What To Do When You Don’t Have Work

34 Things You Can Do When You Don't Have Work

You’ve spent the past two weeks indulging and taking time off to celebrate the holidays with friends and family. But now it’s time to get back to work. Only your inbox is empty and you don’t have any projects lined up. So what do you do?

To be honest, this was me yesterday. While I knew about the “ebb and flow” of the translation business when I was studying and working part-time and doing volunteer translations, it wasn’t until I took the plunge into full-time translation that it became a problem. When I was a student, the ebb and flow suited me just fine because I was already busy most of the time and, luckily, didn’t have to worry about paying the bills. Now that I’m working full-time, this is no longer something I can ignore. Fortunately, there are things you can during a lull, and this isn’t just a problem for translators, either. While doing research for this post, I found freelancers from all professions were all experiencing the same thing!

Here are just a few things you should be doing instead of sitting around waiting for your inbox to fill up.


If you’re experiencing a lull, this is a great time to work on your marketing. Have you contacted any new potential clients lately? Have you placed any ads lately or worked on your social media presence? These are all important activities to ensuring that you have a constant flow of clients and, consequently, billable hours. If you’re short on cash to invest in ads, don’t worry because most of these are free or inexpensive things you can do–all you need is time!

  • Write on your blog
  • Update your website
  • Review your SEO and search engine rankings
  • Network with colleagues or potential clients on LinkedIn
  • Update your business cards (or make some if you don’t have them already)
  • Plan an e-mail marketing campaign
  • Create a Google My Business Page for your business. (Pro tip: you’ll probably get free credit for Google Ads as well.)
  • Research keywords that potential clients use to your website
  • Design and publish an ad on Google/Bing
  • Create a useful infographic and post it to social media
  • Look for guest blogging opportunities
  • Apply to new translation agencies or language service providers


Admin is another area that we tend to neglect as well. If you don’t already dedicate a day of the week to administrative tasks for your translation business, now’s the perfect time to take care of all those little tasks you’ve been putting off.

  • Bookkeeping
  • Update your records for professional development/work log
  • Update your CV/résumé
  • Invoice clients
  • Update your computer and software
  • Test your backups
  • Examine your business practices–what can you improve? What takes you a long time? What do you do well?
  • Examine your finances–how are your expenses? Is all of your work from just one or two clients?
  • Create e-mail templates so you can respond to clients’ requests more quickly

Professional Development

Professional development is vital to refining and improving your skills as a professional translator. We need to be constantly engaging in professional development and seeking out opportunities to improve our skills through online courses, face-to-face workshops and lectures. You can use PD to get introduce yourself to an area you’d like to specialise in, improve your translation skills, improve your understanding of the ethics of translation or even share your knowledge with others.

  • Look up courses you’d like to take this year
  • Read the latest research in translation and interpreting (try this open-access journal if you don’t know where to start)
  • Perform a PD “audit”–examine the courses you’ve done in the past and where you still need more work
  • Read a book!
  • Look up upcoming translation and interpreting conferences and decide which you want to attend
  • Write an abstract for a conference
  • Mentor new translators or translation students
  • Practice interpreting or sight translation (if you’re an interpreter as well as a translator)


These are some tasks that don’t quite fit anywhere else. If you’re not interested in coding or aren’t interested in taking on a side project, don’t force yourself to do something you don’t like. There should be plenty of tasks on this list to keep you busy for the next month or two. 😉

  • Learn to code so you can automate the boring stuff and improve your productivity
  • Read up on what’s happening in the industry and translation industry trends (Slator.com is a good place to start)
  • Set up RSS feeds for your favourite T&I blogs and news sites (such as Slator)
  • Work on a side project
  • Get involved with your professional association!
Productivity Tip:

You may want to consider is “batching” certain tasks. I “batch” tasks so that I can focus on one thing at a time and save time switching between different tasks. For example, instead of researching one or two translation agencies and applying to them after spending 20-30 minutes writing a cover letter and updating my CV, I break this up into three “batches”. To give you an idea of how this works, I might spend 20-30 minutes researching agencies one day and add them all to my agency spreadsheet along with any contact information or things I might want to remember when I’m applying. Instead of applying to everything right away, I’ll leave it for another day. The next time I have a lull, I might use it to update my CV and cover letter if it’s been more than a couple of months since the last time, or if there have been any notable updates (e.g. new conference presentations) to make in the interim. If my CV and cover letter are already up-to-date, I can apply for a handful of agencies at once. I find that filling out forms online and e-mailing my CV/cover letter to agencies goes a lot faster when I’m focused on just that one task and don’t have to think about where I’m going to apply–I just have to go straight down the list. I also include the date when I actually send in my CV or fill out their forms, which helps me keep track of who I’m registered with and who I’ve already contacted.


The idea that you don’t have enough work is usually not true. In fact, the title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. You probably have plenty of work, just look at all of the tasks I’ve outlined above! There is a tendency, particularly for freelancers, to only think of “billable hours” as “work” when, in reality, it’s just a small part of what we need to do to run a successful business. We need to constantly market our services, keep tabs on our administrative tasks and finances, continue to develop our skills and abilities and simply keep pushing forward.

Are there any important tasks I’ve missed? What do you do when you hit a lull? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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