Brace yourselves, because what I’m about to say may come as a surprise to some: Translators are people, too.
Contrary to popular belief (and despite what some clients think), we have basic human needs, such as eating, sleeping, rest and relaxation. Shocker: We also like to spend time with our loved ones, and occasionally even venture out of our translation bubbles. We may love what we do for a living, but outside of our work, we also have social lives, passions, hobbies, and interests.
Now, I’m sure we can all agree that the beauty of freelancing is that translators can set their own hours. Night owls can sleep all day, then work the night away, whereas early birds can get up with the sun and pound out a few thousand words before the rest of us have even finished our first cup of coffee. Some translators even make the deliberate choice to work outside of non-standard business hours in order to better serve clients in other time zones, among other reasons so they can have the luxury of traveling while working. Good on them, I say. But, years ago, I made a radical choice (or at least some in the translation world think so) that I have never regretted:
I refuse to work evenings, weekends and holidays.
Now that you’ve all recovered from that shock, I want to assure you of two important things: 1) This decision has never affected my bottom line; and 2) I have never lost a client because of the schedule I keep. In fact, I think working regular hours has actually made me a happier, healthier person, and a more productive translator. And I’m going to tell you the top five reasons why:
1. Healthy habits
Working exclusively between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. means that I eat my meals at regular times, I go to bed at a reasonable time, and I get enough sleep every night. I also manage to fit in exercise just before work or on my lunch hour, at a time when I’m not physically exhausted or mentally drained, which means I tend to find fewer excuses for skipping my workouts.
2. No distractions
I’m a single mother by choice to a 3-year-old son. Trying to work while he’s around is pretty much impossible, between cartoons playing in the background and his constant demands on my attention. So, I work full-tilt during the day while he’s at daycare, getting an impressive amount of work done distraction-free, and in the evenings and on weekends, he benefits from a mom who’s fully present and focused on him and his needs, instead of watching him grow up from behind a laptop screen.
3. Better focus
Working eight hours a day is plenty for me. The work I do as a translator is intense and requires sharp mental focus. Speaking only for myself, I’m not capable of sustaining that level of concentration all day long, and then picking it up again in the evening for several more hours before bed. The end of my workday represents my wall—physical and mental—beyond which I know my work would start to suffer.
4. Time for other interests
As a translator, I feel it’s important for me to keep a finger on the pulse of current events, stay informed of developments and trends in culture, entertainment and technology, and be generally aware of news and politics, both locally and globally, since it’s all these things (and more) that form the foundation of high-quality, idiomatic, and seamless translations. And to acquire that knowledge, I need time for outside interests: reading newspapers, magazines, journals, non fiction books or novels; watching TV series, documentaries or films; sampling new cuisines; taking in plays or concerts; trying a new sport, hobby or activity; or simply spending time conversing with family and friends. There’s a whole world beyond the computer screen! And having time to explore it makes me a much better informed translator.
To paraphrase John Donne, no translator is an island. Or at least I’m not. In order to survive and thrive, I know that I need to get out from behind my desk now and then to spend actual facetime (as opposed to FaceTime!) with other translators, comparing notes, giving and receiving advice, swapping stories and practices, and, yes, sometimes even griping! Having my evenings free allows me to meet up with colleagues, as well as attend the occasional industry event in order to keep my name in circulation and—bonus—maybe even pick up some new clients.
So, there you have it—that’s what works for me. And that’s why, when 8 p.m. rolls around, most nights you’ll find me curled up on my couch, guilt-free, watching Netflix or reading a book, contentedly becoming a better translator!