Time Management and the Art of Saying No
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As a freelance translator, time management is often an issue because you are faced with the daunting prospect of having to say ‘no’ to an important client whilst working on a document for another important client, and you do not want to compromise your relationship with either one! Indeed, it becomes a psychological struggle: if you take on the extra work, you run the risk of compromising, not only the relationship with both your clients, but also the quality of the work that you are submitting! On the other hand, it is the dilemma of saying ‘no’, in full awareness that you may not hear from that client again.
You actually have to reach the extent of being mature enough to say no, without all the attendant feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth which accompany such an act. It is not an easy process, but I discovered that the best way is to be completely honest with your client and tell them you are busy with another assignment. Once that assignment is done, it is wise, though, to write back to the client and tell them that you are now available for new assignments. Your honesty is appreciated much more than your dishonesty, in that you have accepted an assignment which you know you can not perform properly because you are so swamped. Indeed, I have found that once I have established a good relationship with a client, and I advise them that I am extremely busy and am only available as of such and such a date, they will actually contact me and tell me that they have extended the deadline to accommodate me. In this way, your reputation remains intact and the quality of your work remains consistent, which is an important factor in building and maintaining relationships with clients.
Another difficulty with regard to time management is related to accepting assignments without any regard to the time frame involved. It is therefore important to calculate how many words you can translate in a day in order to accept assignments with deadlines in which you can perform the task properly. It is better to err on the side of caution here – for instance, if you know that you can flat out translate 5000 words a day, but this needs considerable editing and proofreading which will take another day or two, then it is not wise to tell the client that you can translate this volume. Rather, you should advise a client of how much you can translate in a day, taking into account the volume which you can translate, proofread, edit (and do the appropriate research on, as necessary) and submit as if it were due that very day, with a clear conscience and in the full knowledge that you have done this job to the best of your ability.
Some translators have tried the angle of subcontracting their work to others, but have found that this does not work well for them, simply because they can not attest to the reliability of this system and the quality of the work that the other translator is going to produce. In any case, at the end of the day you are ultimately responsible for that assignment, and if there are any comebacks from the client, it will all fall on your head. Furthermore, if you have signed a confidentiality agreement with the client, it is not fair on that client for you to ask somebody else to take on that assignment, because you are the one that is bound by that agreement. Indeed, you run the risk of compromising that relationship because the other person may even directly contact your client, who will not appreciate you outsourcing work which has been entrusted to you! However, if you do have colleagues who you feel you can trust, it is a good idea to advise the client in advance that you would need to outsource the work.
So, in order to be successful in this line of business and not suffer from burnout, this is my advice:
1. Set your off-days – you can not burn the candle at both ends and expect to consistently deliver good work to your clients. Your body will appreciate it, your family will appreciate it, and most certainly the quality of your resting times will be reflected in the quality of the work you produce.
2. Be honest, learn to say no – you will be more appreciated for your honesty than your lack of consistency!
3. Calculate your daily translation output – this helps you to know exactly how much you can take on at any given time. I reiterate that it is best to tell the client that you can translate less, rather than more words a day – you will pleasantly surprise them if you return the translation assignment well before the deadline, and it is done to your best standard!
4. Feel no guilt – the client has several translators on their database anyway, and it is actually good for them to know that your services are in demand!
In conclusion, time management in freelance translation work is all about building and maintaining relationships, and relationships are not built on the speed of delivery, but rather, on consistency, honesty, good quality work and a high level of integrity.