TIME MANAGEMENT FOR TRANSLATORS

by Claire Harmer

For translators, time management can be a difficult task, particularly when we have large projects on the go. A few weeks ago I delivered a large (20,000 word) translation which left me feeling overwhelmed and overworked, so I decided to do some research on time management for translators. I’m hoping that I can use this research to implement some rules for myself and learn to manage my time better in the future.

One particularly helpful resource I came across was one of Tess Whitty’s Marketing Tips for Translators podcasts: ‘Simple time management tips for translators’, in which she interviews David Rumsey of North Country Translations. You can listen to the podcast at bit.ly/1duIlef.

Some things I learned about time management while I was researching:

Smart phone tips

For most of us, our smart phones mean we can respond to queries or project enquiries when we’re out of the office, which is great, but it also means that clients can contact you at any time of the day or night! If you work with clients across several time zones, this can be particularly difficult as some may assume that you have read their message even if there is a nine or ten hour time difference.

  • I normally leave my phone on silent when I’m working so I don’t get distracted by instant messages, texts and phone calls… basically anything that’s not translation-related.
  • I tend to leave my email open while I work so that I can see when a new message comes in. However, I’m thinking about changing this and only checking it on the hour or every 2 hours instead. This means I won’t be as responsive, but I believe it will be more conducive to work. Does anyone else manage their email in a similar way?

Business hours

In Tess’s podcast, David Rumsey explains that many translators don’t feel like they can stick to pre-fixed business hours because they’re worried that if they don’t respond to every single email, LinkedIn request, Skype message, etc., that people will go elsewhere and they will therefore lose clients. He maintains that it’s important to set out what it is you want to achieve and how you want to work, and stick to this.

I completely agree with this and often wonder ‘how are my clients going to respect my working hours if I don’t respect them myself?!’

Further to David’s suggestion, I’m thinking about telling my clients that I’m trying to stick as closely as possible to my scheduled work hours, as well as setting an out of office auto-responder for non-work hours (i.e. any time that’s not 9am-6pm).

Does anyone do this already? Has this change been well-received by your clients?

Inundated with emails?

If you open your email after the weekend and have tens (or even hundreds!) of emails waiting for you, it can take hours to sort through them, which can prevent you from getting your actual paid work done!

Here are some key things you can do to reduce so-called ‘email stress’:

  • Create subfolders in your inbox and sort your emails into these folders so there’s not a long list of them staring at you! You can programme most email applications to do this for you automatically, which I only found out recently. If you use Gmail, this link shows you how to use messages to create filters: bit.ly/1rMougX
  • Send short, concise messages. If your email message is longer than 2 paragraphs long, perhaps it would be easier and less time-consuming to call the person instead? A phone call might even be more effective, as many people don’t read lengthy emails anyway (and if they do, they often skim read them)!
  • ‘If you want to receive less email, send less email’. David mentions that we should think about who the message really needs to go to before we send it. Don’t copy people in to emails unless they really need to be copied in, because you’ll probably get responses from everyone, which means more messages for you to read!
  • Create email templates for responses you end up writing a lot, for example you could have a ‘thank you for your enquiry, I am currently booked up until [insert date]’ template, or a template for responding to questions about rates, Trados discounts, etc.
  • Unsubscribe from emails you never read. I have subscribed to a huge number of websites over the years, so this week I’m planning to get to grips with the email management tool Unroll.me and assess which ones I still want to hear from. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Planning your work for the week

This tip is from David via Tess’s podcast and I’m going to do my best to implement it in my own work schedule!

Take time out, whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour at the start of the week, to create a to-do list, and organise it into the following categories:

  • things you have to accomplish this week,
  • things you want to accomplish this week,
  • and things you would like to accomplish this week.

Focus on the have to list first, and don’t move on to the want to list or would like to list until the first list has been completed. If you stick to this system, you can free yourself of the biggest tasks first, leaving less urgent and therefore less stressful tasks for later. Try to keep the have to list to a minimum: it needs to be achievable and not overwhelming!

Procrastinating

  • If you take on work that you actually enjoy doing, you’ll procrastinate less. So if you like working in a particular area or for a particular client, seek that kind of work out, rather than taking on everything that lands in your inbox.
  • Identify what time of the day you’re most productive and schedule your work accordingly. Some people are early birds and some are night owls. I’m still trying to figure out which one I am… it seems to vary depending on the weather!
  • The following idea was mentioned during Marta Stelmaszak’s Business School for Translators, and is particularly good for when random things pop into my head when I’m working and I think ‘oh yes, I need to do that!’ but the actual task isn’t work-related. Whenever something like this tries to invade my translation space, I jot it down on a post it and put it in a box in the far corner of my desk. That way it’s out of sight so it doesn’t distract me from my work, and the worry of forgetting about it altogether goes away. I check the box at the end of the week if I have time and go through everything. Before using this method I honestly used to spend about an hour a day procrastinating on these tiny things. Thanks for the tip, Marta!

Some apps that might help

Pomodoro – Sandra, a fellow blogger at The Deep End, introduced me to this tool and it has been a huge help, particularly when I’m working on large translation projects. It breaks your work time into manageable 25-minute chunks and ensures that you take regular 5-minute breaks after each one, followed by a longer 20-minute break after you’ve completed four 25-minute chunks. You can buy the timer or invest in a Pomodoro course at the official website, but so far I’ve just used one of the free online versions.

Wunderlist – Personally, I prefer a good old-fashioned paper list, but Wunderlist is great for people who love apps and have various different to-do lists.

Toggl – A useful tool for recording how much time you spend on different tasks.

Trello – Helps you to manage projects easily. For each project you can create tasks and sort these into categories: ‘ideas’, ‘to do’, ‘doing’ and ‘done’!

What about you? Can you recommend any time management techniques that have helped you to become more productive? If you have any, please share them in the comments section below to help us all avoid ending up like this…

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11 thoughts on “TIME MANAGEMENT FOR TRANSLATORS

  1. Claire Harmer says:

    Thanks, Christelle! Your book recommendation sounds really good – I might have to look into that:). Is it about the theory behind productivity or is it more practical? I struggle with theory at times!

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  2. Catharine Cellier-Smart (Smart Translate) says:

    I only manage my e-mail on my smartphone when I’m out of the office. On my desktop computer e-mail is set to refresh every 15 minutes and if I particularly don’t want to be disturbed I either close the programme or configure it that so that the number of unread e-mails doesn’t show and thereby doesn’t distract me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Claire Harmer says:

      That’s a good idea, Catharine! I agree, when the number of unread emails shows up it can be really distracting and always makes me feel like I should stop working and answer them, but obviously it’s more important to keep focused on the translation at hand – there are enough distractions as it is:)!

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  3. Belinda Allen says:

    Very helpful post, thanks!
    Something I’ve found really helpful for screening emails: I’ve set my smartphone to ping loudly when an email comes in from any of my regular clients, so I check it straight away and don’t miss out on any offers of work. Emails from anyone else are set to silent, so they don’t distract me while I’m working.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Claire Harmer says:

      Thanks, Belinda, I’m glad you liked it! I didn’t know you could actually set your phone to alert you in different ways when different people email you. Can you do that on all smartphones? I’ll have to look into it as it would be really useful for me too, as well as for lots of translators I’m sure!

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  4. Nathalie Reis says:

    A great post, Claire. I sometimes use the Pomodoro technique and it is very efficient if you have trouble concentrating.
    I also use OneNote on my PC and my smartphone. So if I am out and about and think about something I need to do/should investigate etc. I make a note of it on my phone and it syncs on my PC.
    I quite like the priority list you mention (have to do, want to do and would like to do).
    Thanks for sharing your tips.

    Like

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