Time management is an aspect of freelancing that many people struggle with. In one sense, a freelancer’s time belongs to her or him, which is a beautiful thing. Rather than the métro, boulot, dodo (an expression too expressive to be translated!) life of the office worker, a freelancer can make the 10-step commute from the bedroom to the office at 6AM, 10AM, noon or later and then work until the work is done, scheduling shopping, cooking, exercising or socializing as time allows.
At the same time, the amorphous structure of a freelancer’s work day has its disadvantages. An office worker has an external incentive (let’s call it “the boss”) to get to work on time, put in an eight, nine or ten hour day and produce results. In addition, an office worker doesn’t have to explain why he or she can’t drop a friend’s dog off at the vet or let the neighbor’s plumber in, because the office worker has a strict boundary between home and office.
I think that there are a number of good productivity strategies that home-based translators can apply. A few of my favorites are:
-Use a prioritized to-do list or a day planner. When you’re translating away and suddenly remember that you need to check on overdue invoices, pay your credit card bill or buy printer paper, don’t stop what you’re doing to perform that task. Instead, write the task on your list or in your planner, and do all of the small tasks at once during a work break.
-Realize that it’s acceptable to be “at work” even though you’re at home. Answer the home phone line sparingly; warn house guests that you will be working while they’re visiting; don’t feel obligated to be the person who’s always free during the day just because you work at home.
-Do the “have to” tasks before the “want to” tasks. On your to-do list, list the tasks that must be done that day first; don’t let yourself fiddle around with your website when you should be doing your payroll taxes.
-Give yourself a time frame for non-work tasks. One of the things I really enjoy about freelancing is the ability to do things like banking, grocery shopping or getting the car’s oil changed at off-peak times, but I make sure to give these errands a defined amount of time so that they don’t eat the day up.
-Acknowledge that sometimes, staring at the computer screen isn’t the best way to get the job done. Especially if you’re at the computer for most of the work day, consider an “exercise desk” where you can work while on a treadmill or stationary bike, or make an hour of outdoor exercise part of your work day.
Also, I think that productive people are sometimes defined more by what they don’t do rather than what they do. For example, our household doesn’t have broadcast TV and we watch one or two movies per month on DVD. If you watch a couple of Netflix movies a week, you could probably start a blog, write a book or market your translation work to better-paying clients in the same amount of time you spend watching movies. However, our household also considers nightly home-cooked meals to be an essential component of our day. We spend a fair amount of time growing, shopping for and preparing food, but we feel it’s an overall benefit to our quality of life. A big part of increasing your productivity is prioritizing the activities that are important to you and eliminating those that aren’t. As the summer winds down, it’s a good time to think about your goals for the upcoming months and how you can achieve them efficiently!