Following a well-attended informal resurrection in September, the SENSE Eastern SIG (special interest group) kicked off the meeting season on 30 October in Zwolle. Here, Samuel Murray reports on the topics discussed, and adds his own tips and experiences.
For this Eastern SIG meeting about time management for language practitioners, we had all been asked to bring along our top tips. But we were also encouraged to share any problems that we wanted help with – the latter leading to the most lively discussions.
We learnt that different people have different time-management problems. Some have difficulty starting out or have difficulty getting back to work after taking a break, or find it hard to put down entertainment. Others have the opposite problem – they are workaholics, yearn for a reduction in productivity, and wish that they didn’t accept so many tasks or offers.
While the time-management problems and tips discussed at the meeting were relevant to all freelancers, some were specific to certain tasks. For example, a particular problem for translators is not being able to do editing immediately after translating, but needing to let the translation simmer before getting back to it.
We talked about procrastination in its various forms. Suggestions to address this included the following: if you find yourself putting off starting work in the morning by doing various chores instead, try doing those chores the evening before, or tidying and readying your desk so that the ‘office’ looks more inviting in the morning. Someone else with a problem getting up in the morning had invested in a coffee maker with a timer.
For those of us working at home, if your mind keeps wandering to all the chores you still have to do, it was suggested that we try making an appointment with ourselves for that chore at a specific time of the day. Or to create a physical, visual barrier at the entrance to the office, eg, a curtain, allowing you to leave your house behind when you enter the office, and vice versa.
One member said that she prevents herself from spending time on sites like Facebook by deliberately logging out every time. This prevents her from falling into the trap of ‘quickly checking’ what’s new. Another member used an app that takes a screenshot every minute. At the end of the day, a quick browse through the screenshots reveals which activities were timewasters on that day.
Other tips for reducing distractions on the computer included the following:
• if your email program opens automatically on the computer, set it so that you have to open it yourself
• use a separate email address for correspondence that does not generate an income, even if it’s work related (eg, forum notifications)
• to keep your inbox empty, quickly triage incoming email into ‘long reply’ and ‘short reply’ folders that you can deal with later
• make it harder to shift your attention away from work by using a separate browser for non-work related tasks (eg, Chrome for work, Firefox for play)
• regard anything that doesn’t help bring in money as entertainment!
Some people struggle with communication-related tasks that form part of being a freelancer but do not specifically generate income. An example is when you spend time trying to help out a potential client by arranging for an alternative translator or editor from your network, or when you spend time writing a careful reply to something that you know for certain won’t lead to work, because you want to be polite and/or helpful. Although no concrete solutions for this were forthcoming, we agreed that helping clients and colleagues is indirectly good for business!
We also discussed the issue of accepting jobs over the weekend. Someone suggested that if you find a lot of your work comes in on Friday evenings or weekends, you could try having your ‘weekend’ on other days, eg, Wednesday and Thursday. I myself tend to compromise by trying to keep my Friday afternoon and Saturday free, and then start working again on Sunday at noon, rather than working on Saturday in-between other activities.
Also, I find that if clients want work done by 9:00, I try saying I can do it for 14:00, which gives me that extra bit of time in case something happens. In line with this, others agreed that if the work has tight deadlines, we should not accept assignments that fill our hours to the maximum (per client) but try to negotiate deadlines that allow us to have gaps in our day, which can then also be filled with work for other clients. Similarly, when setting up my out-of-office reply, I am generous with my estimate of when I expect to return in case I end up running late – especially handy for those clients who expect instant replies!
Technology in various forms was of course discussed. Firstly, for those distracted by sounds, listening to music can help us concentrate and it was interesting to hear that we preferred widely different types of music – from relaxing instrumental music to heavy metal to something in a foreign language.
In terms of software, while most time-management problems can’t be solved by simply downloading an app, a number of members reported success using Pomodoro type apps. The Pomodoro Technique dates from the 1980s. It involves alternating between short productive sessions and even shorter rests, and turning small tasks into goals to avoid procrastination. The original system used a notebook, pen and kitchen timer, but apps make it easier to set goals, tick off achieved tasks and stick to time intervals.
One particularly popular app that can be combined with the Pomodoro Technique is called Forest, which involves a game of planting and caring for pet trees to help visualize how much you can resist the temptation to switch to other apps.
The browser-based version of Forest (for Chrome) allows you to continue using your computer and browse the web, but penalizes you for visiting certain websites such as Facebook and Twitter, or any other site you add to its blacklist. One can also combine the smartphone app and the browser app into a single system by logging in.
All in all, I found this to be a very productive meeting. It was great to hear that other freelancers sometimes struggle with similar problems, to learn how different personality types or lifestyles lead to opposite types of problems and to hear feedback on our time-management problems from different perspectives.
SENSE has a number of special interest groups (SIGs) that meet regularly throughout the country. The Eastern SIG, which meets in Zwolle, gives people the opportunity to speak English with one another and share experiences about professional practice and life in the Netherlands. SIG meetings are open to all members. Guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether to join SENSE.
Samuel Murray is an editor and translator (English-Afrikaans) who specializes in health, medicine and information technology.