Five Productivity Hacks for Freelance Translators and Interpreters

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At this time of year, it seems that everyone is looking to better themselves in some way. Some people make resolutions, and some make a list of goals they want to achieve over the course of the year. I tend to fall into the latter category, but either way, I know that there is no way I can come close to achieving my goals if I don't take into account how I spend my days, i.e. my time.

Here is a short list of productivity hacks I have found useful in my freelance business. I hope that you, too, will find them helpful, and I'd love to hear about your own productivity hacks in the comments at the end of this post.

1. Check your email only two or three times a day maximum (!).

This is still something I am working on myself. But I have found that I am so much more productive when I set limits on how often I check my email. Not only is it better to spend more time on the tasks that actually make money in your business, but sometimes just checking our email can lead us down one rabbit hole after another that suck our time and keep us from giving more attention to the tasks that actually move the needle forward in our businesses.

My own plan for 2019 is to check my email three times each day: once first thing in the morning, since I have clients in Europe, once right before lunch and once at the end of the day before calling it quits. With so many commitments, I have found that I can spend endless amounts of time just responding to requests and producing information for others instead of tackling my own tasks. I'm not complaining by any means, but it is a reality I've become more aware of over the past year.

2. Batch similar tasks/projects/commitments.

If you have read articles or books about productivity, you've probably heard this one (and maybe some others on the list) before. There are a lot of studies that show the amount of time wasted when having to switch tasks is much higher than most of us even realize. Whether we are interrupted by notifications, emails, daily household occurrences, or even when shifting from one task to another, our minds do not immediately jump into the new task right away. These transition periods between tasks can truly add up if we are not cognizant of them. By batching similar tasks or projects on a given day or morning/afternoon, we allow ourselves to focus on one thing at a time, thereby making sure we finish it well before moving on to the next task or project.

For example, I try my best to schedule all calls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Sometimes it doesn't work out due to scheduling conflicts, but it's something I strive to do as often as possible. I also work on blog posts and content creation the same day each week. This way, I know that when Wednesday comes, I have to write a blog post for the following month or an email to subscribers for the following Friday. Speaking of Fridays… this is the day I do all financial tasks: paying bills and those who work for me, invoicing clients, balancing the books and submitting payroll. If it helps, name the days of the week when you are going to batch certain tasks. I personally love "Finance Fridays" for the hour or so I spend on knocking out those money-related tasks.

3. Turn off all notifications during your scheduled work time.

I'll admit that this is another hard one for me. I really like to make myself available to others as much as possible. This can be both a good and a bad thing at times. I'm typically a very responsive person, but I realize that other people don't necessarily need (or expect!) to hear from me right away. If something is not urgent, then I can probably respond later in the day when I am answering my emails. I love to clean out my emails every single day, and admittedly, having pending emails gives me a bit of stress. The same goes for text messages or other requests. But slowly, I'm finding ways to set more boundaries, and turning off notifications has been a game changer.

I silence my cell phone all day, every day. There are only a few people who can reach me during the day, if absolutely necessary, when I'm working on an important task. If you want to give this a try, go ahead and set your phone to "do not disturb" mode each day during your working hours. Let others know that you'll be more than happy to respond to them once you're finished working for the day, just as you might do if you worked in a traditional office setting and answered to a boss or supervisor.

4. Set a timer for yourself for every type of task, and commit to getting that task done in that amount of time.

Again, this is not a new idea. You'll hear it again and again if you read about productivity and time management. But it is definitely another game changer in my mind, especially for those of us who are perfectionists. Make sure you turn off all distractions when you press "start" on the timer, and do your best to try to beat the clock. Some people like to reward themselves if they can finish a task before the timer goes off. Whatever works for you, do that.

5. Change your scenery from time to time (at least once a week), and especially for those "eat the frog" tasks!

I'm someone who doesn't mind a little bit of background noise while I work. In fact, I often welcome a bit of music or soft noise. It helps me to focus, but I realize this may not work for everyone. Whether you need to hear some noise or you prefer complete silence, changing your workspace or scenery at least once a week can be a really welcome change. You might even notice that you are more productive on the days when you choose to work at a local library or neighborhood coffee shop for a few hours.

Again, try to set a timer for tasks, batch similar items on that day and turn off notifications. All of these things, plus the change of environment could really help you to knock out a few items you've been putting off. If you have one of those "eat the frog" tasks (something tedious or just really unappealing) to do, it might be good to save it for your date with new surroundings so you can tackle it.

Whatever you choose to do to boost your productivity this year, make a mental note of what works best for you and try to be consistent with it. It isn't helpful to try something for a day before you write it off. Try to give a few of these tips a go, and seek out a few more if you are someone who has trouble focusing or avoiding distractions. And don't forget to share your own favorite productivity hacks with me below in the comments!

The Free Project Management Tool You Need for Your Translation or Interpreting Business

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Whether you are a freelancer or a small business owner, you always want to make sure you have systems in place that run efficiently in your business. When your systems work well, you have more time to focus on what you do best, and this means more time for billable hours, too. One of the most essential systems in running a translation or interpreting business is the one in which you manage all of your tasks and projects. I'm not talking only about client projects, but also those projects that don't necessarily bring in any revenue, like invoicing, planning a marketing strategy, preparing social media posts, writing blog posts, reaching out to prospective clients, planning days, you name it.

I first presented about this free tool at the American Translators Association annual conference in New Orleans (October 2018), and those who attended my session were very excited to learn about it. The audience was made up of a range of professionals, from freelancers to agency owners and committee volunteers to chapter presidents. I was blown away by the number of people who thanked me for suggesting this tool to them. Some of them even downloaded the Asana app right after the session!

Introducing… Asana.

Before I made the switch to Asana, I was using a few different tools to keep everything organized in my business. It didn't seem like a complicated system at the time. It did the job, but I didn't realize how much more organized we could be by keeping everything all in one place until we found Asana. I'd tried several of the project management tools that are meant for T&I businesses, but I found that none of them can do all that we need them to do. And as I don't have the budget to create a custom project management system at this time, I have found Asana to be a truly dynamic and easy-to-use tool both for myself and for my team. I also use Asana to organize my own freelance and volunteer projects. It's so dynamic!

And do you want to know the absolute best part?! It is free. That's right. I don't pay a dime to use it and I can add as many people as I would like to a project within my organization. It is free for them, too! Even if you are a solopreneur and have no plans to hire anyone for your business, this project management tool will change the way you do business for the better. It will keep you organized and planning things from start to finish. It will help you with your workflow and really give you the full picture when it comes to long-term goals and planning.

Here's a view of my Dashboard when I first open Asana in my web browser.

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All of your projects are organized however you like, but what I love is that you can color code them and move them around however you like whenever you need. Besides the Dashboard view, you can easily access all of your projects in the left-hand sidebar by scrolling down. Here's an example of how I organize my blog posts for the blog you're reading right now!

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We use Asana to keep track of our client projects, as well as inquiries we get from prospective clients who might not yet be ready to hire us for a project.

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You can set up a template for the projects you tend to have the same steps for over and over. We've done this with our prospective client and current client pipelines (like the one you see above), and it couldn't be easier. No reinventing the wheel for each inquiry you receive!

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Asana also integrates with so many programs that we already use to keep files organized, like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. We are able to email tasks to ourselves that will show up in Asana, use the app on our smartphones to add tasks and respond to items in the conversations feature, and so much more. And I just found out that I can also turn handwritten notes into tasks and get Siri to add tasks for me on my iPhone. What?!

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I've already told you that we organize the projects we have to do as teams, but I also have projects for which I am the only "team member" (things like administrative tasks, reminders about making tax payments, completing payroll, etc.). Here is a screenshot of a few tasks that would only show up in my own administrative projects view. I'm able to set deadlines and assign them to myself so that I receive a reminder notification on the day they're due.

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If you're someone who likes to be able to see a full calendar view of your tasks (as well as those of anyone you may add to your projects), you can switch to the Calendar View very easily.

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Or you can see everything in a List view, if you prefer.

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There is also an Asana app for Smartphone users, so I can access projects and files from my phone if I'm traveling, running errands or just out of the office. And I can even add tasks to projects straight from my email that will show up in this tool whenever I want.

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Now, I'll be honest and tell you that Asana isn't the most intuitive program to use at first. But! If you stick with it, you will find that it is worth learning how to use it properly. I personally didn't have a lot of time to learn how to use the tool through trial and error, so I did a little research and found an online course that breaks down exactly how to set up your Asana account for your business. This class is the best. I was able to set up my Asana account to be the workhorse for my business. My project managers are also in love with Asana now. And no, that's not an exaggeration.

If you are interested in setting up an organizational system like this for yourself and/or for a team you work with in your T&I business (even if it's just for you and your accountant!), I highly recommend you check out Megan Minns' course Asana HQ. Truly, it is worth taking the course so that you can see the full capacity of Asana and all of its free features. I learned so many things about how to use Asana that I would have had no idea about had it not been for this course. Megan gives tips and tricks that you likely wouldn't be able to figure out just from signing up with a free account and tinkering around in the program.

If you're not sure how Asana can work for you, I would suggest just watching this video and seeing if this type of organizational system would help you in your business. Even if you are a freelancer who usually works as a solopreneur, using Asana to get your operations and client management down pat will make you so much more efficient. Asana can get your processes and workflows so organized, you'll feel like a new person. Again, not an exaggeration. Besides, you may not work alone forever, and if you have everything set up this way already, it will be easy to bring on someone else in the future!

(I have no affiliation with Asana, and I use the free version! So, this is an honest review. I love it that much.)

How to Project and Track Sales Revenue in Your T&I Business to Start Earning More

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I recently showed you exactly how I project and track business expenses and how to do it easily in your own business. In this post, I want to show you the more exciting part: how to project and track sales revenue in your T&I business so that you can start earning more.

Everyone needs to know their earnings in order to pay their bills, right? If you are always waiting on the next project to land in your inbox, then you're doing this business thing all wrong. This method and spreadsheet will help you to stop living check to check, or month to month and really take control of your earnings and your business.

Again, just as in my other post and video on expense projection and tracking, the numbers I use in this spreadsheet and video do not reflect numbers in my own business. This is simply a demonstration to show you how you can project and track your earnings using a simple method.

Here's how my sales revenue projection and tracking tool looks in a few snapshot views.

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This spreadsheet is great to use at the end of a tax year, to help you decide when to go on vacation or take an extended work break and to let you see where you can start earning more and/or working less by changing up your rates or fees. No matter if you charge by the word, by the hour, by a flat project fee, etc., you can use this spreadsheet to get a very good picture of your sales goals and how to meet them. Let me show you how.

By projecting your sales revenue, you can figure out exactly how much work you need to do each quarter to hit your sales goals/projections. It will also help you to get an overview of what you can earn for each type of service you provide. Don't like editing? Decide to translate more and plug that into your projections. Don't think you'll hit the numbers you projected? Use the planning tabs to figure out how you can. Want to drop low-paying clients? This will show you what you need to do in order to get there.

This method allows you to stop taking on every project that falls into your lap and start thinking ahead about how much you want to work and what you need to do to hit your sales revenue goals. Of course, you should reassess at the end of the quarter and tweak what you'll need to do in the following quarter or six months. You can use this method every year in your business. You can even project next year's sales revenue now, if you like.

Stop living project to project, check to check and lay out a plan for your T&I business. To get the exact spreadsheet I use in this video, click on the button below to download and get started.

When you purchase the spreadsheet, you will receive:

● the spreadsheet in Excel format (email me for the link as a Google spreadsheet, if you prefer);

● a link to a video that will walk you through exactly how to use the spreadsheet in order to track and project expenses in your T&I business;

● a discount code to use toward the M|Z Expense Planner (available as of April 19, 2018!).

The video tutorial that accompanies the spreadsheet is only available to those who download it. Before you tell another person, "I'm a words person, not a numbers person!", check out this spreadsheet, as well as the Expense Planner, and empower yourself in order to earn more, and plan for the future.


RELATED POSTS

How to Project and Track Expenses in Your T&I Business to Increase Your Profit Margins

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Expenses. Everyone has them. No one wants to think (or talk) about them. But as they aren't going anywhere, we need to make sure we can project them and track them in our businesses. After all, no one wants to end up with a loss at the end of the year. Don't worry if you're not tracking and projecting your expenses for your business already. I'm going to show you how to do it without all the complicated software and gadgets. This way of tracking is simple.  Once you do this, you can then utilize whatever accounting system you like to input your expenses and manage your accounting. This post and the spreadsheet I will show you are all about making sure you know what's coming so that you can increase your profit margins and build a better business. Let's dive in!

Now, before we get started with the method that I am going to show you, please note that the numbers reflected in this post and in the video below do not reflect actual numbers in my own business, nor are they suggestions for the numbers you should have in yours.

Here's how my expense projection and tracking tool looks in a few snapshot views. It's truly not as complicated as it might look. I promise!

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And here's how I use it. When a new year or quarter comes, I open the file and take a look at the tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet. I let the order of the tabs guide how I track and project expenses so that I know what's coming. One thing to remember any time you project expenses. And this is something my accountant tells me often: Projections are just that. Projections. You know they're going to be wrong, but you can come pretty close to figuring out what those numbers will be.

This method will help you to determine what you need to do each month and quarter in order to cover your expenses and make sure you still land right side up. Don't forget to plan for annual expenses like memberships, conferences, licenses, tax fees, etc. These have a way of sneaking up on most people, and no one wants to be hit with a few thousand dollars to shell out all at once. That's why projecting your expenses will help you determine how much money to put aside throughout the year so that you can pay these off all at once without creating any debt for yourself or putting a serious dent in your business account.

By taking a real look at your business expenses for the year, for each quarter and for each month, you can truly make a positive impact on how you do business. You will have more peace of mind about your spending habits and earnings. You will not have to worry as much about when that next big project is coming in to cover your expenses. And you will empower yourself by knowing these numbers. This is not meant to be a scary exercise. It's a practical one.

To get the exact spreadsheet I use in this video, click on the button below to download and get started.

When you purchase the spreadsheet, you will receive:

● the spreadsheet in Excel format (email me for the link as a Google spreadsheet, if you prefer);

● a link to a video that will walk you through exactly how to use the spreadsheet in order to track and project expenses in your T&I business;

● a discount code to use toward the M|Z Sales Revenue Planner (available April 26, 2018!).

The video tutorial that accompanies the spreadsheet is only available to those who download it. Before you tell another person, "I'm a words person, not a numbers person!", check out the spreadsheet and empower yourself in order to increase your profit margins, plan for future expenses and start making more informed decisions about the way you spend in your business.


RELATED POSTS

How to Create Email Templates to Implement in Your T&I Business and Save Time

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One thing that I put off in my business for the longest time was creating email templates. It was not at the top of my priority list, as it felt tedious and non-essential, and now I wonder why in the world I waited so long to set them up. And don't worry... if it's not at the top of your priority list either, I totally get that. To save you some time, I'll be sending out a checklist of the email templates you should have at the ready for your translation or interpreting business. It will only go out to subscribers on my email list. So, sign up below and watch your inbox!

When it comes to saving myself and my team time on daily business tasks, templates are our lifeline. We already had templates set up for all the files we use with clients: proposals, service agreements, invoices, etc. But we hadn't yet set up templates for actual emails. And you know how much time we spend in our email every day! Good grief... what was I thinking?

Here's how we did it.

1. We created a list of all the tasks we do for the business. This alone was half the reason for putting this off for so long. But when it came time to actually make the list, it took all of 10 minutes, if that!

2. From that list of tasks, we made a sub-list of all the emails that we tend to send which are related to those tasks from start to finish. We came up with emails to and from clients, to and from translators, interpreters, etc.

3. For one week, we took a few minutes each day and knocked out drafting the email templates.  Now, of course we don't just send off a copied and pasted template email every time we are working on a project with a client or a translator. We definitely tweak the email to fit the project and the details of the message. However, for the most part we're not typing up emails from scratch anymore, especially those we tend to send most often.

Another way to do this is to look at the last 20 or so emails in your Sent box. What do you tend to send out over and over again to clients and colleagues? That's a great place to start in preparing a list of templates to create. It doesn't have to take you hours at a time to knock this out. We did this in about 15-30 minutes a day in a single week and we were done! We now have over 40 templates that we use. Can you believe it?! Forty! Imagine how much time we are saving now by not typing out those messages time and again on a daily basis. Whew! I'm almost embarrassed that it took me nearly almost 10 years in business to do this. But, live and learn, right?