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messy desk

I like to think I’m organised; I’m sure we all do in our own way. And I don’t just mean working in a tidy office, with a tidy desk, although that is important to me too. I know some people can work with piles of paper all around them, but I’m not one of them. For me, it’s more a case of knowing where I can lay my hands on everything, be it work stuff, important personal documents, or that recipe I meant to make when I have a moment. Organisation for a freelancer means keeping track of what work you have in, what’s due when, where everything is filed and all the associated admin processes you may have in place.

This may all seem obvious, but I’ve noticed over the years that so many colleagues’ cries for help with CAT tools actually come down to not having a foolproof filing system in place. If you leave it to the program itself to file your work, you’re going to find it very tricky to locate it again if the computer crashes or a job mysteriously disappears without trace from your projects list, as has been known to happen… Of course, having a good filing system isn’t just important for CAT tool users, but it does illustrate how easy it is for files to go astray.

Wordfast course 2007 Nice

I was lucky enough, when I first started using Wordfast some 14 years ago now (!), to attend an in-person beginners’ course given by John de Rico in Nice (remember those days, when we could go to fabulous places to do in-person training courses? It followed on from a Proz Regional Conference in Aix, so seemed the ideal opportunity to get to the bottom of this strange new tool I’d been tentatively experimenting with on my own). One of the first things he taught us was how important it is to set up a good system so that you know where all your files are: source files, unclean files, clean files, glossaries, translation memories. It’s a lesson that has stood me in good stead over the years.

Even though I switched to Trados a few years later, I didn’t use the default settings that Trados offers, which aren’t client-based, but continued to use my own system, filing new jobs according to client, year, then month. When you set up a new project in Trados, it usually gives you the option to browse for your project location (under Location path), but, rather annoyingly, always defaults to the previous location you’ve used, which may not be where you want this particular project to be if it’s a different client or month. I always click Browse to put it where I want it to go, but as a beginner, blinded by science, it’s very easy to go with the default option and then not be able to track down the project at a later date. This is particularly important when opening a package from a client, as there are fewer steps to the import process and it’s all too easy to overlook the project location, which will probably default to the previous location you were using. I’ve mentioned this time and time again at focus group meetings with SDL over the years and although I do believe there is now a small red exclamation mark over the location when you import a package these days, it’s still all too easy to miss. I actually think it would be better if there wasn’t a default location and the onus was always on the user to choose. Or even if this was included in the project template, but as people’s filing methods are so different, perhaps this isn’t feasible.

Project set-up page Trados

If, despite all this, you didn’t pay attention when setting up your project, all is not lost. Provided the project is still in your project list, you can still find the location by clicking on Project settings > Project and the location is the third entry in the list. Phew! If the project has disappeared from your project list altogether, try looking in the location of the previous project you were working on. If all else fails, as long as you save your entries to your memory as you work (I can never understand why you wouldn’t!), you can always start again, saving the file in the right location, and run the file through your TM to repopulate your translation with all the segments you’ve translated already.

These days, I try and simplify things by creating one Trados project per client per month, which means that all the source/target files etc for that month are in the same place. This saves on administrative effort in setting up each individual translation as they come in over the month. This has become much more straightforward since Studio 2019 made it much easier to add or edit files in existing projects. Just click Add Files in the ribbon to add a file to a project or, if the client has sent an updated version of a file you’re already working on, simply right-click the file in the project list and click Update File. I find it can get confusing to create a project for longer than a month, but I suppose it depends how much work you do for a given client – finding what works for you is key. Of course, you can also add new TMs or glossaries to a project at any time under Project settings > Language pairs > All Language Pairs >Translation memoreies / Termbases.

Card index

Even without a CAT tool, good recordkeeping is essential. Especially when you’re busy, keeping tabs on what jobs you have in and their various deadlines is crucial. As an old-school translator who started work in the dark ages of the 1980s, I still use a handwritten translation register and relish the fact that I can look at it without having to be on screen. I’m on to my second bound book now, the first lasting me from when I went freelance in 1988 right up to 2018, and it’s actually fascinating looking back on how things have changed (to say nothing of the dreadful decline in my handwriting!). I also use very simple screen Sticky Notes on my main desktop (also visible on my laptop should I be working away – ha, fat chance at the moment!) to keep a note of outstanding jobs/volume and deadline, plus any work I’ve outsourced. The only time I can recall forgetting to deliver a translation was when I received a request out of hours on a Friday evening with a busy weekend ahead and, because I hadn’t written it down anywhere, completely forgot until the client inquired about its whereabouts the following week. Oops! Fortunately, it was only short and I was able to do it straightaway, but it was a salutary lesson in always writing things down, no matter where you are or what you’re doing!

I know some colleagues use project management software to keep records, but I find it just creates an extra layer of admin, without offering any significant benefits. I used TO3000 for years, mainly as a means of keeping statistics, but still found it cumbersome to extract the statistics I wanted at the end of each year. I find it easier using my existing Microsoft Money figures, which I keep anyway for my personal finances. I could never get it to create personalised invoices either, so it didn’t help in that respect. I know others manage to get it to work, but it didn’t work for me. Then, when I finally switched to Windows 10 in 2019, I couldn’t get TO3000 to transfer to the new computer/system at all and I haven’t got around to uploading the new version since. I have to say I haven’t really missed it. I’ve always kept a database of all the translations I’ve ever done in any event and all my invoices (based on a simple spreadsheet system) are filed digitally, so I can access those if I need them. As with anything, it’s whatever works for you.

filing cabinet

One area where my organisational skills were tested to the full became apparent last year when I was working on a large project. It included some very specialised aspects, so I needed to outsource those to a colleague, then feed back into the project as a whole.. Not only was I outsourcing parts of documents (fine in itself, I have a spreadsheet for that!), but the client kept sending updated versions of the files to be translated, some in track changes mode, but others not. This meant I had to compare the documents in Word to see the changes before I could assess what was new and let my colleague know what had changed and keep tabs on the word volume/hours involved. That’s where a good filing system and great care naming the individual files with version numbers and dates really came into their own. Even simple things like adding ‘ed_myinitials_date’ to documents can make the difference when it comes to working out which is the final file to go back to the client – and a clear directory structure for source files, edited files, final reviews, finished versions, etc. Sometimes, we hadn’t even finished sending back one lot of updates before another lot came in, and on occasions the latest updates might be deemed more urgent than the previous ones, so it was all extremely convoluted. We got there in the end – but I was very grateful that my systems worked! And for my colleague’s patience with all the chopping and changing. Keeping tabs on charging methods was important in this case too – sometimes a word count worked, but, with lots of changes, it is often much simpler to apply an hourly rate as long as the client and colleagues are on board and know what’s happening.

It certainly makes me glad I’m not running an agency, when I can see that my job would involve a lot more document handling and a lot less translation, which is where my heart really lies. But it’s nice to know you can do it if you try – and being organised in the first place is definitely half the battle. We may not use old-fashioned filing cabinets and card indexes these days, but it pays to know where everything is and how to access it at a moment’s notice.

My desk set-up