As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been enjoying hosting In the Balance (video series on work-life balance). It’s a topic I think about a lot, probably not least of all because I live in a “lifestyle town” (an expression that I learned only recently!) where prioritizing one’s non-work interests is very much the norm.
Today, a student in my class for beginning translators asked an interesting question: how would this advice apply (or not apply) to beginning freelancers, who want to have time to sleep, exercise, etc. outside of work, but who also need to actively build up their businesses.
Here’s the two-word answer: pace yourself. The advice that applies to experienced translators applies a little differently to you, but the goal is the same: don’t burn out, and let yourself enjoy some of the “free” in freelancing. Here’s what I mean: for experienced translators, work-life balance is largely about setting boundaries; it’s about achieving a similar level of financial security to someone who has a traditional job, but with the flexibility and independence of freelancing rolled into the mix. So for example I leave work at 2:30 three days a week so that I can be home when my daughter gets home; every Sunday night I sign up for my exercise classes for the week, and I treat them as I would a client appointment–I do not change them unless it’s absolutely unavoidable; I don’t work on weekends, even for my A-list clients; I try to avoid answering e-mail outside of working hours, because I don’t want my clients to expect that they can e-mail me at 10PM and get a response.
But when I was a beginner, things looked a lot different. When a client e-mailed me at 4 PM on a Friday and offered 8,000 words due Monday morning, I was elated. For years (literally, years) I worked from 7-10 PM, even on weekends. When a client called, I dropped everything, because I couldn’t afford (literally and figuratively) to miss a single job. But at the same time, you cannot work in that kind of “always on” mode all the time and remain excited about the job. So here’s the trick: pace yourself. Realize that when you’re building up your business, you have to go into overdrive sometimes. You have to be available at times and in places that experienced translators are not (month of August: great time to pick up new clients; ditto for the week between Christmas and New Year’s). But you can’t work in perpetual overdrive or you’ll absolutely burn out. So, pay attention to your pace!
Couldn’t have said it any better! Although, I have to confess… I still work on weekends. I haven’t been able to get to the point of having every weekend free yet. I loved the part you said it’s about setting boundaries. Thanks Corinne!
Thanks for reminding us, Corinne. To me, the best part is also that when you “pace yourself”, that is you literally slow down, you learn to look at your progress in a better way and to appreciate your work (and enjoy it as well), you become more aware of what you put in it and understand where you want to go in life. On the other hand, if you stress yourself out with 12 hours of work per day 7/7, you actually feel like you’re not getting anywhere and that you always have to do more…
Ok but you have to keep in mind that many translators (mainly if they are beginners in this business ) are desesperatly looking for work any time any day and are stressed by having to much time !
It is not “burned out problem “but rather “bore out ” which is even more stressful !
Corinne McKay says
I’m actually going to disagree with you (in a friendly way!) on this point. I think that part of the key to creating a thriving business is that when you don’t have work, you market like crazy, or you try to get informational interviews with clients, or you read up on your specializations, or take a Mooc, or something. During my first couple of years in business, I set a number of hours per week or day that I wanted to work, and if I had little or no work, I did one of the tasks I mentioned above. I think that if you’re waiting around for work to find you, it’s going to be hard to get your business up to speed.
Thanks Corinne for your advice but, of course, I am doing actually exactly what you say : read up books and articles on my specializations and other subjects, on translation issues, going to conferences, taking Trados studio 2015 webminars,responding to kudoz in Proz, sending CV ( without returns until now..), doing pro- bono translations …. , networking when I can …
The fact is that I am someone moving to translation after many years in finance/ accounting /banking and that I don’t have any translation diploma although I Have high level diplomas like MBA in Finance.and have always worked in international companies writing reports in english and french on all these subjects.
So this not so simple when you are doing a retraining and are no more in your 30’s !
all other advices are of course welcomed !
I think the most important thing is that if/when you decide to go into “overdrive” you know exactly why you’re doing it: it’s a really interesting or well-paid project; it’s from a new customer you want to secure or a regular one you want to keep, etc. I don’t believe it should ever be the norm, not even for a beginner.
Ying Peng says
I agree with your guys. I think, beginners or not, some one-off weekends/night jobs are simply not worth it, such as when clients look for quick “substitutes” because their cheap alternatives are on a week-long national holidays, etc.
Interesting points, but I still feel it’s unrealistic to set boundaries when you are starting out. Going the extra mile (responding to clients who are in a jam, or quickly translating half a page they need right away) really does pay off. I admit I am not very good at switching off email/phone, but I absolutely love working weekends when my kids are with their dads. I order in sushi, reward my work progress with a good movie and yes, I do love my job. Also, I charge higher rates at the weekend which makes it all the more worthwhile.
Reblogged this on living in earth and commented:
I really need to stop working on weekends and start doing workouts instead. I’ll try to pace myself to not burn out.
Tapani Ronni says
Good points, Corinne. I prefer to spend my time with my family on weekends. Exceptions to this rule of mine are quick and lucrative jobs that only take a couple of hours.