe and so does my current Guide Dog Puppy in training. So when the weather is nice, I’ll work for a hour or so on the porch while they relax in the yard.

Car/SUV Office

I also have a set up that enables me to work in my car. I just pack my transcription equipment in my bag, grab this great little lap desk (link on amazon), and I can work anywhere. The ability to work in my car comes in handy when I have to wait in the car for an appointment. (Remember pre-COVID days when we could wait in the lobby?) I can also head out to a national park that’s nearby, visit the picnic area, and transcribe away while watching the beautiful desert birds.

This is the lap desk I use in my car. It folds flat and is very lightweight. You can get it on Amazon.

Bed/Couch Office

I recently figured out a way to work in bed. Now before you think I’m hopelessly lazy, let me explain. About two months ago, I badly sprained my ankle and needed to keep it elevated for several days. This inspired me to create a way to use my foot pedal while sitting on my bed or on the couch. I applied command strips to the back of my foot pedal and to the lid of a plastic box. This puts my foot pedal at a 90 degree angle so I can sit with my legs straight out and use the foot pedal. In this set up, I used the same lap desk I use in my car, and I could comfortably transcribe with my ankle elevated. 

What are your favorite places to work? I bet I’m not the only one who likes to change it up regularly!

Transcription Headset Update

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

In a previous blog, The Tools of the Transcription Trade, I shared my preferred tools for transcription. I recently added a different headset to my toolbox, the ECS WordSleuth 3.5 mm Transcription Headset. I’m very happy with this headset for three reasons:

ECS WordSleuth Headset

First, the in-ear design gives me a break from earpieces sitting on my ears. I don’t know if I just have super sensitive ears or what, but even the most comfortable ear pieces that sit on my ears eventually begin to hurt if I wear them long enough. So I can switch back and forth between this and my  Spectra SP-PC 3.5 mm PC Stereo Transcription Headset on days when I’m working longer than usual.

Second, this headset is tiny which is nice for when I’m working away from my home office and need to pack my equipment in a bag.

Third, the in ear design blocks out noises a little bit better than the head set that sits on my ears. This is helpful when I’m working and there are other people in the house who are making noise or watching TV or otherwise creating some background noise. Someday, when I feel safe working in coffee houses again, I imagine this headset will be great for that too.

What is your favorite headset for transcription and why? Has anyone tried wireless earbuds for transcription? I’m very curious if they would have appropriate sound quality for transcription work.

Why Four To Do Lists Are Better Than One

by Joanna Norman

This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. Thanks.

I use four lists to organize my projects and get things done. This system has lowered my stress levels and increased my productivity tremendously. If you usually have a really long, detailed to do list and you get a satisfying little high from crossing things off your to do list, you might find a system like mine highly effective. If there are things you put on your to do list every day, but they somehow never get done and that causes you stress, then I would also recommend this system. 

Now, I must give credit to the folks I learned this from, April and Eric of My four list system is based on what I learned in a free course they offered. I highly recommend it!   

Let me show you the four to do lists that I have in my Rocketbook notebook:

  1. Future Project List 

This is a brain dump of any and all projects I think of. I may or may not commit to actually doing all of them. This is a place to capture my ideas. I also like it because over time I can see how many projects, large and small, I have accomplished.  When this list gets longer than a page, I capture it digitally (which is easy with the Rocketbook technology) and start over again. I divide my future project list into two columns: personal and business.

  1. Current Project List

This is a curated list of 8-10 projects that I have selected to complete in a two month period. It is divided into four categories: for me, for my family, for my business, and beyond. I select one to four projects from my Future Project List for each category, so that I have eight to ten projects that I’m focusing on for two months at a time. I update my current project every two months. If I finish all of them before two months have passed, I can always add a new one.

3. Current Project Actions

I think that this list is the key to why this system has greatly increased my productivity.  It has the same 8 to 10 projects that I selected when I created list 2, my Current Project List, but here, I have broken each project down into small steps. This list is updated every two months. 

Here is where this gets so powerful. When there is a project that I’m struggling to get started or completed, I have a good think about what is preventing me from making progress and think of the tiniest step I can to get over that hump. I create or update this list every two months.

For example, I planned to make a crocheted blanket, and I had picked out the yarn and  the pattern, but was having trouble getting started. As I thought more about it, I realized that I was unclear on how to prepare and assemble the individual pieces, and what was stopping me from starting was that I needed a tool I didn’t have, a blocking board. So the tiny steps that you see listed here are what I needed to do to build a blocking board (get skewers and assemble it). Since completing those tiny steps, I have made and blocked over 100 hexagons, so far!

4. Context-based To Do List

The last list is probably the closest thing to a traditional to do list, except that it is highly curated and specifically organized, and that is why it works so much better for me. I make this list weekly by selecting actions from list #3, Current Project Actions, and dropping each action into one of 5 categories: home, phone, computer, to discuss, and errands. Sometimes I also add actions that are not on list #3 because things like an extra errand always crop up, right? 

On this list, my action items are sorted into these five categories:

Home – Things that I do at home around the house

Phone – Any action items that are phone calls go here. You can add phone numbers here to make it really easy to make those calls.

Computer – Action items that need to be done on the computer.

Errands – Self-explanatory

To Discuss – Action items that I need to talk over with other family members.

This context-based to do list is another reason productivity is amped up from a traditional to do list. For example, if I’m waiting to pick up my daughter at school and take her to the dentist, I can hop on my phone and make any of the calls related to any of my projects (or I might choose to look out the window at the birds!). If I’m out and about, I can check my errand list to see if there are any errands nearby that I can take care of. If I’m sitting at my computer and want a short break from transcribing, I can check the computer items to see if there are any I can take care of in just a few minutes.

So there you go, my four to do lists that are better than one. If you want help implementing a system like this, check out

Desktop Cheerleader – A Little Gift from Me

by Joanna Norman

Last December I signed up for 31 Days of Gifts from Courtney Carver of Be More with Less.  One of the gifts I received was instructions to make an “emergency kit” by writing several phrases on index cards. I had my cards sitting my desk for over a month until something spilled on them. (I blame Mr. Cat, the fish.). I missed my little cards, so I created a foldable version with additional phrases, and now I think if this little foldable as my desktop cheerleader.

If I am having a rough day, I thumb through my foldable and find a phrase that helps me out. Or maybe it’s a great day, and I want to celebrate. Here are the seven phrases I put on my foldable:

  • Breathe
  • Time out
  • Give thanks
  • Be kind
  • Help me
  • No thank you
  • Forget balance. It’s time for priority. Consider impact over intent.

My desktop cheerleader resides next to my crochet cactus garden.  As you can see above, the phrase that spoke to me today is “Give thanks.” 

Here is a link to a free, downloadable Word document so you can have your own desktop cheerleader.

To assemble it, cut ¾ of the way up the middle of the page on the dotted line, fold in half hotdog style (that’s for all the teachers out there), and fold in half two more times.

Flip the folds around as needed when you want to pick a new phrase for your desk. I hope you enjoy this little gift. If you want to share it with someone else, please direct them here so they can download their own copy.

Have a great day!