Translating and Working Around an Executive Function Disorder
Thread poster: Meghan Hirsh

Meghan Hirsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:53
Member (Jun 2018)
Japanese to English
Jul 28

Hi Everyone,

I have recently completed a Master's program in Japanese Translation and have, against the odds, achieved my dream job, at least, part-time. While I was still in school, however, the boundaries of an executive function disorder I was diagnosed with as a child became more apparant with the increased workload and varying schedules. Please feel free to reference the Wikipedia page about executive function disorders if you are unfamiliar.

I have Attention Deficit Disorder and, long story short, I cannot work at night once my medicine, which I take in the morning, wears off. I am able to sustain longer and more periods of focus without breaks if I am interested in what I am translating (i.e., if I'm "having fun" or working in a genre I am especially skilled at) and can work into the evening (until 9:00 PM-ish) without losing quality of work.

I am running into, however, agencies in far-away time zones that seem to expect freelancers to work overnight to meet their deadlines. My professors also mentioned sometimes working late into the night, but me trying to translate at 11 PM would be like translating drunk AND distracted.

I am comfortable potentially disclosing my disability to employers under certain circumstances is absolutely necessary, as it can affect my abilities to do other translation-related work such as interpreting and transcribing to the extent that I do not offer those services, but I am worried that by informing far-away agencies that I cannot, in fact, work until 2 AM for them, without a detailed explanation, that I will sound incapable, lazy, or unmotivated. Further complicating things, executive function disorders and ADD are not terribly well-known in some parts of the world and people like myself are sometimes regarded on the same level as the mentally-ill, mentally-handicapped, or, again, lazy bums.

Does anyone have any tips for explaining work boundaries (such as, I cannot work at night. Ever.) in a way that is both clear and firm without sounding like I am not committed to this profession?


 

The Misha
Local time: 04:53
Russian to English
+ ...
You do not owe anyone any explanations. Period. Jul 28

You are a freelancer (or so it appears from the way you describe things) - which means you are a business in its own right and get to make your own decisions as to when, how, how long/late and who with you want to work. If some of your clients are not happy with this, find other clients. There's plenty of fish in the sea. That's all there is to it.

Sorry to hear about your predicament. Good luck to you.


Germaine
 

Amel Abdullah  Identity Verified
Jordan
Arabic to English
+ ...
It's okay to set limits! Jul 28

Hi Meghan,

I don't think reasonable agencies and clients have any expectations that their translators will burn the midnight oil for them. Usually what happens is that the client will provide you with a certain number of words to translate. All they really care about is receiving the work by the deadline. How you manage is totally up to you. For your own sake, however, you may wish to avoid "rush" projects with tight deadlines that push the limits of what you can achieve during the day. Negotiate and schedule your deadlines so that you are never in the position of promising more than you can deliver.

Personally, my reasons are different than yours, but I do everything possible to avoid working at night. If anyone ever asked me to work later than usual, I would simply tell them that I maintain normal business hours for my time-zone. End of story (unless I actually wanted the job, which does occasionally happen). I made an exception a couple of weeks ago for a client who had misstated a project's deadline and suddenly found out that he needed the document right away.

You don't have to provide justifications for your business decisions or discuss private health matters at all. In fact, I would discourage you from doing so. Just be very businesslike when explaining what you can do. "It's already late in my location, but I can have this ready for you by 12 noon. Would that work for you?" I make statements like this all the time without any problem. If you're getting too many "rush" requests or find yourself dealing with pushy PMs, then you are probably dealing with the wrong type of agency and should look for clients who are more accommodating.

Finally, congratulations for all of your achievements. It sounds like you are already on the path to a successful career!

[Edited at 2018-07-28 06:27 GMT]


Agneta Pallinder
Josephine Cassar
Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Thomas T. Frost
Caroline Rösler
Hedwig Spitzer Cáceres
Nikki Scott-Despaigne
 

Terry Richards
France
Local time: 10:53
French to English
+ ...
The way to say it. Jul 28

Firstly, the customer is not dealing with a person, they are dealing with a business. They don't care about your medical issues (or any other issues you may have), they just want their job done.

Secondly, never say just "no", always offer an alternative.

Thirdly, deadlines are often arbitrary and often are either simply made up or contain a safety margin. Under the right circumstances, they can be more flexible than you might think. Of course, this only applies to the negotiating phase, once you have agreed to a deadline it is no longer flexible.

Combining these three: "I'm sorry but I am very busy at the moment. I can't do it tonight but I could squeeze it in tomorrow if that would help."

Note that you have completely changed the emphasis here. You have hinted that you are a good translator (because you are so busy) and you have offered to do them a favor (squeezing the job in). The customer now has a choice, they can keep looking for another translator who is an unknown quantity and that they may or may not find or they can stretch the deadline a bit and have the job done by a translator that seems to be good, is willing to help them out and that they already have available. Which one would you pick?


 

Agneta Pallinder  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:53
Member (2014)
Swedish to English
+ ...
You are in charge! Jul 28

Hi Meghan,

Understandably you focus on your own limitations - EFD, ADD, whatever. But very many freelancers work on this basis just because of limitations of various kinds - in my own case: age, living in a rural area, family commitments, animals to look after etc. Nobody's business but my own.

As a freelancer I can manage my workload - a.k.a. learning to say "no" or "yes, but not until tomorrow" - but I don't need to explain to the client what my reasons are. "Sorry, terribly busy right now, but I could do it for [insert later date]" often works as a negotiation starter. Sometimes you don't get that particular job, but then the next one will come along, perhaps at a better time.

Good luck!

Agneta


Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Thomas T. Frost
Hedwig Spitzer Cáceres
Sandra Peña de Ortiz
 

Josephine Cassar  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:53
Member (2012)
Italian to English
+ ...
Agree with Amel Jul 28

First of all, I agree with all Amel posted. Then, even if I do not have the condition you mention, I do set my own limits - take breaks during the day, take breaks during the year, go out, do some sport activities, enjoy myself, my family etc, take certain hours of rest (like you, I cannot work during the night or for long periods but I do not have to justify this to anyone at all. I know there are certain people who work better during night hours but I am not one of them-that's up to me only.
I do not know what rates you charge or what are the going rates in your language pairs but maybe you can add that something more when you occasionally accept work that needs to stretch into the night. Maybe your rates are low so agencies turn to you and you accept without any negotiations -I am not saying you are not good here, don't misunderstand! In other words, do not let them walk all over you but make them see things from your side, otherwise they are not going to be aware and will return or recommend you to others and point out that you accept such hours; if you do not tell them but accept, they will naturally return once you do a good job and you keep accepting those hours Be polite but FIRM. Explain to the agency, as Amel said, that in your time-zone, it is already night. You need your breaks so you do not develop other medical conditions - Repetitive Strain Injury for instance. Congrats on your achievements too.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 09:53
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I've eorked once until 3 am, in over 10 years Jul 28

I do a big job every year which is always very intense. One year something went very wrong their end (they didn't share what) and I waited and waited, and ended up starting work at 5.00 pm and delivering at about 3.00 am. That was the first time, and the last! I did it because it was my best client, but they know I won't do it again. The job is on at the moment, and I've started at 6.30 one morning, and worked until 7.00 pm one evening. Those are my limits now.

You're a business partner, contracted to return a piece of work by a particular deadline. You choose your own working hours, and you choose which jobs to accept and which to reject. Your reasons for those choices are no business of the client. If you develop a close relationship with a long-standing client then you may want to reveal your personal circumstances, but I don't advise it with new clients or big, impersonal ones. Clients have no interest in our illnesses, sick kids, ailing parents, poor internet connection, power cuts, etc. They just want their translation back on time! If you can't guarantee that, don't take the job.


Thomas T. Frost
Hedwig Spitzer Cáceres
Sandra Peña de Ortiz
 

Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:53
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Don't dissemble: it is what it is Jul 28

Meghan Hirsh wrote:
Does anyone have any tips for explaining work boundaries (such as, I cannot work at night. Ever.) in a way that is both clear and firm without sounding like I am not committed to this profession?

As Sheila says, just work round it without disclosing it. If a client pushes, you could, if you so wished, say something like the following.

"I have a condition for which I take medication that means that I cannot work late in the evening and through the night. It is not a matter of my personal choice, but a matter of medical necessity. This means that I cannot accept projects that require me to work through the night, such as rush jobs."

If the agency can't handle that, or insists that you work a certain set of hours, or that you be up and awake long after the normal working day in your country is over, you shouldn't be working with them.

[EDIT: By "Don't dissemble" I mean "Don't dissemble if you choose to reveal it to others", but better by far to just organise yourself so that it is not an issue.]

More prosaically, it should not affect you too much. I have a number of clients in Japan, so deadlines tend to be at 09:00 JST, which is midnight or 01:00 in the UK, depending on the time of year, or sometimes midday JST, which is 03:00 or 04:00 in the UK. That doesn't mean I have to stay up to midnight or 01:00. All it means is that I have to finish and submit the project before going to bed! I can submit it long before if I so wish - clients are always happy to get early submissions.

What you need to be very careful about is over-committing yourself. I have occasionally done that (not deliberately, I hasten to add) and, because it would be unfair for the client to suffer for a mistake of my own making, I have had to work through into the early hours of the morning to ensure that everything gets done.

You don't have that to fall back on, so, if you mess up your scheduling, you will not be able to retrieve the situation by working late and the client will assume you are unreliable. No explanations will help in such a situation: they will only sound like excuses.

It is therefore imperative that you develop a good grasp of your daily capacity, and that you track very carefully how much of that capacity you have already committed. If you do that you should be fine.

Dan





[Edited at 2018-07-28 14:13 GMT]


Kay-Viktor Stegemann
 

Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:53
French to English
Suggestions Jul 28

Firstly, well done in managing to obtain your qualifications. I've studied ADD and worked with people who have to cope with it. Your motivation must have been phenomenal, so congratulations.

When you are starting out in business, you tend to accept almost all offers of work. By "all", I also mean "any". It's generally a mistake to do so as once you do, a client will think you are always happy to do so. Setting yourself limits and educating your client to consider you as a human being and not a machine is a good idea. As a rule, it means you gain respect. Bear this in mind: if you were to work through the night, you would not be able to work the following day anyway, so just stick to working when you can. Keep professional working hours that you can cope with. If you are worried about not obtaining a contract, or about losing a client, then remember you want clients, not slave drivers. If the client explains that is urgent, reply that you are not able to do it overnight, but that you are able to do it the following day. That's something to remember generally, anyway. You will find that clients often say their work is "urgent" but you will learn that "urgent" means different things to different people. Rather than a straight "no, I can't", try the same tactic as above : "I'm not available now, but I am available (whenever)". It often works out to be fine.

You don't have to provide explanations or present excuses to your clients for not being available in the evening and/or overnight. It's your private life and your business.

[Edited at 2018-07-28 14:51 GMT]


Sandra Peña de Ortiz
Kevin Fulton
Germaine
 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 16:53
Chinese to English
You don't have to explain Jul 29

One of the benefits of working for yourself is that you are under no obligation to explain yourself to anyone. A simple, "I don't accept jobs that requires me to work in the night" is fine. Agencies have no reason to question you, and if they do, they're probably not the kind of agencies you want to work with.

One advantage of your pair is that you can do "overnight jobs" for customers in Japan during the day.

That said...

It's not a very attractive feature of our profession, but there are some people who do work all hours of the day. You won't be able to compete with them. So make sure that you offer other qualities: reliability, quality, passion for the work. It sounds like you've got them, so play to those strengths.

And finally, if you can, why not go for a 9-5 job? There aren't many, but they are out there, and it sounds like that sort of orderliness might suit you. That might mean brushing up on project management skills, because in-house translators are often PMs as well.


 


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