Sometimes life throws you a curveball and the unthinkable happens: a family member is struck with a long-term illness and you suddenly have to take on the role of carer. Caring for a loved one can be physically and emotionally draining and as time-consuming as looking after a baby, but often with none of the happy milestones marking a transition from one phase to another. Not only does caring take huge bites out of your available work time, it often does not put you in the frame of mind to focus when you finally do manage to sit down at your desk.
Giving up work entirely is not always a financially viable option for the family. In my case, I’ve had no choice but to cut down on my hours and learn to work smarter. Although my earnings have dropped by about 20% in the past two years I’ve been a carer, I reckon the time I spend translating, on admin and other work-related matters is 50% less. I now very rarely work in the evenings or at weekends and I certainly don’t always work a full day either during the week. My aim is to get back to the same level of earnings without increasing the number of my working hours. In this post I’d like to share a few of the ways I’ve managed to ensure that the unthinkable didn’t turn into a financial disaster for my family.
Cut down on unnecessary spending. As a family, we went through our standing orders and direct debits and stopped quite a few. We looked at our insurance policies and switched to cheaper options providing the same level of cover. Next for the chop is our TV package and we all changed mobile phones at Christmas to good deals. We also try to shop smarter in general by not going crazy in the supermarket, checking prices and making better choices. Bringing your outgoings down lessens the burden of having to earn, which helps to reduce the pressure on you, making you feel less stressed.
Stop spending so much time on social media. Some of you may have noticed that I don’t manage to blog/tweet/share quite as much as I used to. I don’t want to give up social media altogether as it is a way of staying in touch and staving off isolation when you are mostly tied to the home. But not being online so much is definitely a good way of finding time you thought you didn’t have to work more. I now rarely comment on LinkedIn forums and I have removed myself from several Facebook groups.
Use a Smartphone. Now that mobiles are more like mini computers than phones, they’re essential for keeping in touch with clients when you’re out and about. Despite my efforts to cut down on the emails I receive, a considerable number still pour into my inbox daily. Using my phone to sort through them means I’ll have more time for work when I get to my desk. And despite what I said above about social media, having Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and WordPress (for my blog) on my phone helps me stay in touch with friends, family and colleagues and keep abreast of translation news.
Get a CAT tool. I was translating with one before anyway, but given that Wordfast, which I’ve used for ages, seems to have become Wordslow since I switched to the latest Windows and Microsoft Office software, I’ve now bought memoQ. Unfortunately, this means I’ll have to spend time I really don’t have learning how to use this CAT properly, but I’m hoping future time gains will more than compensate. Another reason for changing my CAT is that I want to try Slate Desktop (again in the hope that it will enable me to work more efficiently) and it doesn’t work in Wordfast. Recent results with memoQ are promising, but I’ll be blogging about that at a later date.
Dictate your translations. I’ve been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking for a while and it really does speed up the translation process once you get over that initial hurdle of feeling awkward saying everything out loud. DNS used in combination with Wordfast and the new Office software constantly made everything crash. I’ve not experienced any of these annoying problems with memoQ so far.
Choose your translation/revision jobs wisely. Easy to say and I don’t always get my analysis stage right. When you have limited time available to work and you need to maximise your earnings as far as possible, you have to assess job offers carefully and reject any that might pose complications (formatting, terminology, difficulty level, clunky style, etc.) or you could miss your deadline.
Don’t get too booked up. Caring can be unpredictable and sometimes eat up substantial amounts of the time you were planning to allocate to work. If you leave some room in your schedule, you can catch up later. Being particular about the jobs you accept and rejecting anything with a tight deadline might mean you end up saying “no” far more often than you used to. Some days I reject everything I’m offered and then have no work at all, but this is preferable to letting a client down or putting myself in a pressurised situation when home life is stressful enough.
Inform your client when things go wrong. If you find that you cannot make the deadline, you need to tell your client as soon as possible. I’ve been working with some of my clients for well over a decade and I told them about my situation when circumstances beyond my control ate into my buffer and I knew it was impossible to complete on time. Obviously, not everyone is going to be so understanding, which is why it’s important to
Work for the right clients. I am not actively seeking any direct clients at the moment as I know I don’t have time to take care of all their requirements. I also steer clear of agencies with tight turnarounds, strict deadlines and a tendency to dock your pay if you deliver late.
Maximise concentration when working. I often listen to music especially put together to improve brain power when I need to free my mind and knuckle down. I’m currently paying for Focus@Will, although you’ll find lots of playlists to aid concentration on Spotify for free. See the Music and Background Sounds section on my “Useful Links” page for other links.
Learn to work in smaller chunks. I’ve always preferred to translate for long stretches at a time and felt it wasn’t worthwhile to settle down to work unless I had at least an hour available. Now I’m having to change that mindset to make use of any chunks of time, even 15 minutes, just to power on and get things done. This works for translating, but is no good for revising/editing my own and others’ translations when I need a much longer uninterrupted period to concentrate properly.
Have a shorter to-do list. I got the idea of a three-item to do-list from Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler’s blog. Just trying to achieve three things per day rather than writing a long list of tasks that I would find impossible to achieve is far more calming and satisfying when I manage to tick them off.
Build a support network. Combining caregiving with earning a living can make it difficult to meet up with friends and colleagues, as social and translation events often clash with caring duties or work. I’m always grateful when a family member or friend offers to help because I need breaks to recharge my batteries. As freelancers, it’s especially important to take advantage of any opportunities to stave off isolation. If I can’t get out to see people, I can always invite them to visit me instead.
Look after yourself. This is probably the tip I’m worst at, but I have been putting in more of an effort recently. I dress in clothes that make me feel good about myself and always wear some jewellery and perfume. I’m also trying to spend more time exercising, relaxing and eating more healthily. I won’t be any good to anyone if I become unwell too and cannot look after my family or do any work.
Please feel free to share your own experiences and ideas for working smarter in the comments. I’d be grateful, however, if colleagues who do know the details of my situation refrained from mentioning them here or elsewhere on social media. Thank you.
This post was published in the ATA Chronicle in January 2018.