500 words before breakfast

Content warning: Vegetarians will not like the images.

In my penultimate post you saw a smidgin of my analysis of  2015 figures, which was the first step in figuring out how I would like to deal with 2016.

The chief problem I had was one of proper time management. So I have come up with something which is both new – and very old: Translate 500 words before breakfast.  Years ago, I regularly used to translate for up to two hours before getting ready for my job in the corporate world and leaving the house just after 7.00 a.m. These days, in principle, this should be a cinch. There is no commute and, ostensibly, far less to organise.

Doing things before breakfast is based on two things. The motto my partner and I had years ago when dealing with our domestic budget was “first things first”. Obviously you have the freedom, within reason, of deciding what your priorities are. Then you have to deal with them first. The rest can wait. So, I started to think what that motto means for me now, all these years later.

No big revelation: I am first and foremost, a translator. Logically, therefore, according to “first things first”, translation should be at the top of the list – every day.  This might seem simplistic. It is.

With goal setting this year, I have started with the small steps. I have a minutely detailed schedule for every day of the week. The chief purpose of slicing up my day this way is to ensure that I put in the requisite hours to earn the income I have targeted. This may go against the grain of the very idea of being a freelancer. It does, however, have the effect of freeing up time at the end of the day for numerous activities and projects which do not yet earn me any income but are related to translation, or are things I like doing, such as blogging – or more work.

It is not a new thought that time is money. The idea that I can, by returning to old disciplines which fell by the wayside, motivate myself to finish work sooner, have more leisure and very possibly earn more money through more effective use of certain times of the day is possibly a good step to take in the direction of working more smartly, rather than increasing the levels of slog.

So now I have a timetable. It is taking an enormous effort to get myself to stick to it. In this trial run before the end of the year, let’s just say that my performance has been less than scintillating, although somewhat encouraging − in patches.

What have the obstacles been, apart from starting the exercise with the certain amount of sleep deprivation?

For one, unexpected things happen. I received an elaborate  reminder from a friend in the form of a Christmas gift of food on the night of 23 December. It was a reminder that I have not done  what I intended to do in the chicken run preparation department around September. We had a partially negotiated deal: I would make a gate for the chicken run; she would buy the chickens and quite a lot of chicken feed; I would raise the chickens and give her eggs – and chickens. The original plan was to commence chicken rearing in June, so that my friend could have chicken for Christmas. Only my life has been complicated and busy, and I have barely seen the garden since springtime. Here is a picture of my present:

The bird has landed, thankfully without feathers. I had done at least 500 words by breakfast, but would like to have done a few more before lunch. Sadly this was not to be. I had a pullet to clean and stuff and bung in the oven on the morning of 24 December.

Together with a generous bottle of wine and two boxes of chocolates, my reminder arrived at my home partially defrosted, weighing 2.93 kilograms from head to claw sans feathers. Obviously, such reminders need to be cooked as soon as possible  irrespective of one’s translation schedule. And having cooked the bird, one has to cook a few more things to make a dinner, lay the table, and have dinner on Christmas Eve (instead of the planned Christmas Day). How ironic that the translation I was working on was a publication for a frozen food company.

Stuffed good and proper and ready for roasting for our dinner. Apologies to the squeamish, and non meat-eaters among you. The onions are organic. :)
Stuffed good and proper and ready for roasting for our dinner. Apologies to the squeamish, and non meat-eaters among you. The onions are organic. 🙂

I digress, but that is what happens to my schedule.  Flexibility is a fine thing, but I would argue now, having been far too flexible of late, that rigidity is called for whenever possible. And by that, I do not mean the kind of rigidity commonly associated with rigor mortis. I am referring to the insisting rigorously on sticking to the plan as closely as possible.

So what does 500 words before breakfast mean? Well, it does not mean that I starve myself until I have translated  500 words. I have said 500 words as a motivational trick. The truth is that I work on a safe 250 finished words per hour. In practice, the figure is often between 300 and 400 finished words per hour (including all the admin odds and ends, which are, of course, contingent upon the actual length of the translation job itself).  In fairness, on some texts, I am capable of completing up to 750 almost finished words in an hour. So for me, the “500 words” is merely saying “get on with it”.

The phrase “500 words before breakfast” also assumes you have at least 500 words to get on with. If you have completed all the work on your plate (dreadful pun, but I am not wasting time searching for an alternative expression), you must on no account think that there is nothing to do, but must immediately have something equally rigorous to drag you out of your stupor as if you do have a deadline.

I figured that a lot of my stress came from reaching a certain point around mid-morning without having translated any significant quantity. So now, the first thing I do after rising and dressing is translate solidly without interruption for one hour at least, with my eye on that 500-word count constantly. I have to say that this is most effective. Later revision is showing that the translation itself is pretty good. Top speed straight away. Straight away means after two sips of coffee.

Having jump started my engine in the first hour, I accomplish two things: I get work done, and I feel good about that, during that time my mind is getting ready for its second cup of coffee, by which time, the working world in my part of the planet has woken up and I can spend half an hour (or less) checking and answering e-mails, updating my diary and my schedule by way of a break from the intensity of the first hour.

What is helping – and I really do recommend it is Freeagent – an online accounting package which has a time-tracking function. I was sold on it well before the 30-day free trial was over. The time tracker is really for billable hours, and will be useful for work charged out on an hourly basis. I am using it, however, to check that I do not fall below the notional hourly rate derived from the number of words I am capable of finishing in one hour multiplied by the effective per word rate of the job I am working on.

I cannot afford to lose time or lose money. This element of rigidity will be very useful. It prevents day dreaming and with two screens, it is useful to see that little clock out of the corner of my eye, as it racks up the seconds and minutes.

You can create reports from all the time slips on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. How eye-opening! How many hours do you actually work in one day or in one week? Not as many as you think, is the answer. How long does it take to keep track of yourself all day – a few minutes – not as long as you think.

There is no image of the cooked roasted chicken. I had carved it and served our dinner before I thought of the camera.  What I can tell you is that it takes two hungry people in the middle of a (mild) winter approximately three and a half days to polish off a 2.93 kg chicken and a mountain of delicious stuffing.

©2015 Allison Wright

4 thoughts on “500 words before breakfast

Add yours

  1. No squeam here – looks delicious! I often find I work best before breakfast too, although these days that tends to mean any time before about midday as my sleep patterns seem to be turning even more random. And you’re absolutely right about the importance of time tracking software. I have a different program but use it in the same way. If I’m not hitting my nominal hourly rate then I know I’m doing something wrong! But the really surprising thing is indeed how few hours I actually work per month. I’m glad you said that – I thought it was just me!


    1. I daresay that there are many translators who are not working nearly as hard as they think they are, nor as hard as they are capable of working!
      Now that you mention the nominal hourly rate, I should add that despite the best laid plans, etc., if I fall below a certain half-hourly rate (normally because of fatigue), that’s when I shut down the computer, “drop the pen”, and walk away.


  2. I enjoy your blog so much (I think I’ve said that before). Working from home can be a trap so I guess your timetable strategy will circumvent the … procrastination? Perhaps not procrastination. Distractions may be a more relevant term. There’s a lot going on in your life apart from your work. Be strong, be brave.


  3. Thank you, Eleanor, for the repeated compliment! No, it is not procrastination. It is more a question of having many many things to do, and very many things I want to do. Timetabling is one way to squeeze as much of “everything” as possible into that infinitely finite resource called time. The phonetic similarity of the words “worrier” and “warrior” has long been a joke in our household, As in, “Don’t be a worrier; be a warrior!” :).


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