Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

In my Beyond the Basics of Freelancing class, a student asked a really good question: how to stay sane while working on an insane project. No matter how carefully you manage your work flow and your routine, everyone has “one of those weeks” once in a while. A good client needs 15,000 words in a week, and you’re the only person they can trust it to…then the kid gets sick and the car breaks down and the dog has ear mites and the washing machine overflows.

Certainly, the best defense is a good offense: if I were to give one piece of advice to premium-market translators, it would be market in consistent, small increments, even when, or especially when, you have enough or too much work. Hopefully, that will smooth out some of the Everest-Death Valley cycle. But when you have one of those weeks, you need a freelance sanity routine: a few, small things that you do every single day, no matter how crazy the day is.

Here’s mine: I find that it makes me really nuts to be on the computer as soon as I wake up, or immediately before I go to bed. So, no matter how insane the day promises to be, I give myself some time in the morning to drink coffee (my one lifestyle vice) and have breakfast with my family. I never check e-mail or answer my work phone during that time, and this helps me get my day off to a relatively calm start. At the other end of the day, I’m often finishing up work or answering e-mail while my daughter does her homework after dinner. But I never let myself work until the second before I go to bed: otherwise I’m lying there awake, obsessing about some work-related thing. So my end-of-day sanity routine is that I try to log off all of my work stuff an hour before I want to go to bed. Then I practice my lute for half an hour and do a yoga podcast for half an hour, and no matter how insane the 15 hours between my morning coffee time and my evening music/yoga time were, I at least have that little oasis to look forward to.

The secret to a sanity routine is that you can compress it, but you never skip it completely. On a really bad day, like say yesterday, I might head to the office as soon as my daughter leaves for school, and the lute/yoga time might be 10 minutes of lute and 10 minutes of yoga instead of an hour total. But I really try to never, ever skip the sanity routine completely, or it really affects my happiness and productivity right away.

Other ideas for sanity routines?

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The beginning of the year is always a good opportunity to take stock: what went right in 2013, what needs to go better in 2014, and where do you want to be a year from now? Let’s look at some questions that every freelance translator should ask. I’ll kick things off with my own answers, and please add yours in the comments.

Think of where you were at this time last year and what your goals were; by comparison, how are things going now?
In January 2013, I made a major change and joined a co-working office, in which I’m sitting right now. This has made a huge and positive change in both my work and home lives, since I now rarely work at home and try to maintain a fairly rigid separation between the work day and the non-work day. I surmised (correctly, as it turns out) that at the office, I would get more done in less time and potentially earn more money. So, overall, this year was a very successful one.

If you’re stuck in a rut (in terms of income, clients, workflow), what needs to change?
I’m not currently stuck in a rut, but I was at this time last year. So here’s my advice: look for the root cause of the rut. At this time last year, I was feeling relatively blah about work in general: wanting to break through to the next level of income, find more direct clients, and earn a larger percentage of my income from teaching, consulting and writing. I realized that I really needed to shake things up, and that the root cause was that I needed an office outside the house. For you, maybe it’s something different. But it’s important to realize when you need a big revamp rather than some small tweaks. Also, accept your reasons for wanting a change, even if they seem weird or superficial. One thing I love about the co-working office: it’s an excuse to wear nice clothes. If I feel like wearing a new dress, or fun shoes, or a cute hair style that I saw in a magazine, I do. So there.

Did you earn what you wanted to earn?
It’s OK, and even positive, to admit/accept that you translate primarily for the money. I love the work that I do as a translator. I love getting paid to read and write all day, and I love learning about new subject areas. I even (mostly) love interacting with clients and colleagues. But I also love that I can earn a healthy income while working largely on my own schedule and living in a place where there are few, if any, in-house jobs for what I do. Over the years, I’ve seen that for me at least, earning a good living doesn’t make life better, but it does make it easier. So be honest with yourself: are you making as much as you want to? Or do you need to up your income in 2014?

Who did you work for?
This one is critical: what are your revenue streams? You can probably name your top two or three clients without looking at your accounting records, because they’re the ones you hear from all the time. But you might be surprised to see who your mid-level clients are. If you do work other than translation, you also might be surprised to see what percentage of your income the “other” work generates. For example this year, every session of my online course was full and I taught 7 sessions of the class, meaning that the class is now one of my top “clients.”

How much did you enjoy the work that you did?
If you’re earning what you want to earn, working for yourself is generally pretty great. But ask yourself this (and I know I’ve harped on this topic lately, so bear with me!): did you take what landed in the inbox, or go looking for work that really turns you on? Was it another day, another dollar/euro/yen, or did you really look forward to diving in to your work on Monday morning?

What are you getting sick of?
I’m generally a very positive person, almost to a fault. Meaning that I tend to ignore the negative until it’s staring me right in the face. But think about this: what aspects of your work are making you nuts, and what can you do about them? For example I’ve recently talked to a couple of translators who are retiring, and who said “I’m not sick of translating, but I’m sick of deadlines, and rush jobs, and clients who want a miracle for yesterday.” Now that I’m over 40, I hear that. I realize that in another, say, 10 years, I’d like to be focused on work that is really, really on my own schedule, such as teaching, writing books and translating books. I’m not really at the “had it” point yet, but I see it on the horizon.

Should you outsource anything?
A couple of years ago, I realized that doing my own accounting was counterproductive. Although my accountant charges more than I do, it takes me approximately 57 times as long to do payroll taxes as it takes her. So I decided to allocate about $1,000 a year to accounting fees and I now pay my accountant to do almost everything. I keep my own income and expense records, but other than that it’s all her, and it’s well worth it.

Where do you want to be at this time next year?
I’m not a big one for resolutions because they’re kind of a setup for failure (for me at least). Also I’m fairly disciplined, so I tend to follow through on long-term goals. So I think more in terms of goals for the new year rather than resolutions. Here are some of mine: I’m planning to launch a more advanced-level online course (Beyond the basics of freelancing) within the first quarter; then I’d like to do a third edition of How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. I also really, really need to work on connecting in person with more direct clients. I work primarily with direct clients, but most of them have fallen into my lap; I need to make more of an effort to actively seek them out.

Now, over to you? How did 2013 go? What’s on tap for the new year?

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Last night, Eve Bodeux and I hosted a Speaking of Translation conference call entitled “The freelance juggling act: balancing work, family and the rest of life.” We had the pleasure of interviewing three freelancers: Andy Bell (Scandinavian translator and dad of 3), Marianne Reiner (English to French translator and mom of 2) and Karen Tkaczyk (French to English translator and mom of 3), all of whom have thriving businesses, young families and significant non-work interests and commitments. We asked them three main questions: how they combat the fear of losing clients or not earning enough money if they take time off, how they set boundaries with their families and the outside world so that they can get enough work done, and what their tips and goals are for a better work/life balance in 2014. It was a very informative and enjoyable hour, and we’ve created a podcast recording of it. Here you go:

Click the audio player link to listen online

Right-click the link below to download the MP3.
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Work/Life Balance

And if you’d like to listen to more Speaking of Translation podcasts (international payment methods, finding direct clients through industry conferences, and more!), hop on over to our recordings page. Thanks to Karen, Marianne and Andy for taking the time to talk to us!

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One of my golden rules of freelancing is “Be the best boss/employer you’ve ever had.” Those of us who worked in the salaried world before going freelance are familiar with both sides of this coin: an employer can enhance your quality of life, and an employer can make your life a waking nightmare. As a solopreneur, you get to pick which of those employers you want to emulate.

Hopefully, you’ve had a good year work-wise. If you reached most of your freelance goals, it’s time to think about your end of year bonus, and I’ve got some ideas for you. Let’s focus on a bonus that will improve your quality of life. Such as:

  • Redesign your office. Get the clutter out; paint it a color you love; get a new desk or workspace; buy some plants. This doesn’t have to be super expensive. Hit Craigslist or a thrift store! Depending on your budget, pay someone to do some or all of this for you. Or give yourself a day off from translating and do it yourself.
  • Outsource your most-hated office task. Two years ago, I decided that I had categorically, undeniably had it with doing my payroll taxes myself. So my end of year bonus was to hire my accountant’s bookkeeper to do them for me. It’s not the sexiest gift ever, but in terms of quality of life improvements, it was a huge winner!
  • Rent yourself an office. This was on my “I’ve had it with…” list a year ago. I seem to have “had it” with a lot of things lately, although I assure you I’m actually a very happy person! But I had officially had it with being home alone all day, with very little separation between work and home. Enter a desk at a co-working office, which has very tangibly changed my life for the better. Completely worth every cent of the $4,000 it cost me for the year.
  • Give yourself a new hobby or skill. Having crossed two “had it” items off my list in the past two years, this year I focused on something totally different. I’m a lapsed piano and recorder player, and for a few years I’ve been searching for a new instrument to play. Our house is small so a loud instrument might cause family discord (scratch the trumpet, tuba, etc.) and we don’t have space for a large instrument (scratch the piano, harp, etc.). My daughter plays classical guitar and I’ve always really loved early music. A few months ago, we went to a lute concert sponsored by the guitar studio at the university where my daughter takes lessons and (call me weird…) the lute really enchanted me! Lute is a niche instrument and it took me a while to find a combination of a lute and a teacher, but I’m very excited about my 2013 end of year bonus. Here it is:


Side note: no, this lute is not broken! Until we saw this concert, I never knew that lutes have a 90-degree bend in the neck. Between the bend and the shape of the body (kind of like a watermelon cut in half), the case is not much smaller than a harp, but it’s certainly a beautiful instrument!

This also brings up a couple of tangential topics:

I would never have persevered with my lute ambitions were it not for a friend who I met in our local translators association. She’s a Dutch translator and avid early musician (recorder) who knew exactly where to point me in my search for a lute and a teacher. She also encouraged me that it was totally possible to learn a new instrument over 40. Yet another benefit of being active in your local association! Also, I find that after translating for a whole day, I love the work but I’m just so tired of words. I might listen to a podcast instead of reading, but sometimes it’s just too many words. Music is a totally different neurological activity, and even when I’m really tired of translating…or maybe especially when I’m really tired of translating, music really does the trick! If you feel the same, think about a completely word-free bonus for yourself, whether it’s something sporty, musical or artistic.

Other ideas for good end of year bonuses???

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After “How do I find some clients?,” I think that the most common question I get from beginning (and for that matter, experienced) translators is “How much should I charge?” My sense is that most people want an answer like “If you work for agencies, charge 16 cents. If you work for direct clients, charge 30 cents. Anything else I can help you with?” But of course, it’s not that simple. As I always tell the students in my classes, I can’t tell you how much to charge, but I can help you figure out how much to charge. Here’s a short course in how to do it:

If you want a step-by-step guide, check out Jonathan Hine’s pamphlet I am worth it! How to set your price, and other tips for freelancers. Jonathan’s advice is right on: first, figure out how much you want to earn, and what your business expenses are. Then, figure out how many hours you want to work (or, conversely, how much time you want to take off). Then convert that into an hourly rate, figure out how fast you usually translate, and that will yield your target per-word rate. Again, this is a major oversimplification, but you get the idea!

Most translators base their rates on factors like this:

  • Fear (of charging too much, of earning too little, of pricing themselves out of the market, of living under a bridge when they’re old)
  • Speculation (about what other people are charging, because most people won’t talk openly about their rates)
  • Vague notions of “what the market will bear,” or “what clients are willing to pay,” with little to no actual data to back that up

Whereas most translators should base their rates on factors like this:

  • The types of clients they want to work for (agencies, direct clients, or both)
  • The balance of supply and demand in their language pair or specialization.
  • Whether most of their clients translate things because they have to, or because they want to.
  • How much they want to work
  • What their financial and lifestyle needs are: kids, student loans, aging parents, a desire to be location-independent, a desire to retire early, a passion for high-level clients, a passion for running ultramarathons while still earning a good living, etc.
  • Actual conversations with other translators about how much they charge.

Here a few other Zen koan-like tips on how to decide how much to charge:

  • “The right rate” means that you and the client both feel that you’re getting a fair deal.
  • “The right rate” means that you are motivated to do an excellent job.
  • “The right rate” means that you can live the life that you want to live.
  • If 100%, or even 95% of potential clients accept your rates with no negotiation, it means that you could definitely be charging more.
  • The best time to raise your rates is when you’re too busy. Try a higher rate with the next new client who sends you an inquiry: if the client turns it down, you still have enough work.
  • How do you significantly raise your rates with existing clients? You don’t. You raise those rates a little bit, then you make the big jump with new clients.
  • Broken record alert, but here we go again: There is *lots* of good, high-paying translation work out there. Income of six figures is becoming more and more realistic, even if you work with some agencies and some direct clients. There are even clients who are *looking* for someone like you and don’t know where to find you. So you have to go and find them. But most people won’t do that. They’ll continue to take what lands in the inbox, while complaining that some (other) people have all the luck in this industry.

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Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are the hot new trend in online education (at least in the US). I’m one week into my second MOOC through Coursera, and here are some thoughts on the experience.

In general, I think that MOOCs are a great option for motivated learners with a specific goal. The course offerings are far more specialized than what you’d find at a local adult education center or community college, and the price (most often free) is certainly appealing. You can work on your MOOC anywhere with an Internet connection, at any time of the day or night. Many MOOCs consist of online video lectures: great because you can pause the video, rewind it, look up a quick Wikipedia entry of a concept you don’t completely get, and so on. For example my MOOC goal is to learn more about the science behind the international development documents I translate, so I’m currently taking Epidemics: the dynamics of infectious diseases, offered by a team from Penn State.

The range of MOOCs is really staggering: right now on the Coursera home page, you can sign up for courses ranging from Jazz Improvisation (taught by professors from the Berklee College of Music), to Bioinformatics Algorithms (UC San Diego), to a French course on business valuation (HEC Paris). The schools that offer these courses are top-notch, and thus they present an opportunity to take a course that is logistically and financially out of the reach of many people. MOOC providers are also getting more savvy about what their students want: in the course I’m currently taking, you can get a certificate of completion (for getting at least an 80% on all assessments) or a verified certificate with distinction (for getting 100% on all assessments). Coursera’s newly launched signature program has already earned over $1 million, focusing on students who want to earn a credential from their MOOCs.

In just these two experiences, I’ve learned that all MOOCs are not created equal. The first MOOC I took was a general public health class and it was fine. It was certainly more interesting than reading a public health textbook, especially since I do not have a strong formal science background. However, the course was not really created for the online learning format: most of the video lectures were taken with a camera in the back of the room during the professor’s live lectures, and they were uploaded in fairly long segments. In addition, the fact that the in-person students seemed a little disengaged from the material (professor would ask questions and have to wait for answers, or no one would answer) detracted from the experience. By contrast, the Epidemics MOOC that I’m currently taking is outstanding. The class has a huge team of instructors and developers, and was obviously developed specifically for this purpose. The videos are short (about 6 minutes each) and have excellent animations that accompany them. The videos are narrated by a bunch of different people, so they don’t get monotonous. In addition, the staff seems to be spending a huge amount of time contributing to the online discussion boards for the class. So, a huge shoutout to the Epidemics MOOC staff!

In my opinion, here are some caveats about the MOOC experience: if, like me, you’re doing a MOOC because you realize that, uh-oh, you should have paid better attention in those “throwaway” core classes in college? You’re in the right place. I was too busy thinking lofty literary thoughts in college (and graduate school for that matter) to worry about the difference between macroparasites and microparasites. Now, I’m regretting that impulse, but Coursera has come to the rescue. In addition, I think that some of the classic criticisms of MOOCs, such as “there’s no interaction with the instructor,” “all of the assessments are multiple choice and graded by computer,” and so on, also apply to many of the courses one would take as an in-person student at a large research university. Many of my friends who went to such universities were largely taught by grad students during their first few years. If you took an in-person course with 250 students in a lecture hall, you would not get personal attention or individually-graded assignments, and you’d be paying a lot more than $0 for the experience.

Personally, I do not see MOOCs as a substitute for a solid, in-person, general education. I would not encourage my own daughter to bypass an undergraduate degree in favor of MOOCs. I agree that the human interaction element of education is important, and I even agree that grad students can be excellent teachers. But for those of us who already have that general education and want to fine-tune our knowledge, I think that MOOCs are a great solution.

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Disclaimer: I’m not an accountant or an attorney; these are just some tips from my own experience and what works for me in my freelance business. Managing your freelance finances is a) time-consuming and b) absolutely critical to your survival as a freelancer. So, it’s worth taking some time to consider whether you’re optimally managing your money. And those of you who are more financially oriented than I am, please chime in in the comments.

  • Before you do anything else, separate your business and personal finances. Even if you do business as a sole proprietor (meaning that you are not incorporated), open a separate checking account that you use only for business purposes.
  • People use various accounting tools and processes, but at the very least, track your total freelance income for the year. Every time a client pays you, enter that amount into something (a spreadsheet, QuickBooks, Translation Office 3000, etc) so that you have a running total of how much you have earned.
  • Always, always have a savings cushion, especially if you are your (or your family’s) only income. Freelancing has its highs and lows; some months go like gangbusters and other months drip along. Big clients may unexpectedly change their plans or hire an in-house translator. And if you (or a family member) are too sick to work for an extended period, you’re left without income unless you have disability insurance. So don’t let yourself live paycheck to paycheck. Keep at least 3-6 months’ living expenses on hand in cash at all times.
  • Track your total outstanding invoices. For me, this is a big one. Of course you’re going to record your outstanding invoices so that you know whether clients have paid you or not, but you also want to know how much money you should be receiving in the next 30-60 days. This statistic will tell you how aggressive you need to be about looking for or accepting new projects. For example, let’s say that your income goal is $7,000 per month. Every time you issue an invoice, you enter it into an Excel file with a column that totals your outstanding invoices, so that you know how much money clients owe you. So for example if your outstanding invoices only total $5,000, you know that the next month is going to be lean unless you take on a lot more work. But if your outstanding invoices total $9,000, you know that you can afford (at least from the financial point of view) to be choosier about the work that you take on, to work on some non-paying tasks such as updating your website or marketing to higher-paying clients.
  • Track your business expenses. The easiest way to do this is by using a debit or credit card associated with your business bank account. That way, you don’t have to comb through your records at the end of the year, wondering whether that trip to the office supply store was for home or for work.
  • Establish a business savings account. Another big one: at the very least, you need to set money aside for taxes. Depending on your situation and your tax bracket, this could be anywhere from 25-50% of what you earn. Every time a client pays me, I deposit the check in my business checking account and then immediately transfer 40% to my business savings account so that I am never in a bind when tax time rolls around. And also…
  • Use your business savings account as a paid vacation fund. Freelancing doesn’t have many downsides, but one of them is no paid vacation. So, provide yourself with a good quality of life by having a paid vacation fund. For example, if you want to take off 4 weeks per year and work 48 weeks, start by putting $100 a week into your paid vacation fund. Then you’ll have $4,800 to “pay” yourself during your month off.
  • Have some sort of retirement plan. My accountant likes to say that “Everyone has a retirement plan. Either you’re saving for retirement or you’re planning to work until you drop.” Retirement strategies are really diverse, and they depend a lot on your expenses, how long you plan to work, if you have kids and how old you’ll be when they leave home, and so on. Plus the not insignificant question of how long you’re going to live. But whatever you do, have some kind of plan in place.
  • Set money aside for professional development and (why not) bonuses. It amazes me how many translators spend absolutely nothing on professional development and then wonder why their businesses are stagnating. In order to stay current in our industry, you have to keep your skills, knowledge and contact base current. Meaning that you have to learn new things. Take webinars, read books, do teleconferences, attend in-person conferences, join the Chamber of Commerce. But set aside at least 5% of what you make for professional development. And, if you have a good year, you really deserve a bonus. I once had a boss who left $50 in everyone’s mailbox on the last day before winter break; a manageable amount for the company, and an amount that everyone was excited to go and blow on something fun over the holidays. Consider earmarking some “fun money” for yourself, getting a new technology toy or treating your most valuable colleagues to a good meal at the end of the year!

Other ideas??

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Every now and again, I feel inspired to post a random freelance tip on my Twitter feed. I could say that these are Zen master-esque pearls of wisdom that distill in my mind over the course of a few years, but they’re more like out-of-left-field thoughts that come to me while I’m washing the dishes or folding laundry. Here are two for today; feel free to add a comment with your thoughts on them!

The freelance startup phase: give it time, or pick another business.

One of the most common laments I hear from beginning freelancers is that it’s taking so long to develop a solid client base. “So long” could be defined as anywhere from a month to the better part of a year, depending on the person’s situation. First, I tell the discouraged beginners that for the first year and a half that I was freelancing–a time during which I had planned to work very part-time or not at all, since I had just had a baby–I wondered almost every day if I would be better off getting a full-time job. After about 18 months, I still wasn’t earning a ton of money, but it was enough that I felt encouraged to stay the course. It took about three years of freelancing until I got to the point where I no longer considered the option of returning to full-time work for someone else. Looking back, that was a long three years. But here’s the thing: now, after almost 11 years of freelancing, there is no way that I could replace my freelance income if I worked at an in-house job, especially if I looked for something with similar hours and flexibility. Partially this has to do with location: if I lived in a major East Coast city, there might be in-house jobs that pay more than what I make freelancing and offer generous vacation. But in groovy college towns in the foothills of the Rockies: no way.

If you need quick money–and there’s nothing wrong with that…haven’t we all been there?–pick another business. Another mom from my daughter’s school recently told me that she was in that situation, and although she’s bilingual, in a marketable language, she started a housecleaning business. Within three months, she was bringing in a full-time income. Is the work intellectually stimulating, or creative, or self-directed? Probably not so much. But if you need a source of income ASAP, cleaning houses or walking dogs is a much better option than starting a freelance language business. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, since my fantasy sideline career is to become a service dog trainer!

Well-paying work is out there if you look for it. But most people don’t look for it; they wait for it to find them, and meanwhile they complain.

I’m not sure how much explaining this one needs: it’s all right there. Yes, our industry has its share of low-paying work and bottom-feeding clients. In addition, as freelancers we often take that aspect of the industry very personally, as if it’s a reflection of our personal worth. For more on that, see Walt Kania’s insightful post Charge what you’re worth? Please, no on The Freelancery.

But here’s the thing. There is so much well-paying work out there; even clients who are looking to pay high rates to someone who does a really good job. But those clients are too busy with their own work to comb the web looking for you. Maybe they don’t even know that you exist. Seriously: when I interviewed Joanne Archambault about how to find direct clients at industry conferences, she commented that a lot of her clients said that they never knew that someone like her existed, although they desperately needed her. You can go find those high-paying clients at their industry conferences; you can send them postcards; you can give webinars for them; you can write articles for their industry newsletters. But you cannot wait for them to find you, and meanwhile complain about the bottom-feeders and non-payers. It’s tough love, but there you go.

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As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m developing a new presentation on time management for translators. I presented the “beta” version at the Colorado Translators Association‘s recent mid-year conference and I think it went well; big thanks to everyone who responded to my time management survey which provided an excellent starting point for the presentation!

Time management is such a huge and subjective topic that I’m not sure I can write just one blog post about it. So I thought I would break the idea down into specific tips that might be easier to digest. Here’s one: take back control of your e-mail by mercilessly unsubscribing and filtering, so that you (try to) limit your inbox to messages that you need to read as soon as you receive them.

All of us receive countless notification e-mails every day: someone added you as a LinkedIn contact; someone mentioned you on Twitter; Groupon has a great offer for you; someone in your neighborhood needs a dog sitter. You may not want to stop receiving these e-mails entirely, but you need to stop them from interrupting your actual work. So, do this: the next time you read an e-mail and delete it without taking any further action, make a change. If you’re no longer interested in receiving that type of e-mail at all, unsubscribe. If you want to keep receiving it but you don’t need to read it right away, create a filter. I use the Gmail interface to read my domain name e-mail, and I make heavy use of the “Bypass the inbox” filtering feature. So let’s say that I signed up for an e-newsletter from a potential client because I want to learn more about their business. The first time I receive an e-mail from them:

-I click on the dropdown arrow on the right side of the message window, next to the Reply arrow
-Then I select “Filter messages like this”
-I enter the aspect that I want to filter on (sender, subject line, etc.), then click “Create filter with this search”
-Then I select or create a folder for those e-mails to go to; for example “Marketing research”
-Then, most importantly, I tick the “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)” box. The message will still be marked as unread, but it will go automatically to the designated folder. For example I currently have 497 unread messages from my neighborhood e-mail list in the folder I created for them. Basically that’s 497 messages that didn’t end up in my Inbox, and that I can read when/if I want to.

I’m sure that other e-mail applications have similar features; whatever program you use, make sure that you learn how to use filters so that you can focus on time-sensitive messages in your Inbox.

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I’m a big believer in taking at least one unplugged vacation per year: no computer, no work phone. I think that it’s important for a few reasons. Such as:

  • Work gets a lot of my undivided attention when I’m not on vacation, and my family needs and deserves some undivided attention too.
  • The mental break always helps me feel invigorated about my current work, and always gives me new perspectives on my work-related goals for the future.
  • It keeps me from developing an inflated sense of my own importance. If I start to feel that my clients really cannot live without me for a week, I’m the one with the problem.
  • It forces me to plan financially for the time off; I use my business savings account to pay myself for the time that I take off work.
  • I recognize that my energy, enthusiasm, creativity and probably other qualities are not infinitely renewable. I could work 50 hours a week, 51 weeks a year, but I don’t think that my current productivity level would last long. Everyone does what works for them, and for me, about 30 hours a week, 46 weeks a year is what’s sustainable.

Unplugged vacations might not be the norm these days, but even people who are actually important (as opposed to those of us who only fancy ourselves as important) think they’re worth considering. Here’s an interesting article in Harvard Business Review, which discusses the advantages of completely unplugging versus plugging in at scheduled times. And this article on CareerCast argues that unplugged vacations not only don’t hurt your career prospects, they actually help them.

So, now that you’re convinced (!), how do you do this? First, you pick a vacation destination that helps you, or even forces you, to unplug. As in, you don’t go to New York City and tell yourself that you’ll just leave your cell phone in the hotel room. You do something like go mountain bike camping in Utah, where there’s no cell reception anyway. Then, you find at least one trusted colleague who is available while you’re away. You send a pre-emptive e-mail to all of your clients and to the colleagues who regularly refer work to you, and you say something like:

Dear clients and colleagues: my office will be closed for vacation from X until Y, and I will not have access to e-mail or phone messages during this time. For urgent translations, please contact my trusted colleague (insert name and contact information). Otherwise I will respond to you as soon as possible when I return.

Note that if you truly want to unplug, you do not say that clients can call your cell phone if they need to reach you urgently. Nor do you leave them totally hanging and unable to get an urgent translation completed if they need one. You let them know that you are checking out completely, and you tell them who to contact while you’re away.

Finally, you put on your e-mail auto-responder and change your outgoing voicemail message, with something similar to the e-mail above. You clearly state that you are unavailable, and you provide a referral right there in the auto-response.

Then you go; you just do it. Put the office in the rear view mirror and enjoy your vacation. While you’re away, spend a little time making your peace with the fact that you may miss some work. You may even miss a really awesome project that you would have gladly interrupted the vacation for, had you known about it. That’s the reality of a week off the grid, but it’s a small price to pay for the renewed energy and enthusiasm you’ll have when you return. Because while you’re away, you’ll have a moment like this, and all of the missed work will be worth it!

Biking Utah's White Rim

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