Blog post dated Oct 25, 2018

Time Management

7 Tips for Freelance Translators

Are you a freelance translator? Do you often work more than eight hours a day? If so, the following story might sound familiar:

The alarm clock rings, and my mind is already fully occupied with the project I'm currently working on. You'd assume that a freelancer translator can work at his own whims and fancies, but that's a luxury I can seldom afford. When I get large projects, my working days are long and the nights are short. Right now, I just have two days left to translate 6,000 words of a complicated corporate charter. Plus, I still need to answer 12 e-mails, and four potential customers have requested quotations. One of my customers has a question concerning another project. When on earth am I supposed to do all of this? So I decide to do it right away and skip my breakfast break. Afterwards, I take a look at the translator forum. After all, I want to keep up with the market. At lunch, I quickly have a snack in front of the screen while researching terminology for the project. In the evening, I realize that I've been sitting in front of the computer for 11 hours. Actually, I had planned to enjoy a cocktail with a friend of mine, but perhaps I should postpone it or call it off.

An Article by

Flurina Schwendimann
Freelance Translator

To be the master of your time is both a blessing and a bane. Good time management is vital in order to avoid excessive stress.

To be the master of your time is both a blessing and a bane. Freelancers are often expected to be permanently online and available. Especially newcomers often struggle to find a good work routine, to get organized, and to make effective use of idle times. Good time management is vital in order to avoid excessive stress. In the long run, too much stress can have a negative impact on your social life and even on your health.

Though the above story might be a bit exaggerated, the challenge is real. Nowadays, we are often faced with time pressure and tight deadlines. Many of us spend most of their time in front of the computer screen—even during our valuable breaks. In the long run, this drives up our stress level and impairs our ability to concentrate. This can result in time-consuming errors that could have been avoided under normal circumstances.

The key to a productive working day with as little stress as possible is self-discipline and controlled, realistic timing. For many, this is familiar turf. The market offers numerous apps and programs to improve your self-management.

The problem is that some find it easier than others to stick to time schedules and to-do lists. Nevertheless, admitting a weakness represents the first step toward improvement. So be honest with yourself and analyze your own working behavior. You might be well organized, but are you perhaps unable to say no to additional jobs? Which activities were beneficial on a given day, and which ones could you have easily postponed? Do you waste your time with chores that you could easily delegate? Do you communicate efficiently and directly with your customers, or do you constantly run in circles? Ask yourself these and other questions and answer them honestly. In a second step, this will enable you to reduce or even eliminate areas that rob your time.

Of course, there is no universal solution. Everybody is different, and that's good. So your goal should be to find a way that works best for you. For example, some people are only able to work productively from noon. If this is true in your case, you can plan your daily routine accordingly. For instance, you can take care of your administrative work in the morning.

Below, we will present a number of tips that can help you to optimize your time management. If you have identified your time wasters in the previous step, you can adapt these tips to your personal needs.

There is no universal solution. Everybody is different, and that's good. Your goal is to find a way that works best for you.

Tip 1: Create Task Lists

Most probably you are already using to-do lists. No matter whether you create such lists on paper or electronically, be sure to use a uniform concept. The to-dos can be scheduled and prioritized. Generally, it is recommended to finish the most unpleasant and the most important work first, but you need to find out for yourself whether this works for you.

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Successful task management is possible in various ways:

  • The Eisenhower matrix: Tasks are prioritized by importance and urgency. Important tasks bring you closer to your goal, and urgent tasks have deadlines.
  • The ALPEN method: Each letter of the German acronym stands for a planning step: write down your tasks, estimate how long they will take, provide buffer time for unforeseen occurrences, prioritize, review.
  • The Pareto principle: This is also referred to as the 80:20 rule. Focus on priority tasks and avoid wasting time.
  • The Pomodoro technique: Work with time intervals and breaks. Set a timer to 25 minutes and work with full concentration, then take a five-minute break. Upon finishing a larger task, take a 15-minute break before you start with the next one.

Basically, all methods serve the same purpose: to accomplish more in less time.

Tip 2: Draw Up a Work Schedule

Plan your day. How much do you need to translate today? Which administrative tasks need to be done? How much time do you want to invest in self-marketing? It might be helpful to schedule only six of eight working hours in order to leave time for unexpected work. When planning your work, do not lose sight of your medium-term goals. What do you need to finish this week and this month? Try to plan important tasks in advance.

Schedule only six of eight working hours in order to leave time for unexpected work.

Tip 3: Use Templates

Templates can be created for almost everything. This saves time and nerves! Meanwhile, Word offers numerous templates for invoices, offers, and order confirmations. You can customize these or create your own ones. Alternatively, you can use dedicated invoicing software. This might be beneficial in order to keep track of multiple concurrent projects. Most programs also allow you to manage your customer master data. Though creating the templates will take some time initially, you will quickly gain this time back.

Tip 4: Make Use of Idle Time

Non-productive, idle time exists in every profession, e.g. when waiting for a customer confirmation or for an update to finish. You can use this time to finish little tasks. For instance, you can write e-mails, send invoices (see Tip 3), research terminology for the next project, and so on. However, do not forget to have a break once in a while in order to get recharged!

Tip 5: Dictate Your Translations

Without going into too much detail, we would like to draw your attention to this interesting subject area. In recent years, voice recognition software has become very good. Meanwhile, many translators have adopted this technology, which helps them save time and increase the translation output. As the software can be trained for the personal voice and special terminology, it is suitable even for highly specialized texts. As in the case of templates, some time is needed to customize the tool, but the investment usually pays within a very short time.

Tip 6: Reduce External Distractions

A home office is full of distractions, such as social media, TV, phone calls, or domestic chores. For example, my morning routine sometimes drags on because I spend too much time with social media. Such habits do not need to be a problem if you stick to a sound time schedule and do not neglect your work. However, there are programs that can block certain websites or apps during certain periods. Of course you could simply switch off the blocker, but the psychological barrier is higher.

There are programs that can block certain websites or apps during certain periods.

Tip 7: Learn to Say "No"

You might feel tempted to accept some additional jobs in order to boost your revenue. Following a period during which you receive few orders, this may be necessary in order to balance your income. However, you should always listen to your inner voice, as permanent stress will eventually harm your body and mind. Have you decided to go trekking on the weekend, but a customer urgently needs a translation? Perhaps the due date could be postponed by two days. If your customer does not agree, it might be better not to accept the job. Ultimately, having time for yourself, your family, and your friends is worth more!

Like a dietary change, the introduction of new working habits is a prolonged process that you can tune to your needs in order to achieve maximum success. It does not matter if you are unable or unwilling to apply all these tips right away. In time, you will learn how to identify, reduce, and avoid obstacles and problems at an early stage. Good time management will help you to work more efficiently and in a more structured manner. Combined with regular breaks, you can free your mind and gain new strength for the next activity.

We all have 24 hours a day. It's up to you how you will use them!

Of course, this short list does not cover all available tips for successful time management. What are your personal time management secrets? Please share your tips with us on Twitter.