Time Management in the World of Translation and Freelancers

Let us start this blog post with a linguistic question: is time management really a kind of ‘management’? The term ‘management’ can be paired with almost everything, and everything sounds better with ‘management’ added after it. In fact, it can be regarded as a science, or almost a science; at the very least some people teach it, others write books about it, while still others consider it unlearnable.

There are several time management methods that can be used in the translation world, but all of them should be taken with a grain of salt, seeing as the lives of freelancers, as well as those of translation office employees, differ greatly from that of other professionals. Let us examine a few popular methods!

1) The Pomodoro Technique:

Nowadays, one of the most popular time management techniques is the Pomodoro Technique, which works by dividing working days into half-hour periods, with 25-minute active, intensive work sessions and 5-minute resting periods. This method is mostly suitable for concentration-heavy intellectual work, as after half an hour our capacity for concentration is significantly reduced. During the active phase of a Pomodoro session, it is essential to eliminate all distractions: no emails, no phone calls or Skype chats, nor anything that can distract us from the primary task. Such actions or distractions should be put off until the next 5-minute break or until a longer break, given that after 3-4 Pomodoro periods we need a longer rest. Of course, it is not mandatory to organise our whole day in Pomodoro segments, but it is the best way to quickly progress with tasks which require concentration.

Its advantage for translators: during the 25-minute deep phases we can make good progress and during the 5-minute breaks we can perform administrative tasks or check our emails, etc.

Its disadvantage for translators: what if a translation lasts only 15 minutes or just needs 10 more minutes on top of the 25 to finish? What if we just have to hurry or have to work overnight because of a very tight deadline? In such cases it is advisable to handle our tasks flexibly.

2) The 2-Minute Rule

The 2-minute rule exists in many versions; its original version is basically divided into two parts. First of all, ‘if something can be done in two minutes, don’t put it off – do it now.’ The main philosophy of this rule is that if we continually procrastinate our minor, 2-minute tasks (like addressing an envelope, quickly replying to an email, scanning, etc.) and constantly push them into the background because of more important tasks, they can become an unbearable and unmanageable burden. Also, if a ‘2-minute’ task suddenly interrupts our work, it is not worth postponing it with the excuse that ‘I am in the middle of an important job’; the mere fact that we have taken note of this new 2-minute task has already interrupted that big job. The second part of the rule goes as follows: ‘if you can't find a way to start on a high-volume task or implement a new habit, but you can do the first step in two minutes – do it now.’ The basis of this philosophy is that it easier to continue things that we already started than to start something from scratch. For example, adopting a healthy lifestyle seems like an overwhelming, time and energy-consuming task – but eating an apple or doing ten squats takes only two minutes.

Its advantage for translators: like everybody else, translators also encounter 2-minute tasks quite often. The above method is very good for ‘overcoming’ them quickly.

Its disadvantage for translators: we cannot spend the whole day solving 2-minute tasks. If we have many such things to do, they need to be handled in blocks. Furthermore, as stated earlier, it is true that there are moments (often entire days) in the life of freelancers when there is no time at all for anything but the priority task: the translation project with the earliest deadline.

3) The Eisenhower Method

This method is based on dividing our actions into four categories: 1. Important and urgent (crying kid; broken computer); 2. Important but not urgent (long-term goals and plans, such as growing our company’s client base, self-realisation); 3. Not important but urgent (small tasks that interrupt our main activities, such as signing papers, making coffee, or the mandatory password change on an online interface); 4. Not important and not urgent (time wasters, such as reading our daily horoscope). The principle does not stop at this point: the essence of the method is to try to organise our lives in a way that we spend less time with the 1st, and especially the 3rd quadrant (see the table below), and leave more time for quadrant 2. The reason being too many of us make the mistake of taking away time from the important but not urgent tasks (number 2) in favour of urgent tasks, whether they are important or not. We will never achieve our long-term goals like that.

Its advantage for translators: a translator’s life is full of urgent tasks, most of which are actually important (e.g. deadlines). Translators everywhere know full well how easy it is to fall into the trap of dealing only with urgent but not important tasks in the remaining time. With the right kind of focus, however, it is possible to deal with our long-term, important goals on a regular basis – and even people with the most stressful of jobs need to do this.

Its disadvantage for translators: this might be the most universal method among the three, so its rational application will certainly not be an impediment; nevertheless, it is undeniable that in a freelancer’s life urgent projects often override everything else for days at a time. It is difficult to work on our long-term goals when we do not see the end of our short-term commitments.

Summary

At first glance, it may seem that the above methods contradict each other and are mutually exclusive; for example, a 2-minute task which arrives during an active Pomodoro phase forces us to decide on which method to proceed with. However, this contradiction is an illusion: if we use the Pomodoro principle correctly, 2-minute tasks are not meant to occur during active phases too often to begin with; but even if they do, it is not an outrageous decision to complete them as quickly as possible before concentrating on the main task again. But maybe an example will help us understand better how these three popular principles can be harmonised.

Let’s suppose as a freelancer we have a number of tasks to accomplish in the morning: there is a same-day delivery (urgent + important), a next-day delivery (urgent + important) and a lot of administrative tasks (urgent but not important), but we also want to, for example, spend some time learning the new features of a translation software we use in order to become more productive (important but not extra-urgent). In that case, we can organise our day by spending 7-8 Pomodoro sessions in the morning with translation, while during the breaks, which can be stretched out if necessary, we can take care of the administrative tasks. In the afternoon, we continue the projects which require concentration, and if we succeed with the Pomodoro method, meaning we finish our important and urgent tasks faster than usual, there may be some time at the end of the day (1-2 Pomodoro sessions) for our not so urgent, but important tasks: in our example, learning the ropes of that software.

We would like to hear our readers’ opinions and their own time management methods; share them here on our blog or on our LinkedIn page. (A 2-minute task!)

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