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Making priorities and sticking to them September 8, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

There is an interesting discussion on the ATA Business Practices listserv right now about the balance of work and life. One translator was complaining that she had organized a “book club meeting with a bunch of translators for a Saturday morning.” She was looking forward to getting together to have some fun and talk about literature, but when the day came most of them backed out citing “a last minute gig.” As she complained, “Why are we so enslaved by the last minute gig that we can’t plan our lives?”

She is entirely right. I have noticed this as a past member of the Bonner Übersetzer- und DolmetscherForum and as the past president of the Northeast Ohio Translators Association. Translators seem to be ruled by rush translation jobs. Board meetings and once-a-year annual meetings are missed because there is a pressing job.

What is wrong with making certain things a priority and either saying no or arranging your schedule so that you can do both? I am the organizer of a happy hour group. I had a pressing job last night, so I attended the happy hour for 2 hours and left at 7 so I could translate the job (I only had one drink and then switched to non-alcoholic beverages). It’s about making social events or personal life stuff a priority and sticking to them. If I have made something a priority in my mind and there is a rush job I simply say “sorry, I’m not available.” In fact, when I said no yesterday, that pressing job last night was magically extended to 3 p.m. today. It’s amazing how many rush jobs truly aren’t that rush if you can’t drop everything to accept it. And sorry, but no last minute gig is so pressing on a SATURDAY MORNING. It sounds like an excuse to not go if you ask me…

All work and no play makes Jack (or in this case Jill) a dull boy



1. philippahammond - September 8, 2011

I completely agree. I like to think I’m planning my life around my work rather than the other way around. Of course it doesn’t always work like that, but that’s how I see it and only I can make it happen. Isn’t greater control over our work-life balance (part of) the reason many of us decide to go freelance in the first place? Since we are ultimately our own boss, we might as well try to be a flexible boss.

As for Saturday mornings – there really are very few times when work could be so pressing that it could persuade me to miss out on a more relaxing, pre-arranged Saturday morning activity!

2. patenttranslator - September 8, 2011

I think that one way to reduce this kind of stress is to insist on a substantial surcharge for rush work, which would automatically include work on weekends. I have been practicing it for the last two decades and it really helps. Since I always give a choice between a rush or non-rush option to my clients, and since the rush option costs 40% more, at least two thirds of my translations are in the non-rush category, which makes it possible for me to squeeze in a few rush jobs as well.

Without the surcharge, everything would be all of a sudden rush.

However, this only works with direct customers. Agencies generally charge their clients a lot more for rush, but usually do not pay their translators that much more for rush jobs.

3. Caitilin Walsh - September 8, 2011


I most wholeheartedly agree! I’m always a bit taken aback when digests of division lists deliver queries from people looking for just the right term ahead of a deadline on a weekend (like this past holiday weekend).

Taking a break won’t hurt your earning power (you’ll come back refreshed and produce better work more efficiently), and most certainly will keep you healthier and happier over the long run.



4. acmorgan - September 8, 2011

Very good text. I’m now struggling to include my priorities during my day: doing exercises, eating sensibly (instead of just whatever is quick) and going to bed at a reasonable time.

5. Tess Whitty - September 12, 2011

I see the same phenomenon here when I try to organize meetings for the Utah Translators and Interpreters association and I get especially irritated when it is a board meeting, or meeting with a CPA. If you have accepted a volunteer (board) position, you need to make it a priority, even if it is unpaid. That said, I am not innocent either. Sometimes life throws us a screwball and plans change.

6. Corinne McKay - September 12, 2011

Yes, I think this is an issue that many translators need to work on! It definitely helps to have an external factor in your life (kid(s), dog(s), etc.) that prevent you from working too much. I always say that my favorite thing about my husband is that he is very supportive of my work while reminding me that there is more to life than working. In addition, if you are taking all of these “last-minute gigs” at your regular rates or at minimal rush charges, you can’t really blame your clients for learning bad habits!

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