Switching off as a freelance translator

Tips for Translators: Switching Off as a Freelance Translator

When you run your own business, switching off can be tough, no matter what industry you’re in.

But when you’re a freelance translator, it can be even harder to actually switch off your laptop and your brain at the end of the day, at the weekends or when you’re meant to be on holiday.

Because in the translation industry, the norm is that everything has to be done at lightning speed.

Clients and translation agencies often expect projects to be turned around as quickly as (in)humanly possible, and if you don’t immediately respond to an email from a PM asking if you can take a job on, then you may well lose it.

I work as a copywriter as well as a translator, and whilst there’s a lot of crossover between the two worlds, the differences are surprising.

When it comes to copywriting, deadlines are generally a few weeks away, or I hand in a batch of articles at the end of every month. In the translation bubble, it all has to be done yesterday.

But the more relaxed approach of the copywriting industry has taught me a thing or two about how to handle my translation work so that it doesn’t become the centre of my universe.

If you’re finding that your freelance translation is burning you out, especially if you’re new to it, then these tips for switching off as a freelance translator might help you to establish better boundaries between your work and everything else you’ve got going on in your life.

Weekend at the beach

Dictate your own working hours

I’ve never been one for starting and finishing work at concrete times. For me, the beauty of freelancing is that I don’t have to stick to a set work schedule.

I don’t like waking up to an alarm, and I like being able to take a morning off and work in the evening, or take a few days off during the week and work over the weekend, should I need to.

That’s okay for me, as I am relatively good at disconnecting and not stressing about work.

But if you’re one for routine, find it hard to draw the line between work and the rest of your life and constantly have translations chasing each other around your mind, then having strict hours in place might help you to compartmentalise your work and stop you from burning out.

Work when you’re at your most productive

If you do decide to work during set hours, and make sure they coincide with when you’re at your best.

If you work well in the mornings, start early and finish early. If you prefer a slow start, shift the workday back a few hours. Don’t feel like you have to start work at 9 am if you can barely keep your eyes open.

I work best in the afternoons, from about 3 pm to 8 pm, so I normally put in a couple of relaxed hours in the morning and then get my head down in the afternoon.

That means I can enjoy my mornings and have a leisurely breakfast, head to the gym, and enjoy the sunshine in winter or escape the worst of the Spanish heat in summer.

Make your schedule work for you, not the other way around.

Build friendly relationships with PMs

One of the most important ways of making sure that you’re not pushing yourself too hard to build friendly relationships with understanding PMs.

Project managers are often under a lot of pressure and don’t have time for exchanging niceties by email, but if you find a PM that you’re able to build a relaxed, warm relationship with then you’re onto a winner.

Injecting a bit of human warmth into your interactions should mean that they’re more understanding when you can’t take on a project as you’ve already got a full schedule, have fallen ill and can’t make a deadline or are taking some time off.

Warn PMs in advance when you’re going to be out of office

Keep all your PMs up to date on your movements so they can plan accordingly.

They’ll appreciate the heads up, which means they’ll be more likely to start sending you projects again when you’re ready for them, so you can enjoy your time off without that familiar terror that you’ll never work again.

Make sure time off is really time off

One of the wonderful things about being a freelance translator is that you can work from anywhere, but that doesn’t mean you should work from everywhere.

Tempting as it can be to work whilst you’re on holiday, and as good as it can be to take a deliberate ‘work-ation’ for a change of scenery whilst you translate, you do need a proper, extended holiday now and again.

If you’ve decided you’re having time off, then make it proper time off. No emails, no quick 100-word translations. Nothing.

Switching off as a freelancer

Deactivate your notifications and leave your laptop behind

If you’re taking a holiday or have decided you don’t work weekends (I salute you), then give yourself a fighting chance of sticking to your guns by turning off email notifications.

Your out of office message will take care of everything for you, and you’ll never be able to relax properly if you keep getting work-related emails popping up on your phone,

Us translators sometimes behave like our laptops are extensions of our bodies. But you will survive without it, trust me. Leaving your laptop at home will make it nigh-on impossible for you to do any work.

Ask yourself if the money is really worth it

So, you’re already up to your eyeballs in work, or you planning to have a relaxing weekend with your friends or family, and an offer of a big job comes in. High word count, lots of money, and a tight deadline.

At the right moment, these projects can be fantastic. A healthy boost for your bank balance in return for an intense period of work.

But it’s not always the right moment. When these projects hit your inbox and it’s not a good time for you, you need to weigh up the money against the stress, the lost sleep, the impact it might have on your relationships and what it’ll mean you miss out on.

Of course, we’re not all in a financial position to say no to these things, but if you’re not desperate for the money then weigh the cash up against the negative effects the project could have, and always go with your gut.

Trust in yourself and your business

Switching off as a freelance translator can be tough because the feast-or-famine nature of the business means it’s easy to worry that if you turn down projects or take time off then you’ll never work again.

But you need to say goodbye to that mentality. Think about all the famine periods you’ve had in the past. They always seem like the end, but things always pick up again.

The only way of being able to develop that elusive work-life balance is to start trusting in the work you do, the service you provide and the business you’ve built.

You’re good at this. You’ve got this. Knowing where to draw the line won’t weaken your business, it will strengthen it, as you’ll have more energy and mental capacity to produce the best possible work.

Be kind to yourself, create friendly, honest relationships with your best customers and know that it’s all going to be alright in the end. And if it’s not, it’s not the end.

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