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!

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!