Time-Sensitive Translator: 7 Tips on Time Management for Translators

time-481444_640Just yesterday I experienced an unpleasant situation when I had to make drastic changes in my schedule, because translation I was supposed to edit was delivered nine and a half hours late (9.5 hours!). It is not the first time such a late delivery happened, and it definitely won’t be the last.


How to make sure you can do the job within the time frame specified by the client


  1. Check the original text for overall readability.

If it is written in incoherent language or by a non-native speaker, it would take you more time to figure out what the author is talking about. Therefore, you will need more time to properly translate the document.

  1. Make sure the estimated word count / page count / line count is correct.

If you were told that the document is 50 pages long, but in fact it is 60 pages, you will need more time. Such discrepancy calls for renegotiation of deadline and invoice value.

  1. Check your schedule.paper-606649_640

Don’t overlap jobs. You are one person. You can’t do three different translations at the same time.

  1. Leave a time cushion.

Always be prepared for the worst-case scenario. We don’t live in an ideal world, where everything is perfect. You might have a family emergency, suddenly catch a cold, experience power outage or computer failure. Allow yourself some extra time to overcome force majeure.


What makes translators accept jobs with unfeasible deadlines


  1. Translator needs money.
  2. Translator is overconfident and does not know limits of his/her productivity.
  3. Text did not look as complicated as it actually turned out to be.


How to manage your time when you translate


  1. board-1647323_640Make a schedule.

Being a freelance translator means that you are free to work with whomever you want whenever you want, but it doesn’t mean that you have all the time in the world. Having deadlines is inevitable and the best way to respect them is to create a schedule. Schedule will help you keep track of all translations you are working on, all deadlines you’ll have to stick to and provide you with enough information on your availability to decide if you have enough time to take on a new project.

  1. No distractions.

Don’t tweet every five minutes; don’t go to Facebook every time you receive a notification of your friends posting something; don’t look at pictures on Instagram every time your cat yawns.

  1. No interruptions.

A lot of articles on time management suggest that you should train yourself not to answer e-mails and phone calls as soon as they come and wait until you finish your current task. A lot of translators agree, because sometimes even the slightest interruption may disrupt your flow and throw you off your game. There are things that demand your immediate attention: evacuation sirens, fire alarms, anaphylaxis, etc. E-mails are not life-threatening events. Sender can and will wait for your answer.

  1. Take breaks.

You can’t stay focused on translation for prolonged periods of time. You need to take breaks to shift your attention from work to let your brain relax. That’s when you can check your e-mails, social network updates and new photos of cakes.

  1. Don’t multitask.man-1633667_1920

You are not Julius Caesar. You can’t do five different things at the same time. When you translate, your brain is already dealing with more than one task. Reading text in the original, digesting information, reproducing it in another language and recording (typing or writing) it with the means of the target language is a lot of work. Don’t overload yourself.

  1. Reassign.

If you don’t have time or can’t do a certain thing, reassign. If you can’t calculate your taxes by yourself, don’t waste your precious time. Hire an accountant who will do it efficiently and (hopefully) mistake-free. You are not a Swiss army knife. There are things you are qualified and not qualified to do, and it’s all right. It’s normal. It is not humanly possible to know how to do everything.

  1. Time cushion.

There are things you can and cannot predict. Having a time cushion comes in handy when you have to deal with unexpected circumstances or when you simply don’t feel like working and want to slack off.


If you did everything right, and it still looks like you will fail to deliver on time, ask for deadline extension. Your clients are still people even if they represent corporations instead of natural persons. Let them know that you will be late with delivery. Don’t disappear for 9.5 hours, don’t keep them guessing. Delivering late is already going to damage your image, so don’t lend the final blow to your reputation by keeping your client in the dark about the current status of the project. Don’t be afraid to talk to your client. They will be disappointed, but they would rather extend the deadline than receive a subpar translation not fit for their purposes or look for a new translator to pick up your work where you left it.

The golden rule of a successful translator: don’t take a job you can’t deliver, but if you did, talk to your client. Communication is a key. Don’t be afraid to talk to your client to find a solution that works out for both of you.

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