Life as a freelance translator Organisation Work-life balance

New routine

Finally, the now 2 year-old is sleeping all night rather than waking at three, and I am getting back to the work routine that suits me best.

5.30 – 7.15 a.m. Work

7.15-9.30 a.m. Breakfast with children, get everyone dressed, hunt for nursery bag, book bags and shoes that have unaccountably vanished since the night before, put in a load of washing, walk to school and nursery and walk back, through the fields if it’s not raining.

9.30 a.m. – 3.30 p.m. Work, not non-stop, though, unless under dire pressure of deadlines. Husband picks baby up from nursery at 1 and children from school at 3.15.

3.30 p.m. Stop work. Speak to children, wash up breakfast, hang up laundry, make scones, practise school reading, entertain visiting small friends, take people to Brownies, build train tracks…

I am a morning person. I wrote all my university essays at 5 a.m. and before children I used to start work at six. Now that I am able to do that again, things are so much better. I used to view breakfast with the children as a frustrating interminable delay preventing me from getting to the computer until about 9.30.  This did not make for a happy and harmonious home. Now it’s a pleasant interlude (admittedly, with the odd bit of shouting about shoes) after sending out the early jobs and getting a start on longer deadlines. I don’t feel so rushed in the mornings and last week I even had time for a quick coffee with a friend at 9 a.m. because I’d already done all the first thing urgent stuff.

I used to either be working when the children came home, which made them cross, or trying to work in the evenings, which makes me cross. It also makes me extremely slow and unproductive. For me, working after 8 p.m. is like trying to translate through fudge. Getting that time in the mornings back means I get evenings too. I can put the children to bed without feeling stressed at having to get back to the computer or having to choose between work and choir rehearsal.

It helps that many of my clients are in Scandinavia and with 3.30 being 4.30 in Sweden and 5.30 in Finland they tend  to be winding down for the day by the time I stop. My mobile phone downloads work e-mail via the home wifi until 6 p.m. so if something does come in, I know about it, but usually it’s quiet then anyway.

It might not suit everyone – my husband is one of those people who hits his mental peak at about 1 a.m. – but it suits me and I feel better for it.

Finland Sweden Work-life balance

Summer in Scandinavia

I’m back from four weeks driving from the West of England to Eastern Finland and back again via Dover-Calais, Amsterdam, campsites in Germany and Sweden, stops with various Finnish in-laws, a weekend in a Swedish cottage in the Stockholm archipelago, 2 days with my non-Swedish-speaking cousin whose husband has suddenly been relocated from Grimsby to Helsingborg, and Legoland in Denmark. With three children under 8. As one of my Swedish clients put it, “yes, but when are you having a holiday?”

The relaxing bit was a week in a Finnish kesämökki (summer cottage) by lake Vahvajä30072009097rvi near Hirvensalmi. Saunas, lots of saunas, and swimming in the lake followed by beer and barbecues, Finns have the right idea about how to spend the summer. I’ve never taken four weeks off in a row before but it helps that this is precisely what my Scandinavian clients expect people to do. Also going as early as I could, when our schools broke up on 18 July, and being back at my desk as Swedes and Finns came back to work in mid-August seems to have worked quite well. Work is now pouring in and I am refreshed and recharged and energetic enough to cope with it. I am also being firmer about saying no, having realised, as soon as I stopped, how overworked I had been and how much I really needed a holiday. Long may it last.

Although I didn’t do any work while I was away, spending time in my source language countries will benefit the business. We visit family in Finland at least once a year but what with having babies, it’s been a few years since I’ve set foot in Sweden, and reading online newspapers and blogs isn’t the same as being out there on the streets, or in my case, in campsites, and talking Swedish to ordinary people. I’ve also stocked up on Swedish and Finnish crime fiction to get me through the winter and update the source language input a bit more. Definitely a beneficial break all round.

PS. I have also proved that although they understand me, I really cannot understand spoken Danish. Well also I wasn’t expecting to be asked my name when attempting to exchange Swedish kronor for Danish kroner in a bank.

Life as a freelance translator Work-life balance

ITI Conference

I managed to attend the second day of the ITI conference last weekend, they having appositely timed a conference on sustainability and work-life balance to coincide with my husband’s 40th birthday. So in keeping with the work-life balance theme, I attended half of it.

The day started with Philippa Hammond and Sarah Dillon’s joint presentation on Web 2.0 and social media. I’ve been communicating with people online since about 1998 through Usenet, mailing lists and in the past couple of years Livejournal, but none of it has been directly work-related. In fact I spent Saturday night at the flat of a friend I originally met on a mailing list ten years ago. We were discussing how today if people with a particular hobby wanted to find fellow fans/afficionados online, it’s unlikely they would start a mailing list, a newsgroup or even a message board. Things have moved on and will continue to do so and it’s useful to find out what’s going on and decide whether it’s something you want to be involved in. Obviously I already have this blog, but the presentation did make me consider Twitter again. Previously I’d assumed that the noise-to-signal ratio would be too high for it to be useful unless you have hours of spare time to sift through a lot of rubbish, so discovering that there are ways of filtering it was encouraging.

Another speaker I was keen to hear was Spencer Allman on specialisation and revision, as Spencer and I are two of the very few people in the UK who translate from Finnish and may well have ended up revising each other without actually knowing it. It was good to meet up with him again.

I initially thought I wouldn’t hear Phil Goddard talking about walking across the US because it clashed with a session on MemoQ. I’m in the middle of a 45-day trial of MemoQ and wanted to find out some more. It says a lot for their on-the-ball customer relations that they looked at my name tag and immediately knew I’d signed up for the Proz MemoQ 50%-off group buy, which I’d done only half an hour before getting on the train. More on MemoQ in a later post.

Anyway, jetlagged Phil Goddard overslept and the schedule was reorganised to fit him in later so I did hear him too and was glad I did. His account of walking and translating his way from New York to Los Angeles with a laptop did make me wonder why, given such a flexible career, in the past couple of weeks I have ended up spending about 20 hours a day in my office/bedroom. Inspiring stuff. Not that I want to walk across America, but getting out more often into the bits of Exmoor and the Brendon hills  that I can see out of my window would be a start, with or without a laptop (note to self: mend or replace laptop).

Siobhan Soraghan’s session on work-life balance for freelancers gave me similar food for thought, and having suffered from burnout herself, she did know what she was talking about, unlike the poor bloke who came to tell us about the problems suffered by HR consultants. That’s unfair, he did know what he was talking about, it’s just that what he was talking about was largely irrelevant to the lives of freelance translators. Women translators do not fail to get work because of insufficient networking opportunities due to childcare (I just about refrained from asking why the male HR consultants aren’t doing any of the childcare), nor do they get paid less than their male counterparts, and if HR consultants really can’t get work other than by schmoozing people on golf courses, I’m very glad I’m not one.

It’s been a busy month and it was good to get out of the house, meet people and get some good stuff to think about.

Life as a freelance translator Work-life balance

And never the twain shall meet – incompatible holidays

If you live in the UK and work for clients in Sweden and Finland, from the end of April you are constantly missing each other. This Friday is May Day. For my clients, this is a public holiday and you won’t hear much from them from lunchtime on Thursday, i.e. about 11 am., and as they’re an hour ahead of me, that’s most of the day gone. On Monday the 4th they all come back ready for work and the UK promptly has its May Day bank holiday, now held on the first Monday in May and exacerbated this year by my children’s school having a staff training day on the Tuesday and giving them all another 4-day weekend.

Then, sooner or later depending on the date of Easter, there is Ascension Day, a public holiday in Scandinavia. And as it’s always on a Thursday, the Swedes will take the Friday off too. This year it’s the 21st. On Monday 25th the UK has its Spring Bank Holiday (formerly Whit Monday). In the whole of May there is only one full working week when one of us isn’t having a day off and this year that one happens to have my husband’s 40th birthday in it and I am taking him away for 2 days for the first time in five years. It’s fortunate I no longer have any clients in Norway or we’d have to factor in their National Day on the 17th of May as well.

I’m not sure how any of this is compatible with running a business in a sensible manner. I used to take Scandinavian public holidays off and work on the UK ones, but acquiring a husband and children whose lives have to fit in with the rest of the UK has made that less workable. I just have to hope for some long jobs with long deadlines that I can do in my own time rather than the “can you do this for tomorrow?”  stuff.

juva_mokki02Being tied by UK school holidays is another change in the past couple of years, especially as these too bear no relation to the system used by my clients or my Finnish in-laws. From April onwards, clients are asking me my holiday plans so they can plan for The Summer. Schools in Sweden and Finland close at the end of May and re-open in mid-August. Businesses wind down, particularly during July. British schools, however,  break up in late July, this year it’s the 21st, and start again in September. Usually I haven’t even started thinking about summer holiday plans as early as April.

Many translators follow their clients’ example and take July off, as work is often slow, but I have found that working in July has its advantages. Being available when no-one else is can gain you new clients who try you out when everyone else has vanished and stick with you when the holidays are over. When I worked in a partnership, we staggered our summer holidays so the business was always open and a couple of times translated books between us ready for the client’s return from the summer break.

But you do have to have a holiday some time or you will fall over with exhaustion. This year I am taking a month off from the end of term in July until mid-August. Last year I took late August/early September off and think that not being around when my clients returned from their own summer breaks meant it took them a while to remember I existed again. This year I’m trying to achieve the best of both worlds, and also enable my children to meet their Finnish cousins during the couple of weeks that their summer holidays coincide.