How Do You Manage a Work-Life Balance as a Translator?

Mixing freelance translation and family life can be a complex juggling act at times. But it also has huge advantages. I’ve been at the coalface of parenting while freelancing for nine years now. Here’s my take on how to manage a work life-balance as a translator.

Isn’t working from home the holy grail for parents?

When I tell people, especially other parents, what I do for a living, I invariably get the same reaction: “Oh, you’re so lucky! I’d love to work from home.” And yes, I can see why they think that. It must look like the perfect solution for family life.

And in many ways they’re right. I’ve got no arduous commute. If one of the kids is off school, I can probably still get some work done while they watch films quietly on the sofa. I can pop a load of washing on in my lunch break. And I can take as much holiday as I want, whenever I want. What’s not to like?

In fact, one of the reasons I became a freelance translator was to have a better work-life balance. As I said in my blog, How to Become a Translator: One Translator’s Story, I used to teach English as a second language. In Spain, most TEFL work is afternoons and evenings. Once I had kids at school, my schedule meant I hardly saw them during the week.

Becoming a freelance translator meant I could work when they were at school. And I could be available for them in the evenings. But a freelancer’s life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It can be a real juggling act.

What’s difficult about freelancing when you’re a parent?

The money is flexible too

Sure, the flexibility is great. I can choose when I work. But the downside is, of course, no work = no earnings. Even without worrying about affording time off, a quiet month can make you nervous, never mind a prolonged dry spell. There’s no monthly salary to fall back on. When you’ve got a family to support, that can be really nerve wracking.

When I’m working, I need to earn enough to cover holidays and dry spells. The bills don’t stop coming in because I’m at the beach. Setting my own hours sometimes means working weekends while my husband is at home to look after the kids. Or working late once they’re in bed. With a second set of dental braces needing to be paid for, there’s sure to be some weekend working this summer.

No grown-up chat by the watercooler

Freelancing can be a lonely place. Part of managing a work-life balance as a translator is coping with the lack of adult interaction. It can feel like you never speak to another grown up, especially when the kids are little. It can be hard making the switch from the intellectual and somewhat esoteric activity of translating to wall-to-wall Paw Patrol.

Even as they get older, refereeing arguments over the remote control isn’t most people’s idea of stimulating conversation. I know freelancers who miss the daily commute and the buffer it gives between work and home. Kind of like an air-lock from one world into the next.

For a bit of interaction with other translators in the same position, without leaving the house, try the Parents Who Are Freelance Translators group on Facebook. If you’re missing out on CPD or just want a break while you get on with something else, try podcasts: How This Freelance Translator Makes Washing Up an Exciting Learning Experience.

You still need an office

Even though you work from home, you still need a space to work in. Most professional translators have some kind of office space. Somewhere they can sit comfortably for long periods. When we bought a house, one of the requirements was space for an office for me.

If you don’t have the space, co-working might be a good solution. This is where you rent a space in an office. It means you meet other freelancers, not just translators. You get some social interaction. It can help you set specific working hours and make them easier to stick to because you can’t just “pop downstairs” when the doorbell rings.

Read this blog about co-working by Seville-based translator, Kim Causier.

How do I create my own work-life balance?

Managing a work-life balance as a translator isn’t always easy. But then, neither is managing a “normal” job and a family. Some of it’s trial and error. Here are some things that I find help me.

Planning holidays for the year and sticking to it

This isn’t always as easy as it looks. Spanish schools don’t publish their academic calendars until the year is well under way. Given there are a LOT of holidays in Spain this presents difficulties. And not just for freelancers. It’s made more difficult by schools having their own local holidays and a whole range of “extra days” they can tag on to make an existing holiday longer.

Being freelance means I can block out time if I need to. This flexibility is really important as my husband has a totally non-flexible job and we don’t have any family nearby to pick up the slack. Being freelance means I can bend a little to cover childcare.

But the schools are out for nearly three months in the summer. I can’t bend that much! We’re lucky that our village runs a heavily subsidised summer school throughout July and August. We sign the kids up for about six weeks and I take time off in the awkward two weeks between school and summer school.

Having set working hours

I work a slightly reduced day and concentrate on translating while the kids are out of the house. The childcare I organise gives me between 9am and 4pm. I try to leave admin and other tasks that don’t need as much concentration for later, to maximise the time I can translate uninterrupted. So, I work a full day, but prioritise the translation for when they aren’t around.

Keeping work and family time separate

Sometimes there’s a big project and I have to work overtime, in the evenings or on weekends. Sometimes I know there are expenses on the horizon, like braces or school trips. And sometimes it’s a project that’s too good to refuse and you’ve got bills to pay. (Who knew ten year olds could eat so much?).

But I try to have working hours that suit me and my family, and stick to them. Having an actual office space can help with this. Somewhere your computer sits and where you can walk away and shut the door.

It’s important to prevent work seeping into family time. Otherwise it can take over. I use an app Gwen recommended for dealing with emails in her article Useful App for Pro translators: Boomerang for Gmail Review. I can use it to schedule emails and pause my inbox so I’m not disturbed and tempted to reply to emails outside working hours.

How do you manage your work-life balance as a translator? What do you find are the biggest challenges? We’d love to hear your comments. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with our blogs about translation and freelancing, sign up for our newsletter in the column to the right.

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