All-Consuming Projects: Four Strategies to Avoid Them and How to Succeed When They Take Over

What’s the opposite of the dreaded work slow-down that all freelancers fear? The All-Consuming Project. In capital letters. Because it takes over your life somehow.

When you’re trying to finish an all-consuming project, you spend all your time working on it, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. So you find yourself turning down all other projects because this one is taking so long. You cancel plans with friends. You work during a holiday. You don’t leave the house for days on end. You don’t even have time to reply to all of your business emails about upcoming projects. And you got in this line of work for the flexibility, didn’t you?

Sometimes a project takes over your life for a variety of reasons. And sometimes you don’t mind it, especially if you are just breaking into the field or have had a slow couple of months or enjoy the content.

However, there are a few ways you can plan ahead to prevent this kind of situation from happening in the first place. And for those times when you find yourself in too deep and need a plan of attack, read on. It’s kind of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books in which each decision you make presents a new array of options for you to choose from and each choice leads to a new outcome – some good, some less so.

Planning Ahead: How to Avoid All-Consuming Projects

Four great strategies for avoiding these all-consuming projects are 1) reviewing the files in depth, 2) calculating the time you need to complete them, 3) being honest with yourself and 4) referring other colleagues as necessary.

1. Review the Files Fully

Thoroughly review the file before committing to it. You’re already making sure to get a copy of the file before agreeing to translate it. But are you skimming it or overlooking some of the more time-consuming areas of it? Are there unusual formatting elements that will take more time than you anticipated?

Translate small portions of the file for your own reference – not to turn in to the client – and time yourself. Timing yourself is the key to figuring out how long this whole project will take.

Be sure to do a representative sample of the whole file, which may mean spending some time on a funky chart and also spending some time on some straightforward plain body copy. If formatting is an area in which you excel, you may not need to worry about building in extra time to your estimate.

2. Calculate Your Estimated Time

This brings us to strategy number two. Use your sample timed translations you did for your own reference to calculate the time it would take to complete the entire file. When you multiply that estimated time by your rate, what does the total estimate look like? Is the client going to have sticker shock when you present the estimate? If so, can you lower your estimated cost?

If you do so, will it be worth your time to complete this project? Will it benefit you in other non-economical ways perhaps? Maybe you won’t get rich off of this project, but it will be a good way to get into a new specialization or curry favor with a client with whom you would like to work in the future.

3. Be Honest with Yourself

Reflecting on those questions is the third strategy. As you are considering if it’s a project that will benefit you, either economically or professionally, ask yourself a few other questions, especially if the project is a large one. Do you want to give up the opportunity to work on something else that would compete for your time to do this more time-intensive project? Is it a subject or file that will hold your attention? Or are you okay with being bored for a while to get it done well?

The other part of being honest with yourself is being certain that your estimated time to complete the project is accurate. Perhaps you breezed through the sample timed translation you did to get a project estimate for the client, but is it a representative estimate of your total time? If you know you are the type to spend an hour carefully crafting a sentence, your estimated time may not be accurate and you may find the project takes longer than you expected. Or maybe you know you are the type to edit and proofread for quite some time before feeling comfortable. Or if you are translating into your non-native language, maybe you need to outsource the proofreading. Both of these add to the total time – and sometimes cost – needed to complete the project.

4. Refer Colleagues if Needed

If, after all this, you feel this project isn’t a good fit, refer a trusted colleague to the client. You may choose to present a bid you anticipate being too high for the client and then letting them know that you can recommend the perfect person whose rates may be more in their budget.

It’s Too Late: Handling All-Consuming Projects Once You’re in The Middle of Them

Figure Out Who Misjudged and Go From There

Let’s now talk about what to do when it’s too late and you’re in the middle of a monster project.

First, figure out if it was you or the client who misjudged the project.

If you misjudged, and therefore underbid on the project, you have some options, some of which are riskier than others. You can try to ask for more money, but this could be a problem, since you were the one who presented the estimate to which you and the client both agreed. If the client refuses your attempt to renegotiate the price, then you are back where you started. You may even have somewhat damaged your reputation with the client. You could request the client cancel the job and find another translator, and you could ask the client to pay your rate for the portion you have completed, but that’s not the best move to keep a good relationship with the client and maintain a professional image.

If the client misjudged the project and your estimate was based on clearly-stated (but inaccurate) information that they provided, that changes things. If they underestimated the number of hours or provided a document that was different from the one you agreed to, that falls under the category of a scope change. You’ll want to alert the client immediately and arm yourself with these strategies to handle a change of the project’s scope.

Seeing the Project Through to Completion

Regardless of who may have misjudged what, you may find yourself handling this project through its completion. There are a few ways to get it done, depending on how you wish to proceed.

You may want to hire a colleague to help you finish the project in a timely manner and help preserve some of your sanity, even if it means you don’t make money off of this project in the end. It’s better for your professional reputation to deliver a completed project than risk not completing it in order to make a profit.

Be sure that hiring someone to help you won’t violate the terms you agreed to with your client. If it will violate the terms and you’re in a bind since you know you won’t finish in time, contact the client. Do so as soon as you realize there’s a risk you won’t make the deadline. Tell the client your concern with meeting the deadline, but also reassure them that you know the perfect person you may be able to hire so that you will meet the deadline. If that won’t violate their terms and they agree to your sharing the document with this colleague, pay for your colleague’s time so that you will make the deadline.

Even if you lose money with this arrangement, you won’t lose your reputation with your client. Maintaining a client’s trust will end up making you more in the long run.

That means you can pick and choose which projects to take on in the future and not have to do all-consuming ones because there are no other options.




Melissa Kamenjarin

Author: Melissa Kamenjarin

Melissa is a Success by Rx copywriter and Spanish/English translator, writer, editor and proofreader specializing in educational materials, health insurance, non-profits, and published fiction and non-fiction books, blogs and websites. Melissa is the Secretary and blog writer for ATISDA (Association of Translators and Interpreters in the San Diego Area). An American Translators Association (ATA) member, she is also the Copy Editor for the ATA Medical Division’s publication, Caduceus.

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