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retro cleaning lady

Back at the beginning of the year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to finally get myself a cleaner. I’ve had a cleaner before, when I lived in the big family house pre-divorce, but for some reason just hadn’t got around to filling the gap since moving to my current, much smaller house 12 years ago. I’ve told myself that this house is too small, that a cleaner would be under my feet, that with two dogs, it constantly gets messy again – but deep down, these are just excuses. It’s not so much a case of giving myself time to work more, but rather of giving myself more free time to do what I want – not what I need to do. It’s also a far more efficient use of my time to pay someone else to clean and either earn much more myself in the same time, or to enjoy my hard-earned gains as I wish.

I finally managed to track down a suitable cleaner back in August and can’t believe the difference. She may only come in for two hours a week, but she cleans solidly (and thoroughly) for those two hours and gets far more done than I would over the same period. When cleaning your own home, you inevitably get side-tracked by tidying up, putting away, phones ringing, washing to hang out…. Bliss to have someone else focussing on restoring order and cleanliness, while I tap away at my keyboard, translating being so much more enjoyable (and lucrative) than cleaning. I’d fallen into the habit of doing all my household chores at the weekend, so it feels like being given your life back to be free on Saturday morning to shop, go to tennis, or even garden. What took me so long, I wonder?!

Sadly, my cleaner has been out of action for the past few weeks since she broke her foot, but this has just reaffirmed what a difference it makes. Prioritising our use of time as freelancers is so important. Not just in the mundane matter of cleaning the house, important though it is to peace of mind – I can’t work in an untidy space! Other tasks can be delegated too, to great effect: IT, for one. How many of us are truly knowledgeable when it comes to computer problems and glitches? Sure, we do our best, but so often we waste valuable time trying to get to the bottom of an IT issue, when it would be far more effective to ask an expert. I must admit I miss my sons at home for that very reason! There are plenty of forums and help groups for advice online, but sometimes we need to know when to admit defeat!

Seeking help for complex formatting is another example: as translators, we often aren’t trained in document design or converting complicated pdf files to a more user-friendly format. There are excellent programs out there for doing conversions (Abbyy FineReader and Solid are two of my favourites), but it isn’t always a cost-effective use of our time to do this. I charge a hefty surcharge for complex PDF file conversions, but even then it can take far longer to resolve the issues when you actually get down to it. In those cases, assuming the client can’t come up with a Word version in the first place, it would definitely be worth contacting DTP experts to get the file in a suitable format – saving yourself money and time – and preventing you pulling your hair out in the process!


Using an accountant is another example of effective delegating: I do the basic book-keeping, but my ex-husband used to do my accounts, admittedly in the days when I worked part-time and the sums involved weren’t huge. Since getting divorced and gradually working up to full-time again, I have used an accountant – and I’m sure she saves me as much money as I pay her, if only in making sure I’m up to date with the latest rules and regulations (and frequent changes in the law!) and telling me what I can and can’t claim for. To say nothing of the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re in safe hands. It’s also incredibly useful when asked to provide proof of self-employment to have a professional accountant certify that they have been doing your accounts for x years. I’ve been asked to provide this a number of times for mortgage applications, tender submissions, security clearance, etc.


It goes without saying that delegating jobs outside your comfort zone is another very good idea. This might not crop up if you only work for agencies, where of course you’d just turn them down, but if you also work with direct clients, you might consider outsourcing jobs outside your comfort zone. The client may prefer to keep you as their sole point of contact, leaving you to find a competent expert in the area in question. I did just this when I was working on a large restaurant project last year: most of it was food-related, but some documents came up which were quite IT-related, or legal, or even construction-based. The client didn’t want to go to the hassle of finding more translators, so was delighted for me to sort it all out. I was able to proof-read the resulting translations, ensuring consistency with my own translations and providing a second pair of eyes. Win-win all round.

Then again, if you ever have cause to arrange an event, it can make sense to get others involved too. For my son’s wedding this summer, while my son and daughter-in-law knew exactly what they wanted and did a lot of the organising themselves, they were keen to delegate some of the jobs like helping arrange the flowers, transporting stuff hither and thither, or making and assembling the cake. The bride’s mum and I were thrilled to be asked and happy to help. The same applies to business events and workshops, where sharing the load eases the burden on the organiser and brings in additional expertise and suggestions. Although many of us do take on voluntary roles within our professional associations and local groups, it doesn’t mean we expect to do all the legwork ourselves.

Focussing on what we are good at is definitely the way to go. To say nothing of job satisfaction – after all, we’ve often chosen to go freelance because we love what we do. Let’s make sure it stays that way….