Freelance translators are a group of self employed professionals much like any other similar group. They are highly skilled and their belief in their level of ability has led them to strike out and make a living using their professional skills and accumulated business acumen. Because their living depends entirely upon their workflow, they must constantly be asking how much work they should be taking on.
Now those people who have never been self employed, may have some difficulty in appreciating what a 'mental comfort zone' the certainty of a regular monthly salary provides. When you are self employed, however, you face the frightening prospect of always being on the lookout for your next income stream and planning ahead to budget out your earnings from your last contract.
The temptation for anyone in that situation is to take on as much work as possible in order to maximise earnings whilst contracts are presenting themselves. This reaction is human nature, but a professional translator has to fight this instinct and ensure that he does not take on much more than he is able to fulfil.
Translations take time and furthermore, they require attention to detail and accuracy. Rather like freelance writing, translating is not an automatic process and there can be times when you are 'stumped' as to how to express a translation so that it makes sense in the target language. A translator will have a pretty good idea of his work rate and needs to judge how long a project will take before he is free to start on another project.
Pure translation time, however, is not the only consideration that needs to be factored in to a judgement on workload. No-one can work continuously throughout the day. The average attention span in fact, is around 20 minutes, so you need to factor in breaks as well as other commitments. You might very well need to collect your child from school for instance.
A final consideration and an often neglected one amongst freelancers, is the issue of a social life. It is a must to ensure that you have time to yourself and time for your family...we all know the effects of working nights and weekends for long periods...we also know the effect that this has on a stable family life.
Taking the main points covered above, into consideration, should enable a freelance translator to arrive at a realistic appraisal as to how much work should be taken on in order to optimise his earnings whilst keeping his professional life satisfying and stress free.
One final point to consider is that if the workload / time formula is correctly implemented, translation quality naturally increases. If a freelance translator contracts for say, a language translations company in London, as many do, a high quality of translations will ensure that more work is regularly put his way, in a sense confirming the old adage that 'less can sometimes be more'.