surge in work flow prompted me, a free-lance translator, to calculate my
productivity and compare today with the past.
One of the few positive aspects of the financial crisis-related business slowdown is that plenty of time is available for calculations. When work is coming in, and the deadlines are pressing, there is no time for luxuries like statistics. Yet you are sure that money will come and the bills will be paid! Recently the work flow was not so pressing, so I found time to review my workload of the last few years. The Microsoft Access-based application, which I use to record my jobs (Translation Job Registry) was very helpful in providing the data for calculations (1, 2). The main questions I wanted to answer were: how many hours do I work daily on average, how much more can I do, and how did the financial crisis affect my work? Also, I wanted to see how much of the work that was coming in was classified as "discounted work" due to fuzzy and exact matches.
The main reason I started this project was curiosity (and availability of spare time...). But as always, going back to the past was enlightening for the future!
were rather interesting and I thought it worth sharing them with you.
The workload of the years 2003 to 2010 was used for this study. In this period all incoming
projects were registered. Among others, either the number of words to be
translated (segmented and classified as exact matches, fuzzy matches and no
matches), or the time needed to complete the job in hours were recorded. Small
jobs charged at my minimum fee were registered as "minimums." At the same
time, all jobs I shared with a colleague were also registered indicating the
work volume that was given to my colleague; this refers to jobs that came to me
but needed collaboration with somebody else (combined translation and editing projects).
It is important to notice that all my work is technical translation or
technical editing and thus, my estimations refer to this kind of projects.
The main questions I wanted to answer were: how many hours do I work daily on average, how much more can I do, and how did the financial crisis affect my work?
In order to
compare the workload, the work volume of all projects was converted into hours
- Projects registered in
hours were left unchanged
- For projects registered
as "minimums," a conversion based on the rule "1 minimum =
1 hour " was used.
- For projects registered
with word count, the basic assumption used was that 250 words of technical
translation equals 1 hour. A factor of 1, 0.25 and 0.75 was used for no
matches, exact matches and fuzzy matches, respectively. As a result, a
hypothetical project with 4000 no matches, 4000 exact matches, and 4000
fuzzy matches would yield [4000 +(0.25*4000)+(0.75*4000)]/250
=[4000+1000+3000]/250 = 32 hours.
hours per year
estimate of the "working time" in a yearly basis was made assuming
that the day has 8 working hours, the week has 6 working days and that 30 days
per year are left for vacation. This gives 2264 working hours a year. This
value is arbitrarily called "maximum average working hours per year"
in this work. This calculation correlates well with ATA's
average gross income of full-time independent contractors (3). According to the
2007 Compensation Survey the gross income of a non-US based full-time
independent contractor averages aprox. 57.000 USD.
With a hypothetical rate of USD 0.1 per word, this analogs to 57.000 words per
year; and this can be converted to 570.000/250 = 2.280 hours per year. Quite
close to my arbitrary "maximum average working hours per year." It is also
close to the 2218.5 hours that Lawrence Schofer
estimates it's the average available work hours per year in his recent article
in ATA Journal (4).
to world financial data
The Dow Jones
industrial average was used as a rough estimate of the stock market during the
period of my study (5).
of discount work
work was considered the part of a project that was characterized as exact match
or fuzzy match, and consequently it was paid in a discount rate. The percentage
of discount work was calculated dividing the sum of exact and fuzzy matches to
the total word count. This calculation was made using the yearly totals of
projects registered with word counts. Minimums and hourly paid jobs were not
workload as estimated with the calculations mentioned above is shown in Table 1
and in the right diagram of Figure 2. In the same diagram you can compare my
annual hours of work to the "maximum average working hours per year."
of my workload with the stock market values is shown in Figure 1. Notice the surge in both diagrams for 2009.
percentage of discounted work on a yearly basis is shown in Table 2 and in
What does all this mean?
parallelism between my work load and the state of the economy as measured by
the Dow-Jones average (see Figure 2) was more or less expected. The profession
sensed the crisis and responded appropriately very quickly (price reductions,
alliances etc). For me it was more obvious that the work load would diminish,
since a considerable percentage of my translations is
related to the automotive industry, which experienced a huge slowdown during
the crisis. However, even in the worse period of the crisis, some work did come
in. Even in 2009, the worst year, I received work which equaled the 50% of the
average work load of the previous years. The secret here was translation topic
diversity and a considerable pool of clients. Although automotive is the big
portion of the pie in my case, other areas also exist in my portfolio and they
kept the work alive during this hard time. Also, over the years, I was able to
acquire a clientele numbering enough agencies; this also helped and reminded me
that it is important to keep all clients well served and happy. You never know
when you will need them, regardless of how big or small they are.
concerning my productivity were very interesting. During the years of high work
flow (2003-2008) I was receiving projects that required 2480 hours of work a year
on average. This is well above the 2264 hours of my arbitrary "maximum
average working hours per year." Even if you subtract the work that was handled
by my coworkers, a yearly workload of 2078 hours on average remains, that fills
approximately 92% of the "maximum average working hours per year." Please
remember that in all these calculations no administrative work is included.
Time needed for communication, filing and archiving, invoicing etc. must be
added on top of the hours mentioned above. Schofer in
his article estimates that these tasks can take up to 30% of your actual
working time (4). This means that at that period I had probably reached the
maximum of my capacity as a solo full-time freelance translator. The work of
this period fully filled 6 days a week, 11 months a year (with daily work that
in total exceeded considerably the 8 hours of hypothetical working day).
paragraph shows that the answer to the question "how much more can I
do?" was straightforward for the period between 2003 to
2008: not much. And this by default sets my target for the current
period. Having experienced the consequences of a shortage of workflow during
2009, I'm rather realistic with my expectations. It seems that the best I
should expect is to return to the 2003-2008 workload.
The results of 2010 were encouraging, but I'm still well behind the good years.
work is always something that creates concerns. The prevalence of translation
tools in the profession and the accumulation of large translation memories in
the hands of agencies could mean that year-by-year the percentage of exact and
fuzzy matches in the texts to be translated would gradually increase. My
findings for the last 8 years do not support this fear. It seems that the
percentage of fuzzy and exact matches is relatively stable, reaching
approximately 25% of the words received for translation. And this reconfirms
the findings of my previous work, indicating that the introduction of
translation tools has improved productivity without jeopardizing income (2).
And while I'm
writing these last lines, another project came in! It seems that we are again on
the uphill of the curve. My calculations indicate that I need to run in order
to catch up with my personal high scores of the past. So I'm returning to the
real work, hoping that this analysis of my use of time will be as useful to you
as it was to me.
- A simplified version of
my registry tool can be found at: http://www.greek-translations.net/tjr.htm
- Lawrence Schofer:
Word. How much per word? The ATA Chronicle Volume XL, Number 2, February