Work-life balance

The value of rest

There are a few in the online freelancer crowd who might suggest that it’s best to always say yes. Yes, even if it’s not my specialisation. Yes, even though I can’t fit it in. Yes, even though I haven’t had a day off in more than a week. Some of these points are perhaps debatable to some extent, but I’m here to discuss the latter of these three examples.

Freelancer burnout is common: it’s difficult for us to separate work and home life when we work at home. Especially at the beginning when work can be scarce, we can get into a habit of putting work above everything and anything. I’ve found this to be true, especially as work started to pick up after the first few months in business. Every time I’ve attempted to slow my workflow, I’ve faced feelings of guilt or panic. What if they don’t contact me again? What if they think I’m lazy or incapable of working under pressure? Do I really need a break, or could I wait a few more days?

The answer to all these questions is: a good client understands rest is essential to a high standard of work. We do not, in any profession, produce our best work after several days on end of working at full capacity. I speak from experience. I used to work whenever I was asked to until a very good client of mine once sent me a project after I’d worked for 9 days in a row. This project was interesting, and I had a good relationship with the client, so I said yes. I didn’t want to let them down. After I had returned the file, the client asked me if everything was okay. She asked if I needed more time because, although there were no major issues, it wasn’t what they usually expected from me. I apologised, explaining that I had been working a lot, and reviewed the text. The client assured me that if I ever needed to reject a project or extend a deadline, they would understand.

I was lucky in this case. I should not have taken that project, or I should have done so by agreeing on a later deadline. At the time, I thought I would be letting them down if I said no, but I did no one any favours by burning myself out. Another client may have decided not to work with me again, but my good relationship with them prior to this project saved me.

Now, almost two years later, I’m learning the value of rest again. Although I haven’t worked for more than 5 days in a row since this incident, I’ve had a hectic couple of weeks: moving to a new house, work, and issues with electricity supply in my new apartment have all contributed to a schedule that has kept me extremely busy. I needed a break and with family in Barcelona, I was lucky enough to be able to spend the weekend with them, away from work. The value of this was twofold: I got to spend time with friends and family I haven’t seen in a while, and I could not, even if I were tempted, look at my emails, calendar, diary, or schedule. Complete, mandatory mental disconnection.

While I understand that there are other factors which cause some freelancers to accept any and all projects, I think turning down work because we are at full capacity is important. Not only for our own wellbeing but for the quality of our work. If creating high-quality translations (or work in any field) for happy clients but on our own terms is the goal, shouldn’t our quality of life be a major consideration in this, given that it directly affects the quality of our work?

This is why, in the last year or so, I’ve pushed to be stricter on my 5-day limit. It benefits me and my clients, and anyone who comes into contact with this grumpy pre-coffee translator in the early hours of the morning.

Do you have an anti-burnout plan? Let me know!

Continued Professional Development, work

METM18 – what I’m taking away this year

This time last year I wrote a blog post called Conferences – why go?, in which I discussed the benefits of going to conferences in a more general sense. I did always intend on writing a blog post about METM17, last year’s edition of the Mediterranean Editors and Translators meeting. It was a brilliant opportunity and I learned things at METM17 that I’ve been able to put into practice since then. I knew I had to go back this year, if nothing else, to thank the people who had given me excellent advice and ideas.

METM18 was held in Girona a little under a week ago and, as I did last year, I took lots of notes (in the fabulous MET notebook we were given in our conference pack!).  I have since been thinking about how I might be able to use what I learned to improve the quality of my work and progress in my career.

Revision club

This year Simon Berrill, Victoria Patience and Tim Gutteridge presented a workshop called Translation revision and beyond. Tim Gutteridge and Simon Berrill have written articles on their collaboration so, for more information on how they work together, go and read them! The general idea is that you review short extracts of each other’s work and this way you each benefit from each other’s experience and insight in the long term. I was interested in this idea because I, like many other translators, have found it quite difficult to find training opportunities which are relevant enough for my day-to-day work. There are language courses, translation theory courses, vocabulary books, accounting for freelancers, etc… All of these are very useful, but I don’t think there is anything quite like getting feedback from people in your language combination and who perhaps work in the same or similar fields. Having felt a real benefit just from attending the workshop, I decided to try and find two other Portuguese into English translators. There’s nothing set in stone just yet, after all, I only got home 4 days ago, but we’ve got the ball rolling so watch this space!

Motivation and inspiration

I’m sure I’m not the only one who comes away from MET meetings feeling inspired, full of new ideas and renewed determination to be the best I can be. When I say inspiration, I’m not just talking about plans for CPD or a new marketing strategy, I’m talking about the people I have met there. This is only the second METM I’ve been to, but at both, I’ve met and heard talks by brilliant, inspiring translators and editors. One of this year’s keynote speakers, Daniel Hahn, was particularly inspiring for me as he works in my exact language combinations and area of specialisation. His talk on recognising the importance of editors was interesting to me, as I’m currently in the middle of translating a novel from Portuguese. Also, very thought-provoking for me was a presentation about the translator-editor collaboration. It was interesting to see how the speakers discussed and negotiated the nuances of the text they had worked on together, and it reminded me of the kinds of decisions I’m currently making in my work.

Networking and marketing

This point is perhaps the least surprising, but I think it’s definitely worth mentioning. Instead of telling you what I think METM18 has done for me in terms of marketing and networking, I feel it’s more helpful to talk about how METM17 has benefited me in these areas.

One important and also very fun part of METM is the OFF-MET activities: these are networking dinners and social activities between the conference workshops and presentations.  I could go on and on about the many enlightening conversations I had at last year’s METM, all of which have helped me during the last year. Instead, I’m just going to tell you about one. Last year I went to an OFF-MET lunch with some fellow translators and editors, the theme of which was basically marketing and finding clients. Prior to this, my workflow was steady, but it wasn’t all in the areas I wanted to work in, and I felt I needed to find more clients in the areas I’m interested in and perhaps let go of those whose long-term vision didn’t align with mine. At this lunch, there was a translator who gave the group advice which was absolutely instrumental in me being able to reorganise my work life and to find new clients. This was that you don’t have to just advertise and wait for clients to come to you. I remember this brilliant translator saying, “When was the last time you directly contacted a potential new client?”. My answer was that I never had. I’d advertised in a general way, I’d made it known that I’m available without being specific and that had got me by. He said, “So next time you’ve got nothing to do, pick up the phone, write an email.”

So, I did, and it worked. One of the first things I did when I got home was I sketched out a mad, intertwining spider diagram based around two main questions: what do I want to translate? and who needs those translations? Then I started to make a list of companies, organisations, publishers, etc… who I could contact. I researched the entities on this list and contacted the ones I felt most appropriate. I’ve done this every month since then and I’ve seen that, although not all of them get back to you straight away, eventually some do.

Getting more involved

In addition to thinking about what I’ve learned and how I can use this to progress in my career, I’ve also been thinking about how I might be able to get more involved in MET. After all, MET is what it is because of the work of its council members and other volunteers. All of the sessions, all of the workshops, the materials used, the venues, everything you see, hear, touch, eat and drink at METMs are the fruits of the council and volunteer’s labour. One of the council members said if there’s something we’d like to see more of, get involved! So that’s what I want to do. MET feels like a big community of translators where everyone works together towards the goal of improving oneself and the industry standards, and that is definitely something I want to be part of.


These are just a few of the many benefits of going to METM18 and METM17. Of course, there are many things I haven’t covered here, like the friends I’ve made, the interesting and funny conversations about cultural differences, and the common feeling among translators of ‘otherness’, just to name a few. I’d be interested to read about other people’s experiences at METMs or other conferences, so please tell me in the comments!

If you’re going to METM19, I will see you in Split, Croatia next year!


Continued Professional Development

On balancing source and target language development

People are often surprised when I tell them I visit home often not only to visit my family but to keep my English sounding natural and not like a hybrid of English with the languages I work in and speak. Those who speak only one language probably can’t imagine that it’s possible to forget your mother tongue. Although I don’t feel I’m at risk of losing my native language, I think most translators would agree that working on your native language is as important as working on your source languages, but it can be difficult to find a balance.

When I first started as a freelance translator, I was more eager to polish up my source languages than to work on my native language. I spent a lot of time reading in Spanish and Portuguese, speaking with Spanish and Portuguese speakers at any opportunity, and gaining knowledge and skills in my specialisations using resources in those languages. At the time, I lived in the UK and although I had some Spanish friends, I didn’t worry so much about my English turning into Spanglish because I lived most of my life in English. I had my family nearby who I spent time with, local television was in English, my daily interactions were in English, and I had easy access to reading material in English, so I wasn’t concerned.

Two years later, living in Spain has made it necessary for me to make more effort to connect with the English language and culture on a regular basis. I’ve never forgotten my native language, but around this time last year, after a few months of speaking almost exclusively in Spanish or Catalan, I visited my family in Manchester and felt a slight culture shock. I can’t remember exactly what I had said but at one point my sister asked why I was talking like that. When I thought about it she was right and that made me wonder how this might also be reflected in my work. That was a scary thought. So far, my clients were all happy with my work but, of course, I didn’t want to wait until that was no longer the case. Since then I’ve tried to achieve a balance between the languages I use in my day-to-day activities (aside from work) and I am working towards this goal by making the following changes:

  1. Leisure reading

Although I was reading in English often before, most of what I was reading for leisure was in Spanish or Catalan, as it’s much easier to find books in these languages living here. I haven’t stopped reading for leisure in other languages, but I now try to vary. For example, I’m currently reading “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in English so the next book I choose will be a Spanish or Portuguese book.

  1. Active study

When I thought about it, I realised that at that time I hadn’t really studied English grammar since I had left university the year before. Although I didn’t feel like my grammar or spelling was suffering, I felt it wise to revisit this. When we learn, we don’t retain that skill or knowledge forever, so I decided to revise this regularly by doing Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) or using books or online guides about the point I’m unsure about. I also sought out and now regularly read a few online magazines and websites in English aimed at writers and authors, such as Writer’s Digest and Writers Online.

  1. Social and family life

As I mentioned, I’ve made more effort to actively plan to visit my family in England more regularly. Of course, this is mainly for personal reasons but every little helps!

  1. Writing more frequently in English

To be a good translator, you need to be a good writer in your target language. It took me a while to feel confident about my own writing, it can be quite daunting to put your thoughts online for all the world to see, however, I’ve noticed a steady improvement in how confident I feel in my translation work since I started to write more often. Writing and editing my own work has helped me to identify the type of mistakes I make more frequently and points to improve, which has, in turn, had made it easier when planning Continued Professional Development (CPD) activities. It has also been very rewarding on a personal level because I’ve developed a real interest in creative writing. While I don’t expect to be a best-selling author, writing short stories and poetry of my own has helped me not only to express my own thoughts and ideas but also to express those of the authors I translate into English.

These are the steps I’ve taken to ensure that my native language doesn’t descend into an incomprehensible jumble of languages. I have also been taking similar steps to polish up my Portuguese recently. As previously mentioned, I live in Spain which means that I have contact with the culture and language every day. Of course, I still read in Spanish, I still do CPD in Spanish, but the little day-to-day efforts are already a part of my life.

This is not the case with Portuguese. Having not lived in a Portuguese-speaking country for 4 years now, I have started to notice that I need to reconnect with the language and culture somehow. I’ve always kept on top of the written language, but cultures change and grow, and so does the way they use their language. I’ve been thinking about visiting Portugal for an intensive Portuguese course or going for an extended period of time to reconnect. If only there were a way to install an update, to bring my 2014 Portuguese into the present day. In the meantime, I continue with my regular CPD activities: reading journals, novels, the news and other resources, listening to podcasts and watching videos in online courses.

Have you had a similar experience with finding a balance between your working languages? What do you do to keep your skills up-to-date? Let me know what you think. I’d love to hear about your own CPD plans!

Work-life balance

Healthy habits for the home worker

Healthy habits for the home worker

I’m often told that working from home is the dream. Being able to choose when you have lunch, to organise your work to suit your personal and professional goals, and generally having much more freedom than you would in an in-house position seems ideal to many people. I’m not here to burst that bubble, it is ideal and has allowed me the opportunity to travel more often, taking my work with me as I go. There are, however, some side effects of working from home which, if not remedied with some healthy habits, could become troublesome even for the best of us. Below I list some habits I’ve developed to better manage my time and wellbeing as a freelancer working (mainly!) from home.

  1. Make time for yourself
    This is good advice for anyone, but especially for those of us who work from home. Having your work environment in your home can make it very difficult to switch off and relax. I struggle with this sometimes but it’s important to set aside time to relax and disconnect from work, not only to improve your quality of life but to improve the quality of your work. When I am stressed I struggle to focus, so disconnecting from work and relaxing when I need to, helps me to be fully motivated and engaged with my work when in “work mode”. The designated relaxation time for me is making time for exercise. I have set days that I go and, unless there is emergency or urgent matter to be dealt with, I follow that routine without fail. It doesn’t have to be exercise, of course. It can be something you enjoy. That brings me to my next point…
  2. Get some exercise
    Being sat all day is bad for us in many ways. It’s bad for our posture, metabolism, energy levels, and sleep routine. For those of us who work from home, it’s even worse because unlike most people, we don’t even have to move very much to get to work. I recently read that spending several hours per day sat down is as bad for our health as smoking. This was very shocking to me as I’m very health conscious and always considered myself as someone with healthy habits. I’d been looking into exercise machines for home use when I met a fellow translator at a conference who told me she walks on a treadmill the entire day while she works. I haven’t yet made this investment as I’ll be moving to a new house soon, but I definitely intend to try it. You don’t necessarily need to walk on a treadmill all day to be more active, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine. Even just going for a walk after lunch could make a difference.
  3. Plan your meals
    You don’t need to be meticulous but planning meals is a good way to ensure that you’re eating healthily and often also helps to save money. I find working from home makes me more prone to snacking and the days that I fall off the wagon tend to be those when I haven’t managed to plan what I’m going to eat. Knowing what I’m going to eat later and knowing it’s something I like because I planned it helps me to avoid snacking because I think, “I won’t eat a biscuit now because I have vegan enchiladas for lunch!”. If you’re really organised, you can even plan ahead and cook in bulk. This way you don’t even need to cook every day to eat healthy and delicious foods. This is what I often do with the aforementioned enchiladas, as the recipe I use makes 4-6 servings so that’s 2-3 meals for my household. Just pop it in the freezer in portions and take it out whenever you want it.
  4. There’s a great big world out there!
    When I first started working from home I found that I only ever left the house to go food shopping. Needless to say, this was a very unhealthy habit and I soon became agitated. Fortunately, I realised early on that I was forgetting to engage with the outside world (not including emails, of course!) so I gave myself a rule that I will leave the house every day for at least 1 hour. It reduces stress, improves my mood, and makes me more motivated when I do return to my work. With this in mind, I decided to try taking my work with me while I travel. In fact, I am writing this from a café in Skopje, Macedonia. This is my first working holiday and so far, I’ve noticed some real benefits from the change of scenery, but I will write a separate post to cover that. Everyone is different, and a working holiday might not be best suited to your way of working, but a change of scenery can certainly help. When I’m at home, I often take my laptop to a nearby café instead of using my perfectly comfortable and equipped home office. This suggestion is perhaps not useful for everyone but it’s definitely worth considering!

Working from home can be challenging but I have found these to be useful in overcoming those obstacles. Do you have any habits or rules for healthy home working? Let me know!

Continued Professional Development

Conferences – why go?

Now that I’ve been a freelance translator for almost two years, one question I’m frequently asked by aspiring freelancers is how I managed to make it sustainable. This is a really good question as freelancers are unfortunately often plagued by instability and periods of uncertainty. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a veteran translator (yet!) and I do still have what we might call ‘low seasons’ but I have managed to be relatively successful as a self-employed translator and this I owe not only to extensive research and hard work but also to advice given to me by fellow, more experienced translators.

When I first started, I was reluctant to reach out to fellow translators nor did I really participate in discussions about the industry itself in the various translation-related forums and groups online. I was afraid this would reflect badly on me due to my lack of experience or that nobody would want to help. However, over time and having spoken with fellow translators at co-working days I’ve attended or in online groups, I’ve found that they are more than happy to give advice to the younger, less experienced translators. One of the best pieces of advice that I have been given time and time again is this: whenever possible, attend relevant conferences. 

These conferences don’t necessarily have to concern translation. You can attend conferences in a number of areas, depending on your specialisation: cardiology, dentistry, medicine, literature, tourism, climate change, the list goes on and on. Having tried and tested this advice (albeit not as frequently as I would have liked), I wanted to share with you, my fellow and aspiring translators, why this has been beneficial in my case.

  1. Meeting other translators

As I’ve already mentioned, I owe a lot to the more experienced translators who gave me advice during my first few months as a freelance translator (and even as recently as this year) on how to improve my services, find clients and keep progressing along this career path. Conferences are an excellent way to meet other translators and to share and discuss advice or concerns relating to your work. (Translators are often a great laugh, too!)

  1. Continued Professional Development

CPD is fundamental, not only to translators but to all career paths. Technology improves, theories develop, language skills and subject knowledge wane with time, so we must keep working on them if we are to provide a professional translation service which keeps our clients happy. This is another way in which conferences can be extremely beneficial since CPD sessions are held for attendees and these sessions are often recognised by various professional associations. In addition, there are often educational companies present at these conferences which may provide discounts on their courses for attendees and happily provide information about their courses. Even just the conversations that you have with fellow translators, agencies, prospective clients and companies can be incredibly educational and help you develop a new skill, be it negotiation skills, business etiquette or keeping up with the latest trends in your subject area.

  1. Meeting clients

Of course, this is the Holy Grail for all freelancers: the opportunity to meet new clients. At all kinds of conferences, you can meet potential clients. Although most of your client interaction will more than likely be via email, being able to meet them in person is certainly beneficial. It puts a face to the name and your presence at the conference also communicates to the potential client that you invest time and money into expanding your business and learning more to improve the professional translation services you provide. It’s also an opportunity to touch base with existing clients – if they are there. Last year at the Language Show in London, I met a project manager with whom I had been working regularly for a few months and it was great to meet her in person. Such meetings improve the professional relationship you have with your clients, which is important if you are to keep working with them.

Some of the above are the reasons for which I’ll be attending the Mediterranean Editors and Translators Meeting 2017 this October, and I look forward to posting about my experience there.