As opposed to last summer, many of us may be thinking about taking an actual vacation this summer, meaning that we have to think about how to manage that while still managing our businesses. I love working, but I also love vacation, so I’ve honed a strategy that works for me. The key points are:
- First, make it possible to actually take vacation, from the financial standpoint. I do this by maintaining a business savings account, into which I deposit 40% of every payment from every client. This money goes (mostly) to taxes and other non-negotiable business expenses, but also to “paid vacation,” because I draw money out of that account to pay myself when I take time off.
- Decide whether you’re going to work while on vacation, and if so, how much. I make a point of taking at least one week in the summer and one week in the winter where I don’t have my laptop along. This physically prevents me from working; I can honestly tell clients, “I don’t have my work stuff with me,” and I feel that it’s important for my physical and mental health and for my family relationships. Over the years, I’ve taken up to a month off without a computer (and lived to tell!). And I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to work for a few hours a day while on vacation; especially if you live in a culture such as the U.S. where most people simply do not take vacation, spending a couple of hours a day on e-mail and other “maintenance” tasks is certainly better than not taking any vacation.
- Be realistic about your clients’ expectations. Things like e-mail response time are very culturally-specific. In the U.S., it’s common for people to put on their auto-responder if they’re going to be unreachable for even half a day (I received two of these auto-responses yesterday!). In some cultures, it’s totally acceptable to respond to an e-mail a week later, and say, “Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I was on vacation last week.” Just make sure you’re meeting the expectations of the clients you want to work with.
- Tell clients what to do in your absence. If you work mostly with agencies, this shouldn’t be hard: tell your clients your vacation dates as soon as you know them, remind your clients right before you leave, and then let them know that you’re back. Not too hard. With direct clients, it’s more complicated, because you may be the only translator they have for your language pair. Probably the easiest way to handle vacations if you work for direct clients is to schedule your vacations for your clients’ slow times (December and August?) or to take short-enough vacations (one week or less?) that your clients don’t really need a replacement translator. However if you’re going to take off a longer amount of time, or if your clients may really need you, you need a trusted colleague to fill in, and that person’s contact information needs to be on your auto-responder. I’ve done this multiple times with good results; clients appreciate it and I’ve never lost a client by doing this.
- Be realistic about how long you’ll need to catch up. My favorite way to ease back in from a vacation is to give myself a day (i.e. Sunday) to catch up on e-mail and other admin tasks before I start actually translating and interpreting again. Even if you can’t do that, don’t set yourself up for a post-vacation crash by assuming that you can simultaneously catch up and start working a full schedule immediately. Allow at least some time to catch up on backlogged e-mail, at a minimum.