A Day in the Life of a Busy Translator/Interpreter

We frequently receive questions about how we organize our days and how exactly we get everything done. The truth is that we don't always accomplish what we set out to do, but we give it the good old college try. We have one very serious rule that we always abide by: we never miss a deadline, ever. Anything else that doesn't have a deadline is less important, and as you will see, some things simply don't get done. Judy will start our two-part series with an overview of her day. Dagy's will follow.

Here is my day on a random weekday in April:

7 a.m. I am trying to follow in my twin's footsteps and get up earlier to get more done, but I am definitely not an early morning person, as opposed to my hubby, who is bouncing off the wall, taking our dog Luna for a walk, and paying bills starting at 5:30. This is also his favorite time to talk to me, as I am most likely to agree to anything. This is how we ended up with a current major backyard remodel. I grab a quick bowl of cereal with him, pet Luna, and send hubby off to the office to play nicely with the other attorneys, which he usually does.

7:30 a.m. I am at the computer, sorting through the 100+ e-mails that came in during the night. I already responded to the most important ones from my Android while still in bed, so I now decide what's important and what has to be taken care of immediately. I answer some requests for price quotes, correspond with existing clients about projects, and receive a new project from one of my favorite clients, which I outsource to my superstar English->Spanish translator, Dolores Rojo Guiñazú, who's also a dear friend of ours. I negotiate a good deadline so she has plenty of time, and she responds within five minutes that she can take the project. I am completely buried in work, so everything that comes in this week will be outsourced to our superstar contractors.

Yes, I am wearing Snoopy pajamas.
8:30 a.m. I get a friendly reminder from my twin, Dagy, that I still have not proofed and edited her existing translation from a long-time client that she sent yesterday. I do this right away -- it's an interesting business correspondence between two parties who don't speak the same language. Her translation is very strong, but I still have some comments and corrections. We are very happy with the end result. Dagy integrates my changes, we discuss a few more details via instant message, and she delivers the project to the client. He responds saying that in his next life he would like to have our language and writing skills. This very sweet comment made my day. I read the American and Mexican news online, but don't have time to read the Austrian press. I listen to National Public Radio in the background, and they are doing a fundraiser that just started today. I grab my wallet and donate.

9 a.m. I jump in the shower to get ready for my 11 a.m. interpreting assignment at a deposition for a civil litigation matter. I'm not having a great hair day, so I throw my hair in a ponytail and put on a black suit. I continue working and answer 23 e-mails. I grade some assignments submitted by my students in the Intro to Interpreting class at UC San Diego-Extension (online) and review the grade I received a few days ago myself when I took a mock exam for the federal interpreting certification exam (I passed the mock). I receive a large project from an existing client. She's pre-paid all her translation work for the year (amazing), so I move her project to the top of the projects list. This is a project I must do myself, busy or not.

10 a.m. I turn in a short personal document translation that Dagy had proofed for me overnight.
It was due at
My officemate. 
5 p.m., but I turn in in at 10 a.m. and include the invoice in the same e-mail. The client is delighted, says everything looks good and provides payment within.... 5 minutes via PayPal. I am floored. I turn in one more short copywriting project that's due later today and get a response from my editor that she loves the article, but that I did not include one of the sources. I apologize, look up the source, and add that to the online system so the article is now complete. I issue two more invoices (using Translation Office 3000) before I have to leave the house. I pack my yoga bag because there's some hope I will work out on the way back from my interpreting assignment.

10:20 a.m. I jump in my Prius and drive the 15 miles to my interpreting assignment. I arrive significantly earlier than 11 a.m., which is one of my good/bad habits. I have 15 minutes, so I answer some more e-mails on my Android. I receive a phone call from a potential client who has an urgent request, who then calls back within a few minutes saying he doesn't need the project after all.

Let the interpreting begin.
11 a.m. As a certified Spanish court interpreter in Nevada, I have the necessary certification to interpret at this deposition, and it's pretty routine. I chat with the court reporter and try not to speak with the deponent without her attorney present, which can come across as rude. However, my code of ethics is pretty strict on this, so I make a quick (unnecessary) trip to the bathroom to avoid any chit-chat. The deposition is going smoothly until the defense and the plaintiff's counsel disagree over a technicality, so angry comments are flying back and forth, which I dutifully interpret for the deponent. She's confused and asks if she should respond to comments along the lines of: "Let the record reflect that counsel is being completely unreasonable." I interpret her question, and her lawyer says no, she only has to answer questions directed at her. The final 30 minutes go well, even though the deponent is speaking so loudly that occasionally the poor court reporter has trouble hearing me, as I am doing simultaneous interpretation, albeit without any equipment.

12:40 p.m. I break my own cardinal rule and eat a banana and a granola bar in my pristine car before rushing across town to make it to Bikram yoga (yoga practiced in a very hot room). I am a terrible yogini, but I certainly try. Everyone in the room is at least twice as flexible as I am. The instructor asks me to set an intention for the class, and I settle on survival.

2:10 p.m. I reward myself with a kale, mango, grape and lime smoothie called Brontosaurus. I am so sweaty that I have to change into another outfit before driving home.
It's really tasty and healthy.

2:30 p.m. Jump in the shower and get dressed again. Hair looks better now that it's been washed.

3 p.m. I have an hour to catch up on the new projects that have come in. I turn down an interpreting assignment for tomorrow, as I am completely booked. I follow-up on a price quote that I'd sent to a customer who has not responded. I get an e-mail from the American Translators Association asking me to do another webinar, but I have no bandwidth in the next few months, so I politely decline. I moderate some comments on this blog, check book sales (of our book, The Entrepreneurial Linguist) and correspond with a client who wants to publish some of my articles. We negotiate a fee and sign an agreement. I answer a few tweets and have a quick look at what's happened in the world.

4 p.m. I realize that I haven't done a very good job at planning today's schedule, as I have to leave the house after only one hour of working to make it to a downtown networking event and lecture. I am very involved in the revitalization of downtown Vegas, and on Fridays, I work from a cool new co-working space called Work in Progress. The so-called Downtown Project is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown, and I love what's happening -- I am a self-appointed downtown cheerleader. These efforts are led by Zappos CEO and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Tony Hsieh, whom I run into at the networking event that features free organic fruit. We play the usual game of him trying to guess my name (he's close), as he's terrible with names. Oddly enough, he might actually remember my name because I constantly tease him that he doesn't. I also run into an old friend from a previous job whom I hadn't seen in ages. It was great to see her and we make plans for lunch. Networking objective accomplished. There are roughly 200 people at this event, and I talked to quite a few of them. I feel that I've gotten a bit complacent in my networking, and I vowed to change that. I am proud of self for following through.

John Mackey and Zach Ware.
5 p.m. The free lecture, part of the Downtown Speaker Series, begins in downtown Vegas. I came by myself so I would be forced to interact with other people. Every attendee gets the guest speaker's brand-new hardcover book. I am a sucker for free books. John Mackey, the co-founder of Whole Foods markets, chatted with Zach Ware, a Zappos executive who is the host of the speaker series. The conversation is candid and funny, and I had submitted a question to the speaker (via e-mail) that wasn't asked. During the lecture, I take a few pictures and tweet about this great event. After all, I am a self-appointed downtown cheerleader.

The adorable Park on Fremont.
6:15 p.m. A dear friend and client comes to pick me up at the event and we go to dinner at an adorable new restaurant, Park on Fremont. Even though the day has been unseasonably cold, we sit outside next to an open fireplace. We run into Tony Hsieh again, who's giving John Mackey the tour of downtown, and he appears to remember me now.

8 p.m. We move to The Beat coffee house for a cup of coffee. My friend/client asks me for some advice, and I try to give solid advice using some of the skills I learned in Monday's Downtown Speaker Series lecture about making decisions, which is definitely not my forte. My suggestions seem to be helpful.

9 p.m. Back home. Hubby is back from a shopping spree for our backyard remodel with our contractor and neighbor, who's doing the work. We heat up some tasty leftover meatloaf, asparagus and potatoes for him, as he has not eaten, and we sit and chat.

9:30 p.m. Since I did not do as much work during the day as I had wanted, I have no choice but to work a few hours now. I deliver two more projects and proof another translation that Dagy had sent me. She signs on to her computer at 10 p.m. my time, which is 7 a.m. in Vienna. Yes, she is an early bird. We discuss the details of a few projects and I tell her about my evening. I start the translation I accepted earlier today.

10 p.m. I grade a few submissions from my students and decide to do 30 more minutes of copywriting: a project about the state of Montana, which is due tomorrow. I end up doing an hour, and then I'm too tired to work on my simultaneous interpreting exercises for the federal court interpreter examination. I also didn't have the chance to look for hotels in Monterey, where I am going next month to take a week-long course at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. I briefly look for flights to Brazil for August (I am giving one of the keynotes at the Proz conference in Recife), but can't decide on connections. I am notoriously indecisive with big purchases, and I don't book the flight (for now). I also try to empty my inbox, but I fail, as usual. I am, however, down to 66 e-mails. I tell myself there's always tomorrow to get things done.

11 p.m. I get hubby off the couch and upstairs and finish the evening by reading a half hour or so. I am currently devouring Isabel Allende's latest novel (Maya's Notebook) in the original Spanish version. The reviews were terrible, but I am enjoying it.


Sonia Jankowiak on April 19, 2013 at 4:28 AM said...

I really enjoyed reading the post!

Dolores on April 19, 2013 at 8:16 AM said...

What a day Judy! I´ve just read it and got tired just of reading it! I can imagine how you arrive to the end of the week! Thank God today is Friday! Your life is full of beautiful tasks to accomplish, and you are so passionate about everything that you can always achieve what you´ve set your mind to. Thanks, as always, for sharing your knowledge, expertise and routines. It really helps us to see and organize ours more efficiently as well.
I am blessed to have you as my dear friendy.
Congrats again on your Conference in Brazil in August!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 19, 2013 at 10:28 AM said...

@Sonia: Thank you! Happy to hear that you like the post. Our days are quite crazy indeed!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 19, 2013 at 10:29 AM said...

@Dolores: Awwwww.... getting all teary-eyed here. We wouldn't be successful without awesome friends and collaborators like you! Hehe, and I don't always get everything done, but that's ok. :) Unfortunately, I might have to work a tiny bit over the weekend, but I love what I do, so it's fine!

David Powell said...

Dear Judy,
I really enjoy reading your posts. After today's though, I'm feeling quite inadequate! Where do you get the energy? I would be brain dead half way through your schedule. BTW, also a HUGE Allende fan. Currently reading Hija de la fortuna (30 minutes at a time before I pass out at night!) Warm regards from Oklahoma. Dave Powell

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 19, 2013 at 2:59 PM said...

@David: Thanks for your lovely note! Hehe, not all days are like these, but I do have a lot of energy, try to get enough sleep and have no kids -- that helps for sure. Wonderful that you are an Allende fan as well! I am reading "El cuaderno de Maya," and even though it got very lukewarm reviews (at best), I am enjoying it. It seems a bit black/white in terms of character development, but I am enthralled by her magical language. Ah, and today's workday was a lot less hectic, but still quite busy!

Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) on April 21, 2013 at 9:13 AM said...

Ok, that will make me stop saying I'm busy :) I try to avoid errands at all costs, I'm an indoor working person; even if I only have to do one small outside the office thing, it takes me at least an hour to concentrate again when I go back to the office (good thing hubby takes care of most errands). So, even though I work crazy hours (at least 12-14 daily), they are all translation-related (with a bit of social media) and in front of the computer. What you did in one day would have taken me at least a week! Way to go Judy, and I agree with the other commenters, your energy levels are truly amazing :)

blackheart on April 21, 2013 at 10:36 PM said...

Dear Judy,
Thank you for sharing!!! I really enjoyed your class... and being challenged just the right measure. You are quite busy. I enjoyed your post because I can relate to having a full day every day. I try to be balanced and remember to do what I can. Of course, deadlines are out of the question, never miss a deadline. I hope you pass your federal interpreter exam. I wish you have a nice little break after you speak at the Proz conference in Brazil. You are an outstanding professor and professional. I am sure you are more of a flexible yogini than you like to admit. Cute Snoopy PJs. Luna is photogenic!!! I am shocked about how little time it takes you to get ready... I am so slow. Greetings. :)

EP on April 22, 2013 at 10:39 AM said...

Your office mate rocks! Wish I had one of those.

Interesting insights. I see a lot of parallels there with the way I do things although, to be honest, I'm not nearly that organized. Hey, you are what you is.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 22, 2013 at 11:07 AM said...

@Catherine: Thanks for your lovely comment! I understand what you mean about not being able to focus after coming back from errands. I do prefer to work in longer chunks if possible, but it doesn't work out all the time, and it is nice to be away from the computer! BTW -- I admire your ability to translate as much as you do in one day. I could never translate that much, as I am slow as a turtle. See you in Greece in the summer. Can't wait!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 22, 2013 at 11:09 AM said...

@blackheart: Thanks for reading and commenting. Who are you? :) You did not leave your name, so I am guessing here, and I can't identify you by your writing style. Hehe, yes, Luna always looks good in pictures and in person. Happy to hear you enjoyed the class and the post. Lovely of you to take the time to let me know! Have a great week.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 22, 2013 at 11:11 AM said...

@Thierry: Thanks for the comment! No, I don't use too many fancy apps on my Android, to be honest. I have a few mediocre dictionaries that I use in a pinch, but they are not great. I use the Twitter app and the Google maps app all the time, but nothing fancy or out of the ordinary.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 22, 2013 at 11:13 AM said...

@EP: Thanks! Yes, Luna is pretty awesome. She's also great at barking at mail delivery persons and is fantastic at interrupting client phone calls by trying to climb in my lap, lick my face, or do general barking. That said: she's a lovely partner in crime.

Begoña Ballester said...

Dear Judy,

I am a translation and interpreting student and I have always heard that we will not have enough work to live of this, so this post gives hope to me. It is also good to know which kind of situations are we going to face: deadlines, lots of translations in a short period, stress and few sleeping hours. I think that apart from being a profesional, you must work hard to find your space in the world of work, and taking into account the situation we have nowadays. One thing I would like to ask you is how do you feel without a fixed or permanent timetable? Because I think, after finishing my degree I would feel like disoriented without a timetable. I congratulate you for your blog and I hope someday I can have a life such interesting and I hope not so stressful as you have.


Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on April 30, 2013 at 12:46 PM said...

@Begoña: Thanks for reading and for commenting and good luck with your studies! In terms of schedule: I used to work as an in-house translation department manager for years, and I had a very set schedule (and long hours, too, but no flexibility). It doesn't work for everyone, but I do love making my own schedule! However, if you don't feel comfortable with that, perhaps you are better off working in-house, but those jobs are relatively scarce. In general, our days are full and fun, and there are always things that we don't HAVE to do, such as yoga and the networking event the day that I wrote about. So I wouldn't say our lives are stressful, but we are very booked with projects from clients we love at prices that we set, which is the ideal state for an entrepreneur. That said, one has to learn how to run a business and you might enjoy our book, The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation. :)

blackheart on May 4, 2013 at 8:08 PM said...

Dearest Judy,

Oh...I forgot to sign my name, this is Clarissa Laguardia (UCSD)!!! I really enjoy your posts! Thank you for sharing your genius!



Anonymous said...

What a busy and interesting day, but I really like the content and the way it´s written.

Unknown on July 25, 2018 at 6:34 AM said...

Hi Judy,

I came across your blog while gathering information regarding the life of an interpreter.
After a lot of contemplation I've decided to pursue Interpreter/Translator as my career and your post has been successful in uplifting my spirits.

Thank you for being such an inspiration.

Also, I would be really obliged if you could help me out with the prerequisites to follow this line.

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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