The ever faster pace at which the world evolves seems to have its influence on every aspect of the translation business. Nowadays, clients seem to have translations within a shorter deadline everytime. But by calling each and every job ‘urgent’ they are undermining the real meaning of an urgent job. The aspects that make an job urgent are changing – and so is the workflow of translators.
A few occasions in the last few weeks made me realize how the concept of urgency is changing. When I left for a a short holiday I received a couple of WhatsApp and text messages from clients who had an ‘urgent’ job to be done. To me it was not that surprising that they came up with messages about acute matters: in my blog post about Holiday Horrors, which I wrote last year, you can see my OoO message. It states ‘If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I am on vacation, please send an SMS or WhatsApp message to [ mobile telephone number ] and I will try to respond to it promptly’. So I do leave the option open to my clients to send a message when they have urgent matters. And while urgency to some extent is a matter of subjectivity, clients are free to reach out to me when they think the situation would justify that. What I actually mean by ‘urgent’ however is somewhat different from someone’s expectations. For me an urgent issue means a customer complaint, a request about a file that is not received and similar problems.
Urgency in the opinion of clients
Clients, however, have their own thoughts on urgency. In one of the three messages – which I actually received within two days after I left off – there was a question about making three corrections to the source text of a document. In the other two cases the clients came up with a job that they were not able to place elsewhere, despite my prior communication about my time off. For them the matter was urgent indeed, while the jobs in themselves were not life threatening in any way: simple marketing copy and a specification sheet. Comprehensiveness requires me to say that both were for major technology companies…
Urgency is nothing uncommon in my practice as a freelance translator. Every week I receive a couple of high priority emails with urgent jobs. They often span a wide array of topics and business categories. On the other hand, the urgent jobs that reach me often have some characteristics in common. They are jobs that were initially sent to a different translator, they contain strings for an app update that needs to be released the next day or they contain a press release on a product that will be launched within a couple of days.
In these cases clients are panicking to find a translator who is able to complete the translation before their internal deadline expires and their whole project plan collapses.
A changing opinion on urgency
The past few years however have also seen a shift in the usage of the term ‘urgency’. In many of the cases in which clients send a high priority job it is a job with a higher than average word count that should be finished within a very short deadline. Sometimes clients send a 4,000 word text in the morning, demanding to have it translated within five hours. In other cases clients are using the term ‘urgent’ to request a completed job before they leave for a break or a holiday. In both cases it often appears that the job is not that urgent but that clients need it urgently to impress their business partners or to clean their desk before their holidays.
In other situations, clients are using the term ‘urgent’ to try to convince one to fit the job into a filled schedule or to give it priority over other jobs (no matter whether it is a job for them or for another company).
A result of the increasing use of the term ‘urgent’ is that the real meaning of urgency is changing. Some clients are even using the term ‘urgent’ so frequently that they need to change their behavior when there is a really urgent job – calling, sending several emails within ten minutes and working desperately to reach out before there is even a reasonable chance to have an email read.
The best option therefore is to re-consider the use of the word ‘urgent’. Using the word should require careful consideration and reflection. When is a job really urgent and what criterion should a job satisfy before it is sent out as urgent? If clients keep stacking up urgent jobs, there will no space be left for less urgent or even more urgent jobs. Then we all end up doing only the urgent jobs and our industry comes at a standstill. That is the only urgent matter that needs to be sorted out now.