When asked why they failed at freelancing, many former freelancers say that they simply couldn’t deal with the unstructured nature of the freelance day and ended up working out/watching TV/cleaning the closets etc. instead of working. Succeeding as a freelancer (translator or any other freelance job) requires that you be able to meet tight deadlines with very little external supervision. So, how do you avoid becoming one of those people with really clean closets and an empty checkbook? Here are some time management strategies that I use on a daily basis, which can be tailored to your work style and personality. For what it’s worth, my closets are very messy, but I’ve never missed a freelance deadline!
- Enjoy what you do. This seems obvious, but when you look forward to your work, the temptation to avoid it in favor of other things decreases, and the reverse is true as well.
- Use visual reminders of what you have to get done. When you sit down at the computer with no visual cues in front of you, it’s all too easy to check e-mail at a leisurely pace, read the news, get that second cup of coffee…and by that time you’ve convinced yourself that there’s nothing very pressing for you to do anyway. If you have a visual reminder of a task, whether it’s a to-do list, post-it notes or pop-ups on your computer screen, it’s much easier to force yourself to act on it.
- Don’t interrupt your work to perform small tasks. For most people, momentum and uninterrupted work time are key to completing projects. When you remember that you need to send an invoice, follow up with a client, check if you received a wire transfer, etc., don’t interrupt what you’re doing to perform the task. Instead, record it on your prioritized to-do list (see below!).
- Use a prioritized to-do list. I force myself to do this because the low priority items (“look for other translation-related blogs; research possibility of work-related trip to France”) are much more alluring than the high priority ones (“fill out W-2 forms; photocopy 2007 payroll taxes”). Although I’d much rather be doing the low priority items, having a category labeled “must be done today” makes me complete the high-priority tasks first.
- Keep a list of quick jobs where you can see it. I think it’s very tempting to waste time in small increments, because you can ignore the fact that 10 minutes here and and there adds up to a lot of time over the course of a day or week, and it’s not as if you just spent two hours trolling Craigslist. So, I keep out a list of jobs that take 5-10 minutes and aren’t too onerous; entering business-related receipts into my accounting program, writing a check-in e-mail to a client, responding to a non-urgent e-mail that’s descended to the bottom of my inbox, etc. and when I feel like taking a break from translating, I do one of those things.
- Give the day some structure. This depends on your work style, but I find that it’s important to break the day in the home office up into chunks and set some goals for each chunk. For me, this avoids the “it’s 4PM, where did the day go?” phenomenon.
- Take exercise breaks when you need to think. This might brand me as a resident of America’s second fittest city, but I do think it works. When you have something you need to mull over, get out of the office and move instead of staring at the blank screen. If you want to be really productive about it, carry a digital voice recorder with you and talk into it while you exercise, then transcribe your thoughts when you get back to the office (refreshed!).