Task overview - KeyCheck Translation

Time and task management (post-conference thoughts)

This is the second post in my series following a translation conference held in Warsaw, Poland on the first weekend of October. Today I am going to talk about time and task management and refer to Monika Rozwarzewska’s excellent presentation entitled “Umiejętne zarządzanie środowiskiem pracy tłumacza” (“Effective management of translator’s working environment”).

In her presentation Monika spoke about both time and task management, which aren’t quite the same thing, although they certainly are related to one another.

She spoke about systemising one’s workload and ensuring that adequate time is spent on preparation, work and verification (or, more precisely, self-verification). She referred the audience to quality standards such as EN 15038, which I am going to talk about in another post later in this series. She underlined the importance of working through task by task (rather than “multitasking”, which, to my own experience, rarely works, especially if one is under a lot of pressure).

She further spoke about Parkinson’s law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” or, in other words, a task is going to take us the amount of time that we allocate for it. She gave an example of having to do a task that she could do in an hour, maybe two hours and which took her the whole day because she was letting herself get distracted and did not really plan for other things.

It is true that us translators love our jobs. This often means that our private life suffers because of it. Monika’s message was: plan for your private life – hobbies, sports, quality time with your family. And then work your business life around it. It will lead to a happier you.

There are applications and programs that can help. You can, for example, type into Google “RSI software” (RSI = repetitive strain injury) or “break reminder”. I also found this useful website: download.cnet.com (opens in a new window).

I couldn’t agree more with Monika, especially since recently I started struggling again with my life/work balance. This leads to the second part of this post, which is task management.

Some time ago I tweeted (@keycheck_t9n) a link to an article on task management (with a comment that mind maps don’t quite work for me) and was asked to explain my own methods of dealing with tasks.

I might disappoint you here: I don’t have a single bulletproof method. It changes depending on how I feel, what I think I need and, above all, how useful it is for a given purpose. But there are some things that I found useful for different tasks.

  • Above all and before you do anything else – PRIORITISE. The way to prioritise tasks is reflected on the following graphic:
Prioritise tasks - matrix - KeyCheck Translation

Source: Prioritising Meeting Items – Creative Streak

Needless to say, things that are not urgent and unimportant need to be discarded. Then act upon this classification. Always do important and urgent things first. Perhaps things that are of low importance but high urgency could be delegated? And then you’ll have more time for things that are important but not very urgent.

  • To-do lists. My husband keeps telling me (and recently started following his own words and my example) that time management gurus say that the best way of dealing with tasks for the day is:
    1. At the beginning of the day write them down, prioritising them so that the most important one is at the top of the list and the least important one is at the bottom of the list.
    2. Don’t think too much about managing your time again – just do the first task, cross it off once finished, move on to the next.
    3. Repeat until you reached the last task on your list.
    4. If you don’t manage to complete all your tasks, move them onto the next day’s task list. If you do, just write a new list.
    5. Repeat every working day.

I always ensure that I date the list, too, so I can find things easily. I like to use the same notepad for all task lists. I often write other details in the same pad, e.g. random thoughts, things to follow up, details of requirements, phone numbers etc.

  • Calendar. For general planning and singular events mainly. I used to use a physical, printed calendar and still buy one every year but I don’t really use them any more. I now use Google Calendar, which I share with my husband, so we both know what we are up to. It makes planning singular (and sometimes recurring) events much easier. There are many other calendar programs and applications that allow for sharing with others. Test them out, see which one suits your needs the best.
  • Online task list. For annoying reminders about regular and singular events. I use a free version of www.onlinetasklist.com, which again I share with my husband. I like it particularly for the possibility of adding custom recurring tasks, which allow for much more flexibility than Google Tasks. Features include: selecting a number of instances, which day(s) of the week or how many days apart the task(s) should occur. The setup is very easy and every time a task is due, you get an (optional) email. The only thing I would change would be allocating time for task completion. As things stand now, a task becomes overdue at the time you get the notification.
  • Project management in Excel. For every day work. I worked my system out on the basis of a similar system I learnt whilst working for an internet marketing agency. The main difference is in presentation (mine is a bit clearer) and in that my task overview is not on a server, so other than my backup, there is only one copy of the document.
    There are many programs that help manage projects (some more complicated than others) but I simply use MS Excel (OpenOffice.org’s Calc would do, too). I have a simple spreadsheet and use a three colour system (red, yellow and green – for high contrast). This is a sample of what it looks like:

Task overview - KeyCheck TranslationTasks that have been requested but I haven’t begun them yet are in red. Tasks that I have started working on but haven’t completed yet are in yellow. Tasks that I have completed but have not been invoiced or paid for yet are in green and yellow. Tasks that have been completed are in green.

The advantages are that you can very easily see what needs to be done and whether you sent the invoice/received the payment. You can also select a level of completion and it’s easy to add up how much you made in a given month, as well as make use of other Excel formulae. It’s also such a clear system that it’s quite easy to stick to it. Also, you make it as detailed or as general as you’d like it to be!The main disadvantages are that you cannot share it easily – although, of course, you could use Google Drive instead of a local program. Also, it’s not incredibly advanced – but the beauty in it lies in its simplicity. At least for me!

  • Post-it notes. For any purposes, but mainly for physical reminders that don’t clutter your inbox. Sometimes I use a lot of little post-it notes, which I stick to a shelf next to my desk, where I can see them easily. It feels great to physically take them off and chuck them into recycling! It’s not great, though, for prioritising (unless you order them in a specific way on the shelf but I rarely have the time for this sort of playing). I like them the most when I have to do something important but not urgent.

  • Smartphone app. For annoying reminders on my phone. I have an Android smartphone and many apps are available on Google Play for task management. I quite like GTasks: To Do List | Task List, which synchronises with my Google Tasks. I don’t really use it for project management, though – more for private things, like “Ring Grandma” or “Finish Abi’s dress”… It allows for sharing, it syncs with my tasks and calendar, it allows for marking a task as urgent, some level of recurring tasks and pop-up reminders.

When I talk about annoying reminders, what I mean by “annoying” is that tasks always sit in the back of my mind and being reminded by an automated message usually makes me snarl: “Yeah, I know, bugger off!” – but I obviously need reminding about certain things every now and then!

Thanks for reading – and please share in comments below what your own methods are! I’d love to find out and maybe try your methods too.

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