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 »  Articles Overview  »  Business of Translation and Interpreting  »  Self-management for freelance translators

Self-management for freelance translators

By Nicole Y. Adams, M.A. | Published  03/22/2012 | Business of Translation and Interpreting | Recommendation:
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When everything happens at once

Sometimes everything just happens at once. The phone is ringing non-stop all day long, your email inbox keeps pinging – one could almost think everyone ganged up on you and decided to keep you on your toes today. But most importantly, as a freelance translator, your actual workload can vary quite a bit from week to week or even from day to day. There is nothing for ages and then a flurry of orders. Or, out of nowhere, there are burning issues every way you look, and – like a superhero – you need to deal with a plethora of ultra-urgent orders, preferably all at the same time.

Of course, there are times when you just have to grit your teeth and get on with it. You may say to yourself, 'Things will be absolutely chaotic until X date, so I’ll work like a trouper now and give it 110% until then.'
If you are lucky enough to be able to master such exceptional situations, they usually make you feel great as well: you deliver top results and get to write a pile of invoices at the end – the icing on the cake!

But things aren't always that simple. Because what if you are already quite tense or stressed out, and this constant asking for “more, more" and "faster, faster" is putting you under immense pressure?

Or if one of your children gets sick or you’re not feeling all that well yourself? What if there is an emergency in your family or circle of friends? Technology, i.e. your PC or your new CAT tool, doesn’t work as it should and demands your full attention? Perhaps you are plagued by angst?

Being self-employed, we will normally have to cope with these obstacles alone. Sometimes this means making smart choices and not putting ourselves under too much pressure by trying to manage everything with the same ease as previously, just under an increased time pressure.

If you find yourself in that situation, it’s time to reorganise! Consider the following steps:

1) Check your existing deadlines with clients

A deadline is the date by which the work really must be done. The more you have on your plate and the more urgent certain projects are, the more it is worth it to assess what really has to be done and where there’s still some room to manoeuvre.
Personally, I like to follow the “What's done is done” principle and usually take care of orders as promptly as possible. But that’s my personal preference; not all assignments need to be done in a hurry.

Even deadlines that were previously agreed upon with the client are usually not set in stone and can therefore still change. Sometimes you know that the client doesn’t really need the document back as urgently as is made out, especially if the client is an agency. If you have a good relationship with your clients, you may want to explain to them that you are currently swamped with work and simply ask them whether Assignment X can wait until Thursday rather than Tuesday. In most cases, ‘urgent’ orders aren’t quite so urgent after all.

The same applies to your own projects that you've been meaning to take care of, e.g. write that business plan, launch that marketing campaign, read that book everyone has recommended, etc. These don't usually have to be done while you're already juggling five other projects for clients. But please make sure that you don’t constantly put things that would boost your business on the backburner. If you do this, you’re running the risk of impeding your business in the long run.

2) Time to close up shop

Think: Where does all the extra work come from? What could you change for things to slow down? For example, if you’ve been snowed under since the start of the month, you may want to decide to take an unusual step: don't accept any new orders for the rest of the month. Many of us are usually reluctant to do this, and it is often seen as a last resort, especially as many clients are seem to be in a hurry, but in times like these there is really no other option.

Therefore, it pays to be smart: Be realistic and evaluate exactly how much you can handle during peak times. It may be necessary to stop accepting new orders for a certain period of time. If you have good relationships with your clients, and that includes agencies, you will most definitely not lose them just because you’re not available for a week or two. Your clients are also familiar with such hectic times, and most deadlines can be moved if need be. If a client really wants to work with you as their preferred translator, they will often wait until you're available.

Another option might, of course, be to cut back on personal hobbies and leisure time. But please make sure you don’t let your quality of life suffer and certainly schedule some time for rest and relaxation, even (and especially) during busy periods.
Naturally, we all cancel personal lunch meetings or coffee breaks sometimes – that just comes with the territory of being self-employed. Even if you're a diehard workaholic who can’t enjoy a gym session or lunch with a friend if you know work is piling up on your desk, just try to take things back a notch and shift down a gear, rather than not doing something at all that you know is good for you.

3) Cut back on anything less important

Listen up, perfectionists! If you’re smart, you'll cut back on something when too much work suddenly comes in at the same time.

Some of us may write a blog or be very active on social networks, for example. But these types of activities mustn’t interfere with your work and should be lower in priority while things are busy. So instead of putting yourself under pressure to achieve your regular output on all levels, simply stop blogging for a period of time or turn off your smartphone. Prioritising also means redistributing your time and energy as needed.

4) Accept help

We don’t always have someone we can ask for help. If you don’t have anyone to help you share your workload (e.g. a local colleague you trust) and outsourcing is not a path you want to go down, think a little further: What activities, including personal ones, you can delegate to someone else entirely? Sometimes it’s the little things that help. For example, the help of others allows you to focus on the tasks at hand without any interruptions. Perhaps a friend or relative could do the weekly shopping, pick up your child from school or take the dog for a walk? Perhaps your spouse or significant other can get that printer cartridge on the way back from work and post your certified translation to the client in their lunch break?
What about your own commitments? Are you a volunteer or serve on a committee? If push comes to shove, someone else can take over your ‘duties’ for a while. You will find that people usually are very understanding in such situations, especially if they're also self-employed.

By the way, a simple, yet very effective approach is to have the courage to simply mute your phone or keep your email programme closed for a few hours. Because if we are able really focus on one task, we get it done so much faster.

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