Impressive Time Management: The Time Diet

Do you often feel like your business is running you instead of the other way around? Do you wonder why you constantly feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day? This is your chance to figure out where your time is going once and for all, and start taking control of your business and your time. Let’s get started!

First things first

Have you ever been on a diet or created a budget? What’s the first thing a nutritionist or financial planner is going to ask you? Your nutritionist is going to ask you to track what you’re eating now and your financial planner is going to ask you to record your current spending habits. They need to have a baseline in order to create a plan for improvement and that’s exactly what you need to do for productivity.

How it works

Step 1: Get two timers.

You’ll need a project timer and a work timer. I use for my project timer and I no longer use the work timer, but you can use any online timer for this purpose. There are several free ones available.

Project timer

Use the project timer to record your time spent translating. This doesn’t include e-mail, invoicing, file prep, etc. The purpose of this timer is to determine whether one type of material is more or less conducive to your productivity than other types. To do this, you’ll need to create a set of categories for your projects. I do medical translation so my categories when I started included regulatory forms, informed consent forms, patient records, discharge forms, etc. I then found that informed consents and regulatory forms took about the same time, so I combined them into one category. I found that patient records and discharge forms also took the same amount of time so I combined them as well. Eventually, you’ll have just a few categories (I now have three) but it’s better to start too specific and combine categories than trying to do the reverse.

Work timer

The work timer functions like a time sheet. You’ll clock in and out just like a regular job. Time on the clock includes invoicing, e-mailing, file prep, as well as anything else that would generally be acceptable if you worked in an office. For example, making a cup of tea in the breakroom probably wouldn’t require clocking out, but walking your dog or going to the grocery store would. Apply the same rules here.


Step 2: Form the baseline

Spend at least one week with the above two timing methods. There is also a third measure of time and that’s the time you began work through the time that you ended work. So, if you started working at 8 am and sent your last e-mail at midnight, even if you went to the grocery store, walked the dog and picked up the kids from school, this third measure of time would be 16 hours (8 am to 12 am). Record all three measurements of time every day.


Step 3: Figure out where your time went

If you are wondering where your time went, don’t worry, that’s very normal. The first time I did this experiment, I was floored. I remember complaining to a friend at the time how I just can’t keep working these 15-hour days and then I looked at my metrics and found:

Total hours: 15 (roughly 7 am to 10 pm)

Work timer: 8 (clocked out to run errands but had no idea I clocked around SEVEN hours of personal time)

Project timer: 4 hours (I almost died when I realized I had only translated for 50% of the time I spent working)


If your stats are similar, don’t feel bad. There’s hope! Once you know your baseline, you can start seeing how various strategies can improve your productivity. You’ll also learn which strategies don’t work for you, which is equally important. The above stats showed me that I didn’t have good systems in place and was spending too much time on e-mail, accounting, project prepping, etc. and led me to start looking for and creating systems to manage those things more effectively. Remember, when you’re working but not translating, you’re working for free. If you’re not being paid, wouldn’t you rather be doing something else? It’s worth the initial time investment to test strategies for improving your paid-to-free work time ratio.

Did you try the time diet? Post your results in the comments!


Author: Jenae Spry

Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.

Posted in Business, Productivity.


  1. Thank you for recommending Toggl, it’s a great app! (or website?) I have mostly used the website for logging, but sometimes I forget to turn it on and off, which is the biggest challenge when it comes to getting useful data from it.
    memoQ also have a timer function: Go to “Options / Miscellaneous / Editing time” in order to activate it, and no, it’s not only for editing work (revision), but also for translation work. Go to “Project home / Overview / Reports / Editing time / Create new report now” to get the data from the translation job. You can even create reports throughout the job, and it will tell you the word per hour rate too. Really cool stuff by Kilgray.

  2. It’s an interesting and valid idea to track time for the various text types of different difficulty levels not only time dedicated to specific Clients. Thanks to your suggestion, I will experiment around it a little bit.

  3. Thanks Jenae! I used Toggle too to find out my hourly capacity and income. For work time I just use RescueTime – which measures all time spent on my computers and categorizes it into productive and non-productive time, plus what apps I’ve been using. For me, the biggest time suck seems to be emails.

    • I hear you on the emails! I try to batch them and answer them at certain times as opposed to when they come in, which seems to help somewhat (and my notifications for email and everything else are off). I also apply a ton of filters to my emails to help. I haven’t tried RescueTime yet but I still recommend it since it seems to help so many people!

  4. Very interesting ideas. I already track my admin time separately from project time, in a big Excel sheet, but timing projects by type or subject matter instead of or in addition to client is an interesting proposition. This information would also help when pricing new projects.

    • Yes, I use this method quite frequently to estimate both pricing and time for projects including ones that are fairly new to me and also to assess whether a given project is even worth taking.

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