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American Translators Association (ATA): Effective Time Management

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American Translators Association (ATA): Effective Time Management

Effective Time Management


Time management is an important skill for business owners so they can avoid stressful situations. This month's column discusses a few simple strategies for staying on target when doing deadline-driven work.

Dear Business Smarts:

Rushing from one deadline to another, I am beginning to question whether I have the right personality to run my own business. I have always been a procrastinator, leaving college essays until the night before they were due, and paying late charges on my bills. Although I carefully write down when projects are due, I always put them off until the last minute and then end up working late nights and impossible hours to get everything done. Somehow, I cannot motivate myself to get the work started when I know I should. At times, I wonder if I would be better off in an office with other coworkers to keep me on schedule.
— Procrastinator

Dear Procrastinator:

In an age of many sources of electronic distraction, many people share your predicament, regardless of whether they work on their own or in an office with coworkers. Despite your best intentions to stay on schedule, the constant flow of e-mail messages, phone calls, and Internet news items makes it easier than ever to get off track and waste a lot of time on unrelated tasks. While procrastination may be part of your personality and will never entirely go away, here are a few effective strategies that may help eliminate those stressful night hours and improve your productivity:

  1. Break up your work into manageable parcels. Instead of thinking of “that awful patent that is due on Friday,” break the project down into smaller, more manageable steps. In order to make the most of the allocated project time, define work parcels of 30 to 90 minutes. For example, the first parcel could be the required terminology research for the project in your dictionaries and online. Then define logical segments of the project that you can complete in one or two hours. Instead of just noting the project deadline, try writing down a detailed schedule of these steps.

  2. Work during your most productive hours. Although there are slight variations, mornings generally are a more productive time than afternoons and evenings due to our built-in biological clock. Try to prioritize your work to ensure that projects needing the most concentration are scheduled for the morning. As an example, you can do your filing or billing in the afternoon, but always schedule your translation work parcels for your most productive time of day.

  3. Eliminate distractions. Although it is important to be reachable and to stay in contact with your clients, it is also perfectly acceptable to switch off your distracting communication tools for specific periods. The time you reserve for your most productive work should be as clear and uninterrupted as possible. Instead of reacting to every mail message, open your e-mail program only every 30 to 60 minutes, respond as necessary, and then close it again. Beware of discussion lists and Web alerts, which can draw your attention away from what really needs to get done. To cut down on your telephone time, switch off your cell phone and use caller ID.

  4. Do the most difficult work first. Sometimes work gets held up because you dread a particular aspect of a project and keep putting it off. In translation, that may be the research associated with the topic, or a bothersome file format. Think about which aspect of a project you consider most difficult, and then resolve to address that aspect first. As you analyze your response to work assignments, also consider whether a different field of translation might be more enjoyable and cause less procrastination. For example, maybe you tend to put legal texts off because they require a lot of research, but you look forward to financial news items. In that case, it may be in your best interest to look for more assignments in a field you prefer, rather than trying to slog your way through work you do not like.

Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: August 2008