Working sustainably as a translator – time management

An article by Laura Ball, German to English translator and owner of Laurel Translations (

As a translator, you love your work. Not just the actual translation process and finding just *that* right word, but also the challenge of juggling different jobs and managing the marketing, accounting, business development and customer service aspects of the work. At the same time you are simultaneously your own boss, counsellor and friend. You enjoy being good and efficient at doing something and you thrive on the challenge, even it does get a bit much sometimes. So there’s no way you’re lazy; no way you’d be inclined to “pull a sickie”. However, every so often something strange happens. It makes no sense, you don’t know how to avoid it and you don’t know what to do about it. This is what it is:

 After I have been [working] for a few weeks, I tend to suddenly come up against a wall. I can’t stand the thought of doing another job. Sometimes I’ve even turned down a 5-word sentence, such is my disgust at the thought of doing any more work. I then spend a few days thinking very hard about what I am taking on, generally erring on the side of turning work down, until I can feel reasonably cheerful about translation again.

 If the problem resonates with you, I hope that this article will provide you with a structured way of examining your working habits and attitudes to find out why you hit this ‘wall’, what you can do when it happens and, perhaps more importantly, how to avoid hitting it in the first place. As sole traders or small business owners, one of our key concerns is to grow our business and develop client relationships. In order to do this, any business has to be sustainable. Your business model has to be viable not just in the short term, but in the long term, over ten or twenty years or even longer. A key factor in sustaining a business is to ensure that its assets are sustainable. As a translator, your single biggest asset is: you. So, sustaining your business is all about sustaining yourself. Therefore, going for coffee, going swimming at lunch time, bouldering on Friday afternoons, doing judo or even taking an afternoon off to go shopping, are all a viable, indeed necessary and integral part of running and maintaining and sustaining your business. Perhaps remembering this key factor will help you if you find yourself thinking work is somehow more morally acceptable than pleasure and that taking time off to do something fun is a tad self-indulgent. In fact, “taking time off to do something fun” is rarely self-indulgent – it is instead an important part of doing business. With this in mind, please read on to find out more about taking time off – wisely.

We all enjoy doing different activities to relax. Some of us may need more time to relax, others less. Some of us may benefit from taking regular breaks and others may prefer to work intuitively and take breaks on a more haphazard basis, as and when they feel like it. The following article will hopefully outline some of the underlying factors that make any leisure activity effective and help you to recognise what might be useful for you.

Most of us are aware of the importance of taking breaks. However, what seems to be equally important is how you spend your break. It is not enough to use your five or ten minute break to move from your desk to your sofa to read the paper. This does not involve enough of a contrast to working to give your brain the rest and variety that it needs. From comments mae by other translators, the types of activities that you can do during a break to make it most effective typically involves something that a) gets you out of the house, b) makes you actively focus on something other than work, c) occupies your attention entirely, d) is physically active and e) is something that you perceive as pleasurable

 It is entirely up to you to choose which activity or activities to spend your breaks doing, as long as they meet some or all of the above criteria. Some suggestions include taking a regular break during work to meditate or have a deep brain rest[1], or to intersperse work periods with cleaning the house. Various leisure activities that were cited as being helpful included attending Tai Chi, yoga, martial arts or other evening classes, going for coffee, to the gym or to have a massage, visiting to children’s assemblies and classroom events, getting into teaching or going cycling, swimming or bouldering. However, if you find that cleaning the house or going for a walk just doesn’t occupy your brain enough, go cycling instead or set yourself a series of  “housework challenges” whilst cleaning to make it more demanding.

 It would seem logical that an activity that meets all the above criteria will be most effective, whereas activities that only meet one or two will be less effective. At some points in the day it may only be necessary to take a short break that fulfils just one criterion. There is also nothing to stop you from doing two separate activities that fulfill different criteria to be just as effective. Longer breaks, however, such as leisure time spent at the weekends, on days off or in the evening should meet more of the criteria. That way you can be sure of using the leisure time effectively as well as enjoyably and will return to work feeling truly refreshed and ready for a new challenge.


2 thoughts on “Working sustainably as a translator – time management

  1. Get a dog! You’ll have to go for a walk whatever the weather, otherwise good luck for handling a very excited dog inside who just wants to play. Although before getting one, you might have to consider much longer breaks – and more often that you would have imagined – to go to the vet. But it’s a great distraction and you won’t hit the wall by just looking at him and thinking he needs me to get on with my work, so he can get some croquettes (and I can pay the vet bills!).

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