It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to holidays and taking some well-earned time-off… Or do they? I’ve heard a few fellow freelance translators recently saying that they don’t take holidays, just a few days here or there, either because of pressures of work, or for fear of losing clients. It set me thinking: I know many of us are workaholics of one kind or another, and I’m no exception! I love what I do and count myself very lucky to have a job I adore, so much so that I often work in the evenings, especially now I live on my own much of the time. But it seems a great shame if we work so hard, but don’t make time for ourselves, to relax or switch off – or just to recharge our batteries for the next stint of work.
The very fact that we work from home means we have to be extremely disciplined in how we approach our workload. I’ve lost track of the number of people who’ve admired my ability to concentrate on the task at hand and not get distracted by the myriad other things to do at home! Yet surely we should be equally disciplined about ensuring we balance our work with time to enjoy life? Time to reap the rewards of the many hours we put in at our computers, be it in the form of a holiday or even just a couple of hours of “me time” every now and again?
I find the best way of relaxing on a day-to-day basis is my twice-daily walks with my faithful hounds, Leo and Poppy. I try to go out mid-morning, after doing an hour or so of work, and then again late afternoon, thus getting me away from the computer screen and ensuring I change my posture and get some much-needed exercise. The benefits are manifold: not only do I get some lovely fresh air, but I find it clears my mind and I return to my desk refreshed and raring to go. Any niggling problems I might have been struggling to resolve will magically seem to have fallen in place and any frustrations will usually have dissolved – or at the very least have assumed their true perspective!
I try and squeeze in time for a number of other activities in my working week as well, in the belief that I work better if I exercise my body and my brain in other ways. A change is as good as a rest, or so they say. I started yoga in the throes of my marriage break-up, over 10 years ago, and loved it both for its meditational, mind-clearing properties AND for the stretching and postures. Before doing yoga, I used to get a stiff neck/back from working at the computer all day, but I can honestly say I’ve never had that since – a recommendation indeed. Next week sees the start of the summer “yoga in the sun” classes, hopefully in the local school grounds – a real treat to do yoga exercises and enjoy the benefits of prana breathing in the fresh air.
When my children were younger, I used to do classes in the daytime, but I’ve increasingly found that evening classes suit me better now I only have myself to contend with. Much as we might think we can dictate our own timetables as freelancers (and we can, up to a point), clients tend to expect translators to be available during standard working hours. I used to do a dance class on a Wednesday morning, but I found that by the time I’d checked my e-mail before I went (meaning I was invariably late!), driven to class, done an hour and a half’s strenuous dancing, driven home, showered, then walked the dogs, the morning was gone – and I’d often have missed several jobs to boot. I now go to an evening Aerodance class, which fits much better with my routines. I know I’ve stopped work for the evening and can enjoy the exercise all the more in the knowledge I can just chill out when I get home again.
Working for yourself can be a solitary business, as I’ve discussed before, so I also like to do some more sociable activities, such as badminton in the winter and tennis in the summer. Exercise and chats on the sidelines whilst waiting for a game, what better solution? The fact that translating is such a sedentary profession also makes it imperative that we keep ourselves fit by other means, precisely to avoid aching necks, backs and putting on weight, of course! It’s very tempting to keep the coffee pot and the biscuit tin at hand when you’re struggling with that long and arduous translation….
Last, but not least, the very point of working so hard the rest of the year is, for me, so that I can afford to take those precious holiday weeks when I can switch off completely from work. My week’s skiing is non-negotiable – six or seven days of fabulous exercise, icy, mountain air, good company and sheer pleasure. In the summer I also like to take at least week away, as if I stay at home, I find it hard to avoid the computer completely and my allotment and garden, much as I love them, mean I keep on working, even if in a different way! For the past 8 or so years we’ve been to a hotel in Austria for a holiday that epitomises relaxation for me, the Vitalhotel Wolfgangsee in Austria: for a fabulous hotel, excellent food, tennis, walking, mountain scenery, spa facilities and sheer, unadulterated chill-out time, it can’t be beaten. I feel relaxed just thinking about it…
Nothing booked this year yet, unfortunately, due to changing circumstances and much family coming & going, but I will be going somewhere before the end of the season, that’s for sure! I’m off to Berlin for the FIT Congress at the beginning of August and really looking forward to my first visit to the German capital, even if that will be work and pleasure combined.
As for that old chestnut of losing clients when you’re on holiday, I’m pretty sure that’s never happened to me. As long as you make sure you tell your clients in advance that you’ll be away (not too far in advance, otherwise they’re bound to forget and e-mail you anyway!), it shouldn’t be a problem. Even for direct clients, I try and make sure I’ve passed on details of a trusted colleague they can refer to in case an urgent job turns up in my absence. I always have my smart phone with me, anyway, so I can check e-mails while I’m away – not because I’m obsessed with work, but merely so I can respond to any enquiries received despite my pre-emptive holiday announcement! I cancel any network e-mail notifications too, so I only receive the bare minimum of work-related e-mail. I also find it’s much better to be able to sift through the inevitable junk and delete it whilst you’re away, rather than coming back to a huge backlog of e-mails when you get home – a sure way of undoing that holiday feeling….
All in all, I think it’s so important to have a change of scenery and see something other than the four walls of your office once in a while. I truly believe you work better if you’ve had a break and your body definitely feels better for doing something different. I try not to work at weekends (unless I know it’s going to be non-stop rain in the winter!), and feel so much more refreshed on a Monday morning because of it. Don’t get trapped in the all work, no play scenario – it definitely makes Jack a dull boy (and Jill for that matter!).