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Impressive Time Management for Translators: The Time Diet

Impressive Time Management for Translators: The Time Diet


Impressive Time Management for Translators: The Time Diet

Do you often feel like your business is running you instead of the other way around? Do you wonder why you constantly feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? This is your chance to figure out where your time is going once and for all, and start taking control of your business and your time. Let’s get started!

First things first – Why it works

Have you ever been on a diet or created a budget? What’s the first thing a nutritionist or financial planner is going to ask you? Your nutritionist is going to ask you to track what you’re eating now and your financial planner is going to ask you to record your current spending habits. They need to have a baseline in order to create a plan for improvement and that’s exactly what you need to do for productivity. You can’t know what and where you need to improve when it comes to your productivity if you don’t have a baseline.

How it works

Step 1: Get two timers.

Start with two timers: a “project timer” and a “work timer”. Below we’ll discuss what each one is and a few free and paid options for each.

Project timer

The project timer is used to record your time spent translating. When I say “translating,” I mean hands-on-keyboard typing the actual translation (or, speaking into a dictation app if you use one). This doesn’t include e-mail, invoicing, file preparation, etc. 

The purpose of this timer is to determine whether there’s any difference in the actual types of translations you do to ensure that there is an ROTI (return on time investment) that is even across your translations. In other words, you might be earning $1.00 per word thinking it’s amazing, but once you use a timer, you find that it takes you an hour to translate 10 words and $10/hour might not be the most lucrative rate in the end.

To get started, create a set of categories for your projects. It’s totally fine if your categories are too detailed at first or too general, once you start gathering data, you can combine similar job types (as far as time goes) and split apart dissimilar types (again, only with regard to time). 

My experience as a freelancer is primarily medical translation so my categories when I started included regulatory forms, informed consent forms, patient records, discharge forms, etc. I then found that informed consents and regulatory forms took about the same time, so I combined them into one category. I found that patient records and discharge forms also took the same amount of time so I combined them as well. Eventually, you’ll have just a few categories but it’s better to start too specific and combine categories than trying to do the reverse. If you do end up doing the reverse, don’t worry, it’s totally fixable, it just takes a little longer for this system to get you results.

Some tool options for your project timer:

  • ClickUp – (Free or Paid) Timer will sync with your projects but a lot of people (myself included), prefer ClickUp’s timer integrations. [Coupon code: DOER15 for 15% off business and unlimited plan]
  • Toggl – (Free or Paid) This is a tried and true timer. It’s been around since I started timing myself and it’s still around today. It also has a free option. The one issue is if you ever do want to use your recorded time for invoicing and not just for your personal productivity, it isn’t very good at that.
  • Harvest – (Paid) If you happen to also bill by the hour for anything and time yourself for that work as well, this timer can invoice and then also operate as a window into your data. 
  • – (Paid) Designed for translators, and you can time your projects.
  • Clockify – (Free + Paid) Great app that I’ve used several times before I found Hubstaff (see below). If you use Clockify as a solopreneur you may not need the features in the paid version but check their features and pricing here and decide for yourself. 

Work timer

The work timer functions like a standard employee timesheet. You’ll clock in and out just like a regular job. Time “on the clock” includes invoicing, e-mailing, file preparation, as well as anything else that would generally be acceptable if you worked in an office. For example, making a cup of tea in the breakroom probably wouldn’t require clocking out, but walking your dog or going to the grocery store would. Apply the same rules here.

Some tool options for your work timer:

  • Hubstaff – (Paid) This one is highly recommended even though it’s paid if you’re looking to dig into your time and/or might hire hourly staff (or have hourly staff). I use it to track my own time because you can enable a feature that shows you what websites you went to, etc. Spending too much time on Twitter or Facebook will be immediately apparent even if you’re not diligent about “clocking out”.
  • TimeBro – (Paid) I haven’t tried this one yet but it looks interesting. It says that it will show you what your day looked like similar to the way I use Hubstaff and has additional privacy features according to their website.
  • Any “project timer” listed – You can also use any of the options listed in the “project timer” list with a separate account. So you could have one toggl account as your “work timer” and another as your “project timer”.

Step 2: Form the baseline

Spend at least one week with the above two timing methods. There is also a third measure of time and that’s the time you began work through the time that you ended work. So, if you started working at 8 am and sent your last email at midnight, even if you went to the grocery store, walked the dog and picked up the kids from school, this third measure of time would be 16 hours (8 am to 12 am). Record all three measurements of time every day. No timer apps really needed for this as it would just be the first time you “clocked in” and the last time you “clocked out.

Step 3: Figure out where your time went

If you are wondering where your time went, don’t worry, that’s very normal. The first time I did this experiment, I was floored. I remember complaining to a friend at the time how I just can’t keep working these 15-hour days and then I looked at my metrics and found:

Total hours: 15 (roughly 7 am to 10 pm)

Work timer: 8 (clocked out to run errands but had no idea I clocked around SEVEN hours of personal time)

Project timer: 4 hours (I almost died when I realized I had only translated for 50% of the time I spent working)

The Bottom Line

If your stats are similar, don’t feel bad. There’s hope! Once you know your baseline, you can start seeing how various strategies can improve your productivity. You’ll also learn which strategies don’t work for you, which is equally important. The above stats showed me that I didn’t have good systems in place and was spending too much time on email, accounting, project preparation, and task switching. That led me to start looking for and creating systems to manage those things more effectively. Remember, when you’re working but not translating, you’re working for free. If you’re not being paid, wouldn’t you rather be doing something else? It’s worth the initial time investment to test strategies for improving your paid-to-free work time ratio. 

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