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.

A Translator’s Life: The Edge of Reason

procrastinating with facebook

Motivation vs. Procrastination in the Life of a Translator

In recent months, many things that I have done and seen have made me think on productivity. What motivates and what hinders our work routine, and how all this reflects in our image and our professional success as translators. Today, I will gather some thoughts and information on this.

From translating an inspirational book

Recently, I completed the translation of a booklet about self-help for a customer, which had a great impact on me (Cannot give you its title at this stage as it is waiting for publication).

I loved doing this translation, with which I also learned a lot.

Small, with tiny chapters, written in simple and direct language, permeated with illustrations, it is intended for businessmen or people who wish to start a business, or maybe not even that. Yet, this one is very different from any other kind of self-help business books out there. It demystifies many notions about business we hear. yet, always with a lot of common sense and almost excessive frankness. Virtually all the topics covered in the book can be applied to freelancers as well, especially to translators who have a business. I’ve found myself reflected in many chapters – or saw my past, my background, past jobs, colleagues. Even in typical day-to-day situations in an office, which have nothing to do with me, I saw relatives and friends there.

To Gaining Valuable Insights Into My Translation Business

There are valuable insights on preparing and launching new ventures, outreach, business concepts, use of technology, distance co-operation, competition, and much about productivity and motivation. I do not want to give away too much here, but a lot of things stuck with me. Not everything is new, but said in such an eloquent way, with great real examples. The text ends up reinforcing what people in the background already know, besides giving us some well-deserved slaps in the face. For example:

— Everything you do, say, write, every phone call, every invoice, every email – everything – is marketing.

— Being a workaholic, turning nights and weekends, sleeping little and eating badly, and still being proud of it, ultimately is being incompetent, disorganised, clumsy. Working a lot has nothing to do with working well.

— Having brilliant ideas or making big plans is no merit; What really makes the difference is in actually realising a succession of little good ideas every day.

— Current interaction tools have revalued writing – emails, text messages, websites, blogs. Communication should be efficient, clear, informative. Writing well is the fruit of the clarity and organisation of thoughts; therefore, when recruiting partners, give preference to those who write well.

— Want to be immune to competition? Make your product your own, something that only you can do, your way of being, something inimitable. Not just the result of your work, but the whole experience of working with you. (Another that applies even more to translators, as opposed to entrepreneurs from other areas.)

— To excel and have a differential, share and teach. The more people want to do what you do, the way you do, the more you establish yourself as a leader.

— Our great enemy is interruption. We only surrender when we can work for a while without any kind of interruption, so you have to schedule work periods like this.

— What drive productivity is motivation, and this is the result of many factors, including a favourable environment, attainable goals and small daily successes – more on this issue next.

— And much, much more.

How people procrastinate

More motivation to be a better translator

Also recently, I attended a convention for small entrepreneurs. I confess that at first I did not give it much credit – such a public thing, for free… What do I know, right? But it was exceptional. Great lectures, beginning with one of Google’s directors in Australia, and with many panels on digital media, marketing and business tools, etc. In a hall filled with computers, volunteers helped those who wanted to learn and open accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn and other networking sites. At the end of the day, I left full energy to improve my productivity, choose better customers, and make more productive partnerships.

And I cannot say why, but I have the impression that only this motivation, this desire to be effective, to reinforce the things that I clearly have been doing right and to correct what is not, already generates positive results. I think that just setting certain priorities or having clearer headings already translates into productivity – and effectiveness. And productivity translates into praise, better services, more money, more time to do what we like, and all this produces more motivation, of course.

Speaking of motivation, I discovered today, through a Twitter link, this beautifully illustrated lecture on the results of a research on motivation – what kind of reward yields good results, makes us win challenges. In a TED Talk, Dan Ariely does not say anything that we do not already know, but watching and reading him filled me with enthusiasm.

Professional Satisfaction as a Translator

I have seen dilemmas, debates and experiences about unattractive professional choices with huge monetary compensation versus choices that give more personal and professional satisfaction with little financial return. And increasingly I am an unconditional partisan of the second option. Because in the long run, a job that generates a good dose of motivation, which is a priority, that makes sense, inevitably generates financial return as well – and from a certain point, a higher financial return alone does not increase the motivation, quite the opposite.

There is also a crucial difference in the different positions I see in aspiring translators – for example, in the numerous emails I receive from beginners in translation asking for all kinds of opinions, advice or help.

Benefits of being a translator

There are people who, before even trying to translate something, soon show that they are anxious to know how much they will earn. It has to be a lot. It has to be now. In general, these same people want to know which areas are easy to get into, requires a small amount of customer service and guaranteed high salary. It is not uncommon to hear some well-publicised myths out there, such as those sworn translators who earn abysmal sums of money each month translating some nonsense driver’s licence.

Yes, of course! Gee, that must be why so many of my colleagues and my fellow sworn translators live on yachts, and only I have not realised that yet.

The Real Winners of the Translation Industry

The fact of the matter is that – almost always – those who have this type of concern when planning their career are not the ones who will spend half an hour immersed in dictionaries trying to get the perfect translation for an expression. Nor would they usually “waste time” studying in depth, or begin their translation career willing to translate for very little money in the beginning. It is not by chance that these “translators” are not the ones who tend to achieve the kind of professional success they were hoping to get.

Others want to perfect themselves. They want to study more, read more, do more exercises, want you to recommend other courses. There is a passion behind what they do, as well as the relentless pursuit of technical improvement – which is a lot duller and less exciting than the “passion for languages.” I often keep in touch with these people, and I am happy to see how successful they are in the profession. They are great colleagues. And the interesting thing is that they are often surprised, think they were lucky or do not think they work too much.

After 25 years of experience as a translator, now that I have a different perspective, the difference is very clear. People like that are a minority, yes, and they succeed because they have the motivation driven by the right priorities, which lead them to make no effort to improve. They embark on the profession aiming to be excellent professionals throughout their lives, not aiming for a cash-filled savings and early retirement. The difference between these values ​​is huge.

The Worst Enemy of the Translator

To conclude, let me talk about our worst enemy: procrastination. Who does not suffer from that throws me the first stone. We have to be connected all day, easy to be found by clients and colleagues, attentive. Emails need to be answered quickly. We need to be aware of the latest news and debates. Help someone to solve a problem on Facebook. Watching a photo album of our latest trip or someone laughing at a bad translation in a video on YouTube … 1h45 later, you wonder why you are still watching this new episode of the Game of thrones.

Not to mention that Monday morning, when you take a deep breath and open the directory of the next 35-page review of a text on IT, and suddenly that’s the ideal time to mow the lawn (Or update the blog…)

Sometimes, procrastination is more blatant. Sometimes, it is camouflaged as research or confused with coffee time. Anyway, if we’re honest, we all know that we don’t roll up our sleeves more than we should, that we often lose control over the time of rest. Then the blame hits and we work until 3 o’clock in the morning, we skip meals. And when we see it, we fall into the vicious cycle of inefficient workaholism, which can end up compromising quality.

Applying These Reflections to the World of Translation

It was just when I was thinking about these subjects that I came across this article, about the evolutionary, neurological and behavioural reasons behind procrastination, and why it seems to sabotage us in such effective ways. It brings some clues to cheating our own brains, or at least not letting ourselves be fooled. Another read is worth very much.

This text quotes Dan Ariely, a scholar of human behaviours associated with economics who has given excellent lectures in TED. On his site there are links to podcasts he has done on the various chapters. I still do not know how to relate all this to the universe of translation, but all this discussion has attracted me immensely and I feel it will still bring me something useful – even if it is good reflections and reading recommendations.

Now, to work!