Welcome to the next post in my Analyse Time Usage mini-series, part of the Looking-Glass Translations productivity programme!

It starts with a trickle…

Your PC is fired up and there’s a steaming cup of tea/coffee beside you. You’re feeling good.

After a busy week, you finally(!) have some time to catch up on those tasks that have fallen by the wayside. Blog articles, newsletters, CPD: today is the day.

But then…

“It starts with a trickle. A little too much work, a few too many tasks on the to-do list. Then a big opportunity comes (can’t say no to that) and then another. Then the sink breaks. The Internet goes on the fritz. Your college friend is in town for a week and would like to stay on your couch – and can she bring her partner? Your taxes are due.”

(Source: What to do when you’re completely overwhelmedan article by Kate Hamill for Freelancers Union)


… and becomes a deluge.

By the time you’ve sifted through client emails, sorted out the internet, sufficiently yelled at your CAT tool, and averted umpteen crises, your warm drink is stone cold, and you’ve somehow lost hours sending job details back and forth.

Finally, the washing machine packs in – in what is seemingly a last-ditch attempt to contribute to your mood.

It’s going to be one of those weeks.


We’ve all been there.

It’s one of the markers of a freelance lifestyle – even if business is good all year round, you’ll still experience peaks and troughs from time to time, and the peaks can put even a seasoned pro off their game.

Fortunately, you can still regain control over the situation and come out smiling.


Next time it feels like everybody wants a piece of you, try to remember these 10 tips:

1. First, look after YOU.

Remember: being busy doesn’t make it ok to just ignore your health and well-being, though it’s easy to do. Good health is essential for your productivity, so try to be extra conscientious; you need the food, water, exercise and sleep now more than ever, especially if you’re going to be working late.

Bonus tip: I find exercise clears my head, wakes me up, and fills me with energy! When you know you’ve got a long evening ahead, even 30 mins of exercise will help you stay focused and finish your work quicker.


2. Have a plan (even if you have to change it completely).

Ideally, you should always be making a to-do list for the following day. But if  you’re having an especially busy period at work, these lists are all the more important. I use a whiteboard for my lists, which isn’t just environmentally friendly; it also gives me a huge amount of flexibility in planning my schedule. However you do it, make sure you have a solid plan for the week ahead.


3. Rethink how you approach emails.

Most clients and jobs do not require a response within minutes (rush jobs excluded); you are not a robot. Rather than using push notifications, try checking your emails at hourly or two-hourly intervals. This will mean that the longest your clients will wait to hear from you will be one or two hours, which is very reasonable. Use the longer intervals to get through your work; there’s nothing worse than lining up jobs, then not getting anything done!


4. Cherry-pick.

Most of us have a system for dealing with enquiries, but it’s wise to be flexible when pushed to your limits; you’ll hate yourself if you book your week up, only to have to turn down a dream job just a few emails later. Read everything in your inbox before replying to anything, then reply in the following order:

1) Urgent emails that require a fast response (regardless of whether your answer is yes or no)
2) Non-urgent jobs you want
3) Jobs you can do but don’t want
4) Jobs you can’t do


5. Stay polite

When you do respond to your emails, let each reply sit for 5 or 10 mins before clicking “Send” (or even longer – you know you best!) – especially if responding to questions or complaints. When you’re feeling harried and under pressure, your first response is unlikely to be as diplomatic as you’d like.

Bonus tip: Consider saving standard replies for your most common queries in each of your languages (e.g. requests for more info on your services). Customise them if you like, but save yourself time by starting with a template. 


6. Drop non-essential tasks

I’m talking about blog/social media updates, courses and webinars, and any side projects you might be running. Pare down to the tasks you absolutely have to get done. That said, don’t ignore vital admin like noting job numbers – that’s like writing a 40,000 word dissertation and going back to include your references later (for those who haven’t been there, don’t!). Get more tips on setting priorities here.


7. Remember your boundaries: stick to office hours.

This will be a tricky one, but really try to do it, at least when it comes to communicating with clients; responding to emails outside office hours will set a dangerous precedent which you’ll regret when things calm down. Even if you work extra hours to cover the workload, use your ‘out-of-hours’ time exclusively for billable work, whether that’s translation, proofreading, writing, or preparing for an interpreting assignment. Your emails can be dealt with in the morning. Get more tips on setting boundaries and earning respect here.


8. Have a buddy to share the load.

If you’re not keen on outsourcing, but still have far too much work to handle, why not pair up with a colleague who works in your language pair(s) and specialism(s)? That way you can recommend each other when work is really busy. This can also be really useful for sick days.


9. Hit the out-of-office panic switch.

If you can afford it and you need the time/space to think and catch up with yourself, this is the perfect way to do it. You’ll still monitor your emails for things you MUST respond to, but everything else can wait until tomorrow – without surprising you.

Bonus tip: Struggling to switch off? Put your phone into flight mode. That way you can’t cloud your head with tomorrow’s work until tomorrow – and you might actually get some sleep.


10. Finally, raise your rates.

Are you having a lot of these days? The super stressful ones? Do they seem to stretch out for weeks on end? It may be time to raise your rates. If you know you’re not charging what you’re worth, this article will show you how to do it with class. The loss in volume of work will be easily offset by your new, higher-paying clientele – and with more time on your hands, you’ll be able to give each client a better service.


By following these simple tips, your super-stressful days will seem a little less stressful…

… meaning you’ll be happier, healthier, and able to bounce back more quickly! Perhaps you’ll even start to enjoy those busy days. Miracles can happen when you assert control over your business (and it IS yours!). What’s the point in freelancing if you can’t do it happily and healthily?


What do you do on super-stressful days? Could you add anything to the list above? Help out your colleagues and share YOUR tips in the comments!


Looking for more ways to ramp up your productivity?

Take a gander at these productivity-boosting posts:


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