Seven Tips for Escaping the Overworked Translator’s Trap

escaping the trap

Not turning down work is a trap! And when we find ourselves in that trap, chances are, it’s nobody’s fault but our own. Newbies may fall into it for lack of experience. Not-so-newbies may fall into it for poor negotiating skills or inability to say “no.” Either way, if you’re overworked or overbooked, you’ve somehow managed to fall into the translator’s trap.

Here’s how you probably did it: you got a new client, you were happy, you got work. You kept accepting work from that client, either for fear they’d permanently abandon you for another linguist if you said the “N” word or you were misled by your (often false) impression that you cannot afford the “luxury” of simply turning down work. Then, you got another client or a returning client. They also needed something translated within a similar timeframe, and you were again either afraid or unable to say no. You thought you could make all their deadlines and keep them all happy. Work started to pile up… the snowball started to roll. Before you knew it, you had too much to translate in far too little time. Now, here you are, no time for a social life, no time for sports, no time to eat healthily, sometimes, even no time to sleep. Sound familiar? We can all probably relate.

But don’t worry! All has not been lost and there’s hope for you yet. As it turns out, whether you realize it or not, you are the master of the trap; therefore, you can escape it! Here’s how I’ve managed to get out of the trap and stay out for the past few years:

  1. Not biting off more than I can chew: I learned it’s perfectly OK to turn down work sometimes, and doing so is easy. What’s hard is losing the fear that your client won’t come back. But here’s what nobody’s telling you: excellent translators are not that easy to come by, so if you provide impeccable service, they will come back.

  2. Creating a referral network: I have a network of available linguists to which to refer my clients when I have to turn down work. Of course, not just any linguist will do, my network consists of people who I trust not only to do a great job, but also to return the favor in the future.

  3. Better rates mean better clients: I learned that not only do you work less for a great income, but you also work with better and more reasonable clients. Clients who are willing to pay higher rates understand what translation entails –that’s why they pay well in the first place. Thus, they are more flexible and open to negotiating deadlines and workflow.

  4. Keeping a realistic schedule: I don’t just plan for whatever number of words I can translate per day. When planning my agenda and deciding what projects to accept, I remember to factor in basic things like eating, sleeping, training, and living! I know it might seem ludicrous to schedule “living” into your agenda, but most of the overworked translators I know (which happens to be most of the translators I know!) view life in terms of translated-words-per-day only, leaving out every other time-consuming activity in their day, as if they lived in a vacuum. The result is that they eat, sleep and live translation. They are unable to unwind and, eventually, they simply melt down.

  5. Keeping regular business hours (even though I work from home!): The logic is simple, my home office is open during regular business hours only. After a certain time, I don’t take business calls or reply to business e-mails. The goal is self-preservation, focused mainly on maintaining my sanity.

  6. Unwinding: At the end of the day, my computer is not the last thing I look at or think about. The last thing before shut down is a good book, preferably one that is completely unrelated to whatever I happen to be translating at the time.

  7. Sports and hobbies: I run, and although running is “just” my hobby, my training sessions, where I take my mind off work, are sacred. Many translators view sports and hobbies as procrastination or a waste of time. They are dead-wrong! A happy, unstressed translator is an efficient translator. Many studies have shown that alleviating stress actually increases both efficiency and productivity. So if you won’t pick up a sport or a hobby out of love for yourself then, at least, do it out of your obsession for translation!

I was that overworked translator once. But ever since I mastered the art of escaping the trap, I have been able to study, work toward my PhD, go running, make time for my boyfriend, friends and family, and sometimes even get some rest! All in all, these small steps have increased my productivity and overall happiness and love for my profession. I sincerely hope they work for you, too.

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