Five Criteria to Establish Priorities in your Schedule
It's a beautiful day. On the way to the office, the first rays of sun stretch across the infinite blue horizon. The moon has still not gone down in his desire to bless me with his presence. I take a deep breath and feel that life is worth living. The day before I left my diary perfectly organised with all projects and deliveries under control. It looks like it will be good day in my wonderful life!
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When I get to the office I look over my diary while the computer is starting up. First surprise: the Internet connection is down! I hope it isn't Murphy's law. The service is much more reliable since we've been using the new Internet provider for 3 years now and I no longer remember the days of unstable connections and moments of panic. False alarm: the IT technician has the connection up and running in 15 minutes
As soon as I open my email I realise that my day is not going to end as it began. There are five new quotes, three providers asking for a deadline extension for different reasons, a client complaining about a project that has already been delivered, another that has just realised that he sent me the wrong files, three projects that have been approved and are urgent, a last minute change in a leaflet in 8 languages, a colleague calls to say she has a fever of 40 degrees (and she isn't coming to work of course!)...
This could be the typical morning of any project manager in a translation company, or in any other company offering professional services. When this happens, the main thing is to keep calm, as we already mentioned in our blog 10 Tips to Survive Project Management. There is no other way, you just have to stop and reorganise the tasks in your diary in order of importance. That way, you can complete tasks one by one carefully, calmly and focused on what you are doing (and the other tasks are already organised and will be done later).
Below you will find some criteria for reorganising your diary whenyour workload for the day exceeds your daily productive capacity. The objective: to be as efficient as possible and guarantee the satisfaction of your clients. However, you must understand and accept that when things go wrong, it affects everybody. These criteria are based on my experience with translation projects, but they could be applied to other activities.
My first suggestion is to identify any tasks that can be delayed. Often clients suggest deadlines with some leeway, precisely to avoid delays that may affect their work flow. If you know that your client works in this manner, then he will be a candidate for asking for flexibility in exceptional circumstances. He probably won't be pleased, but he will accept it as long as you can agree on a date that works for all concerned.
Secondly, you can identify those clients that tend to want everything "straight away", just in case, due to a lack of organisation or faced with stressful situations. During my career as a project manager, I've worked on urgent projects (sometimes working overtime) for clients that didn't even look at the job until days later. On occasion, even weeks later. Anyway, no comment... The point is that if you identify these situations then you will be able to talk to your clients and, in most cases, they won't have a problem in extending the deadline. There is no real urgency.
As a last resort, you can assess the collateral damage that would be caused to the client by a delay in the deadline. This will have consequences in your relationship with the client, as it will be detrimental for him. Nevertheless, it is not the same that your client will not have his catalogues ready for the most important trade fair in his field, as having to publish a not especially relevant section of his website two days later than expected. In the first case, you will have lost a client. In the second, I suggest a courtesy discount. At AbroadLink, we offer our clients a pre-agreed discount in the case of a delay in the delivery.
Another aspect that I personally use to organise my diary, is an approximate calculation of how long it will take to complete each task. This way, I can note down the tasks that I estimate will take me less than five minutes. Therefore I can reply to my clients and providers promptly, something that we all appreciate. It also has a psychological benefit to see that in the first hours of the morning you have already been able to mark most of the day's tasks as complete. It may seem silly, but on a stressful day these types of strategies work.
This aspect may be morally questionable, but as professionals we must be clear on this point. Except for honourable exceptions, we all work for money. Especially if we have family or financial commitments, and the bad habit of eating three times a day! We must accept that if there is no other alternative than delaying a project, then we are more likely to do so with a client that sends jobs once in a blue moon, and does not represent even 1 % of turnover, than with one that makes up 10 % of the company's turnover.
We may sometimes be resistant in adopting this strategy, leaving a client that we like and that we have a good relationship with in the lurch, compared to one that we may not have such a good relationship with. It is normal to have experienced some tense situations with our clients during a long client-provider relationship. Usually they arise from stressful situations, in which we can all be less polite than usual. So it is more likely that these situations arise precisely with clients that represent a significant part of the company's turnover.
In short, personal preference should not be taken into account when in a professional context.
This is related to the first point regarding collateral damages. Before I was referring to objective damages (leaflets not being ready for a trade fair on time, a delay in publishing web content...) and now I mean psychological collateral damages.
Again, this point could be questionable from a moral perspective, but I insist that it is a professional aspect taking into account the interests of both the company and the clients. Here you must assess the emotional impact that a delay in the delivery due to exceptional circumstances would have on the client. You would not delay projects with a high negative emotional impact due to the personality or emotional situation of the client.
If the client is perfectionist and demanding, and always sends the work materials as agreed, then we can assume that a change in the agreed conditions will have a high negative impact. Especially if the deadline was agreed well in advance. If, on the other hand, the client does not work in a systematic manner and on occasion we have had to restructure our schedule due to their lack of organisation, then we can assume that the emotional impact will be low. This aspect is quite subjective and will be influenced by our own perceptions and assessment.
The final point that I propose is to assess the risk of not finishing the task in the expected time. If there is a task that you do regularly and have under perfect control, then you should prioritise that task compared to another with a time estimation that is subject to change, under equal conditions.
In the case of a translation, if it is a job with an existing database (or translation memory as it is called in our industry) and a glossary, and you regularly work for the client, then you should prioritise that job compared to another text with no previous experience. A translator can translate 600 words per hour or 150 words per hour, depending on the amount of specialised terminology to be found and documented.
You can use similar criteria in the case of typesetting. When you have already worked on a client's manuals, leaflets or catalogues then you already know the difficulties involved with the job. You will know the fonts used and the PDF settings, for example. Therefore, there will be less risk of making a mistake when estimating the time needed.
In conclusion, on days when you are snowed under with work you need to reorganise your work schedule in order of priority to avoid stress and to work efficiently. If you are a project manager and you use other criteria, please share your experiences and strategies with us here.
José Gambín holds a 5-year degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (Spain) and a 4-year degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada (Spain). He has worked as a freelance translator, in-house translator, desktop publisher and project manager. From 2002, he is a founding member of AbroadLlink and currently works as Marketing and Sales Manager.