5 Systems to Help Translators Boost Their Productivity

Does it feel sometimes like you're stuck in a rut?

That no matter how much you want to go out and get clients and improve your business, life always gets in the way?

Although I'm one of those overachieving people who is naturally inclined to do a massive numbers of tasks every day, I still do everything in my power to improve my productivity.

In my translation work, my marketing, my daily habits: everything.

Productivity can mean the difference between just scraping by and making your dream salary.

So let's look at 5 different types of productivity systems that can take your translation business from a slow steam to a roiling boil.


Do you yearn to make profound changes in your business, but all your best intentions to contact clients and get hustling seem to fall by the wayside every day?

Then your productivity problem may be in the habit category.

Here are two resources that explain habits and help you create new and more effective ones:

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

This book unravels the mysteries of habits: how they start, how they continue and how they can change.

If you're stuck with the same translation clients and can't get moving with your marketing, then this book can help you build the habits that will boost your business.

Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results

This book is all about how the road to big change comes from just one small step. Want to work out? Just do one push up. Want to translate an entire novel? Start with one sentence.

Because we often sabotage our success by looking for massive change, when all we really need is a continuous series of small changes over time.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

This book has been popular for so long, and for good reason: it gives clear solutions to simple problems that most people run into when it comes to accomplishing the things they want.

While I'll leave you to read all seven habits, the ones that struck me the most are a) how we don't have a time management problem but a self-management problem and b) that goals are accomplished by working on the things that are important but not urgent (instead of tasks that are just urgent).

Definitely a book to keep in your productivity library.


Maybe you burn through your translations with the speed of Thor and are ready to take your business to the next level, but you put off a lot of tasks.

You keep saying to yourself that you'll go to networking events and send out business cards, but you never do.

You, my friend, have a procrastination problem. (And join the club, because this is definitely one of my own areas of weakness!)

Here are two resources to help cure you of this nasty penchant:

Eat That Frog

The idea behind this gross metaphor is pretty simple and from something that Mark Twain (supposedly) said: "If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that will happen to you all day long."

This not a very meaty book. Nor is it filled with tremendous insight if you've read a million similar books. But there are some solid practical tips that will apply to your freelance translation business. (Or instead of buying the book, just read the author's blog.)

Procrastination: Why You Do It, And What To Do About It Now

This book offers a lot more insight into the why of procrastination.

Why do you put things off? That is a big question that is different for everyone, and can have to do with issues of self-esteem and perfectionism (uh, hello, translators anyone?). A good foray into self-analysis.

Productivity Management

Now that you've got your habits nailed and your procrastination under control, it's time to look at the different productivity management systems out there.

Work Simply 

The thesis of this system is that people become disorganized because they use the wrong tools for their productivity style.

Are you a prioritizer? A planner? An arranger? Or a visualizer?

The style you lean towards has an impact on how you organize your daily to-do list and projects.

I'm a bit of everything, with equal weights planner and visualizer. So I like to use spreadsheets and lists for my everyday tasks, but I need mindmaps and charts in order to plan out long-term goals.

Learning about my styles has helped me keep my translations on track, my inbox at zero and my marketing tasks on the money.

Getting Things Done

This cornerstone productivity book was originally meant for corporate executives and managers, but people of all ilks can theoretically benefit from the system. (It's not one I generally use myself.)

I feel like this system is overkill for most freelancers, but if you are super serious about your translation career as a business, it's worth checking out the theory behind good planning and commitment management.

Also, the book talks a great deal about purpose (why are you doing what you're doing), which is a key part of strategy. The more strategic you are, the less time you waste and the more productive you are.


You may have noticed some common themes running through these systems, specifically purpose, planning and action.

What is it that you really want? What is your ultimate goal? What is your deepest, fondest wish for your translation business?

If you don't know, then you need to read:

The Magic Lamp: Goal Setting for People Who Hate Setting Goals

This book forces you to ask the question "What would I really want from life if I were absolutely, positively certain I would get it?"

If you don't have a purpose in your translation business, if your goals are fuzzy, if you're not really sure what you're doing, then you are probably not going to get anywhere.

We can't sit around and wait for things to happen. We need a clear purpose that drives our actions and helps us make decisions.

I've seen fledgling translators flail for this very reason, so all the more reason to set your sights on a goal and get cracking.

Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence

The topic of this book isn't really productivity, but the attainment of excellence.

But productivity and excellence go hand in hand: the more you focus on specific goals, the more you master particular skills, and the more you improve specific weaknesses, the more you'll increase your overall productivity. (Especially if you're prone to distraction!)

Emotional Improvement

If you have worked on all of these aspects and still feel stuck in your translation business, then it's time to consider that something deeper may be going on with you.

Are you riddle with anxiety and fear? Racked with self-doubt? Are you an avid people pleaser?

All of these problems can seriously harm your productivity.

First of all, if this is you, don't be afraid to seek out a psychologist. Many a successful business owner has turned to psychology to overcome hurdles and obstacles, so there's no reason you shouldn't either.

Because emotional baggage is exactly that: baggage that you carry around and just won't go away. So why not unload it once and for all?

In the meantime, you can try these books:

The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome

The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety or the Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Social Anxiety and Shyness

The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt

Get Productive Now

I've chosen these books in particular because none of them promotes easy answers or promises to turn your translation business into an overnight success.

Because productivity takes a lot of self-analysis, time, understanding and--most importantly--action.

But the sooner you take action to improve, the more productive you'll be.

And the more productive you are, the more clients you'll find, the better translator you'll be, and the more money you'll make.

All the more reason to your new productivity journey right now.

Do you have a question about productivity for translators? Have a good strategy to share specifically for translators? What worked for you?

Leave a comment!