P = (F+U)/N Productivity and Fun in the Equation




  • Greater than 4 minutes, my friend!

    Productivity is an important part of doing business, if not the most important part. Of course winning clients and jobs is great, but when one is not being productive it can result in earning too little money to work. On the other hand, productivity can put such pressure on freelancers that they almost become paralysed or even burn out. In both cases the fun factor of being a freelance translator gets totally lost.
    In this article, which I planned to present at ELIA Together 2017, I share some thoughts on productivity and fun.

    P = (F+U)/N

    While productivity is an important metric for freelance translators, it shouldn’t remove all the fun from business. Indeed, fun is one of the things that is actually necessary to stay in the business for years. While it sometimes seems to contrast with productivity, the two should be in a good balance. Too much productivity will decrease the fun factor while too much fun will lead to a decrease in productivity.
    That was the topic I planned to speak about at ELIA Together, one of the greatest translation conferences in Europe. Although my proposal was accepted, I lost my energy and some courage as I was already caught up in an overload of work. That’s why I cancelled my presentation. In this article I still want to share my thoughts.

    Particularly for this presentation I coined a new formula (you might even call it ‘Pieter’s Law’): P = (F+U)/N. It is part of a light-hearted approach to productivity and fun, but if you want to know what it is about, you can stick to the equation below:

    Productivity and Fun

    Where P = Productivity,
    F = Frantic working hours
    U = Unproductive hours
    N = Noteworthy moments

    Should business be fun?

    For many freelancers, starting a freelance business means a dream coming true. They love the responsibility, being their own boss, choosing their own working hours, clients and jobs, and making more money than in an office. That success however, is not granted to every translator who starts as a freelancer. In many cases they have to chase after jobs only to discover that they are too expensive, too illiterate or too slow to deliver. Highly successful translators on the other hand struggle with an overload of work, coping with too many clients, too tight deadlines or too complex secondary tasks. In the first case, being a freelancer lacks the fun of success, while in the second case it lacks the fun of freedom.


    It is exactly that fun that is necessary to survive. When being master in your own business becomes being a slave to the business, it is a sign that the business is out of balance. And that is not fun at all.

    On the other hand we should agree that business cannot always be fun. There can be situations in which we have to cope with difficult clients, struggle with poor payments, or battle a tough job with an even tougher deadline. We should accept that being one’s own boss includes any and all responsibilities that are linked to such a role. Visiting clients, conferences and networking clubs is fun, but if that also results in being less productive, there is definitely a balancing problem.

    Productivity and fun

    The ideal balance should therefore be somewhere near the point where you are the most productive while you still keep the fun in the business. For many freelance translators however, business seems to have reached a point at which that is not a matter of course anymore. The downward spiral of word rates and short deadlines naturally seems to increase the productivity to make an income while decreasing the fun. Who will still thrive when translating more words per hour than ever because the rates are too low?
    So productivity in many cases is more about frantic moments while the real joy of working, be it for doing what you love to do or to earn money, is absent.

    On the other hand, there is also a school that supposes that productivity cannot be associated with fun. Indeed productivity is about working as much as is possible and translating as many words per hour as can be done safely. Working then is only a serious matter that hinges upon making money. The more words are translated per hour, the higher the productivity. In some cases, it does not even matter what that means for social life or for health.

    How to make productivity fun

    In business, it is not about having as much fun as possible to be productive. Indeed only clowns can really be productive while being funny (although I suppose that they’re not always having fun either). What it is about, is about being productive while still keeping the fun factor. Productivity can only be sustainable when you also build something in to keep it fun. How you do that depends on your own preferences and lifestyle. What is more important however is your attitude. Of course you can work frantically to continually produce increasingly high quality output rates, but in the end winning the productivity battle can mean losing your (social) life.

    Productivity can therefore only be fun if you make room for noteworthy moments, the N in the equation. You can build them in yourself by stepping out of your business regularly to take a breath. You can also jot down the moments that occur during your work and that you are happy with, like winning a specific job you love or a job that you find really satisfying.
    Productivity will, however, only be fun if you consider all the factors in the equation: not being productive can also improve your productivity, while keeping an eye out for the great moments will increase the fun.

    Pieter Beens

    About Pieter Beens

    Freelance translator English-Dutch. Works for high-profile clients worldwide. Professional. Punctual. Passionate.

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