Translator Productivity – Why haven’t you taken care of this yet?

translator's productivity - a man sleeping

What is your Translator Productivity IQ?

Let’s talk a bit about translator productivity, organisation and quality of life.

You have a small translation job that, from your experience, should not take more than 2 hours, with a 5 day deadline. When would you start the project?

I’ll start right away unless….

If your answer is: “Right away. However, I will stop whenever there is a message notification on Facebook or I get a text message. After all, there is still plenty of time OR I know the subject by heart. Anyway, I have no reason to worry.”

If this is your answer. You’re not alone.

Got plenty of time, right?

If your answer was: “On the morning of the deadline, I open the file and start translating. I do not want to deliver the project to the customer too soon in advance. Translation is not like Domino Pizza. The customer will not value my work if I deliver too fast. And they’ll think it was too easy to do.”

Well, you’d be surprised to know that many translators and other freelancers think just like that. Again, you’re not alone. Anyway, keep reading, it’s getting interesting.

I’ll Start Translating Immediately and Deliver ASAP

You answered that you would start the translation immediately and deliver the very same day? Then you are part of a very disciplined minority. Yet, even though you are in that category, keep on reading – I have some tips for you too.

Why do we procrastinate? You know you have something to do. You know you have a deadline. You have a rough idea of ​​how long the translation project will take. Yet, you’ll assume a casual attitude. You’re calm. “It’s all right, I have everything under control”. And the reason for this is simple: you do not have an organised routine and you often lose focus.

Having an Organised Routine Is Crucial

As a matter of fact, having an organised routine is crucial so that you are in control not only of your work, but of your time. I know, I know. You already knew that.

The problem is to put the organisation into practice, to get used to having a calendar (and to use it!). To have a strategy in place so as to set priorities and even to decide what does not need your attention and should be left behind. Because yes, there are things you can stop doing, which will not have a negative impact on your life.

During my 25+ year as a freelance translator, I had to learn how to organise myself in order to respond to my customers’ requests, the inherent needs of our work, how to prospect new clients, keep up to date and, above all, pay attention to friends and family.

Yet, I admit it is not easy to organise and keep my focus, but it is less difficult than you can imagine.

Getting organised is a learning process

Something very important that you need to know: no one gets organised from day one, or by just reading about it or just taking a course. Organisation is learning and building habits. It is a slow process, but always subject to improvement. The definition I like best, taken from some of the many books and articles I have read, is: organisation is a process of reduction and selection. You reduce the number of events that really need your attention and select the ones that should get your attention first. There are many tools to help you with this process. Here are some tips for anyone who wants to start getting organised. Simple but very efficient tips.

Find Out Where Your Time’s Wasting

The first is: find out what you spend your time on. You will certainly be surprised to find that you waste a lot of your time in front of your computer with things that are not part of your work routine. You can do this with paper and pen or install some software that captures which programmes, websites and other activities are performed on the computer and for how long. If you use Mac, my suggestion is timing. For PC, Toggl is a good option. Install one of these tools on your computer and use it for a week. You will probably find that social networks, messengers, and emails are the most time-consuming villains that steal time from professional freelancers. You may be thinking: but I need to “take some time off a little” to be more productive, have an escape valve… The problem is that this valve needs to be well regulated and should only be open at the right times. In my case, the ideal is when this valve is somewhere else, away from my computer. A walk, a conversation with some friends, a series on TV. Anything that makes you get up from your chair and move around can improve not only your translator productivity but also your health.

Set Your Priorities Right

The second tip is about setting priorities. One of the most basic and practical tools for those who want to organise themselves is the Eisenhower Matrix. Credited to the general and former US President Dwight Eisenhower, who needed to make quick decisions during World War II, this tool will help you define where to put your efforts, what to delegate, what to schedule and what not to do next. Click on the previous link to find out how to use this tool or start organising your work day.

Set Up a Workflow

Another way to organise yourself is to develop workflows. Document the sequence of steps you perform to work efficiently in a list. Even for those jobs you’re doing with your eyes closed, writing a workflow can help you realise where you are wasting time and what could improve. In addition, you may also find out an opportunity to automate something in your process. Don’t forget: your computer should work for you, not the other way around.

Get Some Sleep for Crying out loud

A very important tip I ignored for a long time: sleep well. It is almost impossible to stay focused and be organised if you do not give your brain the rest it needs. Develop a routine to relax and recuperate for the next day. Always sleeping at the same time makes your body better prepared and makes it easier to go to sleep. What I did when I started to implement this routine was, I used the alarm clock in reverse: I would set up my phone to trigger an alarm at 10:30 p.m. As soon as the alarm would trigger, I was getting ready to go to sleep. It did not take long for this to become my routine. Of course, as they say out there: there’s an app for that! And you can use them to monitor and better understand your sleep. I currently use Sleep as Android, which offers 14 days of free trial.

To conclude, 3 quick tips for you:

  • Emails are very important, but they can also consume a lot of your time. To stay focused, turn off notifications and set a specific time to deal with them. As for emails that you need to respond to quickly, create notifications using filters.
  • If you Gmail, learn how to use filters.
  • Find what kind of music improves your translator productivity. I use Focus@will, which uses neuroscience and really works for me.

In conclusion, there are many tools and methods that promise to improve your productivity and organisation. There is no one method that works for everyone and you may find that one works well for you while another does not The ideal is to test and find out what works for you.

After all, organisation and productivity are a personal thing.

A day in the life of a translator – Of course, I am in control

Plan Your translation project if you don't want to end up in the loony bin

Recent experiences as a translator have led me to reassess my performance in terms of productivity when faced with long translation projects. I noticed that I like to dive straight into every new translating project and, like the vast majority of what I do, I go hard at it for the most part of 3 or 4 days. My productivity is then very high. But on any project that extends more than 2 or 3 weeks, I start to get bored or interested in other activities.

Facing the problem of a big translation project

I’ve translated a few long documents recently and invariably my productivity is sky high in the first 3 or 4 days, while I get the impression that I’m going to end well before the deadline.

So I relax, start accepting other smaller translation projects. Suddenly, I’m into low productivity until finally realising that with the remaining time, it seems like it will be almost impossible for me to complete everything.

Luckily, I panic about delaying the delivery of the translation, so this always saves me.

So in a matter of two weeks, I output everything I have not produced in two months.

Happy ending, but I finish exhausted.

After some 4 or 5 recent experiences like this, I spent a year fulfilling my promise to myself that I would not face long projects any longer.

Until a good customer of mine offered me an interesting project, and then I needed to rethink my productivity and the way I work my translation projects.

Planning your translation project

And this is what works for me:

What I recommend for anyone who has ever seen panic weekends is: be pessimistic. Just because you produced 5,000 words on a great day does not mean you can keep that average for a month. I always do my best to negotiate comfortable deadlines, and in the case of my last big translation project, the secret was to establish and meet a relatively low average, which I could accomplish in half a day’s work, but with constancy. Even though I spent almost two weeks in the project, every day, I would open a worksheet I created and mark another business day, monitoring the average number of words that I would have to output, which was still viable without ending up being committing to the Loony Bin.

If necessary, weekends can be used to increase the average without increasing a working day.

Also, don’t forget that it takes time to review your work. I like to review slowly, not everything at once in the end. You can choose to review on the weekends or just at the end of the project. In this case, I suggest that you calculate a smaller number of business days for the translation, leaving a certain number of days for review only.

In short: plan yourself well and try to be consistent. Leave the adrenaline to the amusement park.