Lessons learned: don't overload yourself!
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
It is all too easy for a freelancer to want to say YES to every single opportunity that comes their way, however big or small. This is all well and good providing that we are able to organise our work effectively and deliver every task within the arranged deadline.
In the translation world, it is not uncommon to simply find you spread yourself too thin, taking on too much in any given day/week/month and leaving yourself with no wiggle room to speak of. This is understandable in the early days, when you are perhaps still getting to grips with your daily outputs and capabilities, but once you become more aware of your limits, it is best to always leave yourself something of a BUFFER. Stress can be largely reduced by not taking on more than you can chew!
If I have more than one project come in at the same time, I make sure that the deadlines are REALISTIC and if not, I ask if it's possible to have a little longer (whether a few hours, or an extra day). This isn't always possible if it's a super-urgent job of course, but in that case you prioritise that task while leaving yourself enough time for the rest of the items on your to-do list. In taking this approach, the worst-case scenario is that I deliver on time, and the most likely scenario is that I deliver AHEAD of time, which is always appreciated by the client of course! At the other end of the scale, you might be given a massive amount of time to complete what is a relatively easy project. Here, my advice would be to get on to it as soon as you have an opening. A client will never complain about an early delivery after all! Do not make the mistake of leaving it until the 'last minute' as, in doing so, you leave yourself with no buffer if it turns out to be more time consuming that it first appeared.
I admit I'm a very ORGANISED person, but I think we really have to be in this line of work. We have to be able to juggle projects, multitask, keep detailed records and accounts of our work, and be efficient in our dealings with customers.
If you work for a variety of different clients, or carry out several roles simultaneously as I do, many little things can come up during the course of a day. An urgent accounting issue to resolve, a last-minute press release to draft, an unexpected update to a translation you believed already complete... Prioritising is of course key, and list-making can be very useful if you find yourself losing track or forgetting what's due when and in what order. Leaving yourself MORE than enough time, as opposed to JUST enough time, means you will also have time to take a breather during the day and won't be chained to the desk for hours on end. To be productive, it's best to take regular breaks if at all possible. I try to head out for a quick bike ride or meet a friend for coffee, but these simple pleasures wouldn't be fun if I were there worrying about the work I have to do afterwards or feeling guilty about not being able to afford the time away from my desk.
So while I was initially the person who said YES to any and every job, I now find myself assessing whether I can comfortably complete the job within the set time frame and whether it is feasible with everything else I have going on. So if I'm covering PR over a motorsport weekend, I won't accept translation work for that period. And if I'm planning to have a weekend off, I won't accept those tiresome tasks that inevitably land in my inbox on a Friday afternoon. Understanding my capabilities, managing my workload, and, most importantly, being sure to take time for myself all contribute to ensuring my professional life is relatively STRESS FREE and, dare I say it, even ENJOYABLE!