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Organization is key – part 1 September 29, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

I think one of the most important skills for a translator besides the ability to comprehend the source text and accurately convey it in the target language is organization. Organization can drastically reduce your stress level and keep you on top of things. It is important to keep your workspace, your finances, your schedule, and your computer organized and clutter-free. Dorothee Racette has a fantastic presentation from the 2006 ATA conference on Organizational skills for a successful freelancer business that is an absolute must-read for every translator.

There are simple rules for keeping a clutter-free workspace. The most important ones revolve around getting control of your paper. To file effectively and quickly, you need to have the essentials: plenty of file folders, labels, file cabinets or cardboard or plastic boxes, bins, crates or carts. And don’t forget wastebaskets and recycling bins for the items that you choose not to file.

1) Have a system for your active filing. I use four hanging file folders that I file all my important documents in. They are labeled Business expenses, Bills, Bank statements, and Pay stubs for each year. At the end of the year I start four new hanging folders and archive the previous year’s files in an attractive wicker box. Since you need to keep tax-related information for seven years, I shred everything from seven years ago to make room for the new year.

2) Create a record retention policy. Despite technological advances, there are certain files, such as tax-related records and signed non-disclosure agreements, that you’ll need to keep for an extended period of time, or possibly forever. Most of your files can either be thrown away immediately or kept for a defined period of time, then discarded. To manage this process, you’ll need a record retention plan. The following simple file management guidelines are outlined by Barbara Hemphill in her book, Taming the Office Tiger:

  • Keep indefinitely: annual financial statements, corporate documents (including non-disclosure agreements, minutes of board of directors’ meetings (if you are an LLC or S-Corp), etc.), and income tax paperwork and payment checks.
  • Keep for 6 years: bank statements, voided checks, purchase records (purchase orders, payment vouchers, vendor invoices), and records (invoices, monthly statements, shipping papers and customers’ purchase orders).
  • Keep for 4 years: personnel and payroll records (if you are an LLC or S-Corp).
  • Keep for 3 years: monthly financial statements.

3) Manage your “to read” pile. You should make a plan to discard the paper as soon as you receive it. If you set it aside to read later, you most likely won’t. I’ve seen suggestions to put these non–urgent “to read” items in large file folder. I use a stacking In, Out, and To Read system. When the folder or bin gets too full, you need to go through it and weed out the items that are no longer relevant or interesting. I don’t let my mail pile up either. I go through it as soon as I receive it and throw all the junk mail in the recycling bin in the hallway.

4) Don’t print it out if you don’t have to. You can’t blame all of your clutter on mail, unfortunately. With so much information at our fingertips as we surf the Web, it can be tempting to print every interesting thing we find. There is no need. It most likely isn’t going anywhere. I know people who print out e-mails (heck, back in 1995 I *was* one of them). There is no reason for this! The only thing I print out now are travel confirmations and invoices. Everything else either gets stored on the computer or can be easily found again using Google.

5) Do you have business cards strewn across your desk or don’t know what to do with the cards when you receive them? I have my business cards filed in a business card folder. I also regularly go through the business card folder and throw out business cards that are outdated. If you have a lot of business cards, consider buying a business card scanner to keep electronic copies of the cards, which can later be searched by name or keyword.

6) Scan the original and throw it out. If you have documents that you need to keep, but you don’t use everyday or don’t have the room to store, use a scanner to create an electronic copy on your hard drive or disk. Also, a shredder is your friend. Run anything confidential or sensitive through a shredder before it hits the recycle bin.

7) Once your office is organized, you’ll want to keep it that way. One web site suggests treating your office as if it were your kitchen. A major part of maintaining order is the way you approach the task. To prevent future paper accumulation, treat the paper in your office as if it’s perishable. Don’t pile it up, telling yourself that you’ll deal with it when you have time. You wouldn’t do that with food in your kitchen. Make decisions on the paper immediately. Keep a recycle bin and a wastebasket next to your desk and use them frequently. Keep filtering, filing, and tossing and you’ll keep enjoying a clutter–free environment.



1. Sarai - May 19, 2012

Good advice – I’m reading up on being more organised as well! I think it is the only way to stay on top of things.

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