All work and no play? How to achieve balance between your freelance translation work and the rest of your life

By Tess Whitty

Balance signLong and irregular work hours seem to be the norm among freelancers, but it does not have to be this way. In fact, I am a living testament and firm believer that it should not be this way! Many highly successful freelance translators do not work long or irregular hours. Instead, they have learned to manage their time efficiently so that they have time for other things in life. As a result, they enjoy their work more and know the importance of having time for their families, recharging their batteries, and maintaining distance from their freelance work in order to be able to do a good job.

Here I want to give you some tips and practical steps for achieving a balance between work and the rest of your life.

  1. Track your time

In order to develop and learn time management strategies, we have to know where our time is going right now. This takes time, but if you look at the way you manage your time currently, you will hopefully notice patterns and things you can change or do more efficiently. Create a tracking sheet and set aside time every day for a month or so to record how you spend your time.

I installed RescueTime on both my computers and it automatically keeps track of all work tasks I do on the computer. It not only shows what programs I use, such as Word, QuickBooks, and Studio, but it also suggests whether the time I spend is productive or distractive (for example, Facebook). You can adjust these settings to your liking. To me this is the easiest way to track my time.

  1. Make a list

At the beginning of each day, make a list with everything you need to do for that day and prioritize the tasks. Literally number each one in the order you will complete it and make a time estimate of how long you will spend on each task. This will help keep you working at a reasonable pace and ensure that your schedule isn’t derailed by any one single task. Then, when you complete a task, cross it off the list and congratulate yourself on making progress.

  1. Prioritize organization

In order to achieve maximum efficiency with your time, you need to be organized – and stay organized throughout the week. Keep an organized office so you don’t have to waste time looking for things, and have as few distractions as possible. Keep your finances organized so you don’t have to spend time figuring out which clients owe you money. Have an organized schedule so you don’t waste time between activities.

I recommend spending the final 15-20 minutes of every working day organizing your desk, updating client files, and making your to-do list for the upcoming workday. Clear off your desk and leave everything as neat and organized as possible. This will ensure that when you step into your office the next day, you’re on a high note, rather than feeling overwhelmed from the previous day’s mess.

  1. Set deadlines for ongoing tasks

Most of our projects as freelance translators already come with set deadlines. But what about marketing tasks or continuing education? Set tentative deadlines for these tasks too, otherwise they may never get done, or may take longer than they have to. My rule of thumb is that if it doesn’t exist on my calendar, it doesn’t exist at all. Schedule in time for all the short, medium, and long term projects that you want to complete this year. For example, I schedule one marketing task every day, and do it first thing after checking email. I do not allow myself lunch or a workout unless I have completed this small task.

  1. Focus on one task at a time

If you work from home, there are always plenty of things that can distract you. As much as we would love to believe otherwise, the truth is that multitasking is not at all efficient. Try to focus on one task at a time.

Keep a notebook next to you so that when you think of things that are not related to the task at hand, you can make a short note of them and then get back to them later, when you are finished with what you are working on. Turn off email and social media so you can focus on one thing at a time. Set a timer for 25-50 minutes and only focus on your task during this time. When the timer rings, you can take a break and check email, put in a load of laundry, or do something else for 10-15 minutes before you start your next focus time period.

  1. Have a set ending time

Whether you believe me or not, you will become more efficient if you know you have to stop working at a certain time each and every day. For freelancers, there is always the temptation to keep working late into the night in order to get things done.

Of course late night shifts might be inevitable some of the time, but you are usually more productive if you know you have to finish by a specific time, especially if you have something fun and relaxing to look forward to afterward. Push yourself to stay on schedule and efficiently work your way through the daily to-do list. Then, when you make it to the bottom of the list, turn off your computer, step away from your cell phone and reward yourself for a hard day’s work.

  1. Set goals and plan out how to achieve them

If you have a goal to work toward, it is much easier to stay focused until you reach that goal. Set minor goals for your week or your day, such as accomplishing a specific task by a certain time to keep you focused and productive. The same thing goes for planning. If you have a plan for your time, you are less likely to waste time. You can plan your work a week at a time, for the next day or at the beginning of each day.

  1. Outsource

Once you are earning a fairly steady income, you can start focusing on tasks that you do well and try to outsource tasks that you dislike doing or that you are very inefficient at. For example, I outsource all my bookkeeping and accounting, since I am not good at it, I dislike doing it, it takes a long time, and my time is better spent translating and earning money. I am also outsourcing the house cleaning, so that I can spend the little free time I have with my family, doing more fun things. You will be more efficient and hopefully earn more if you find things that you can outsource to people that do them better, faster and/or cheaper, so you can focus on what you do best and like doing the most.

  1. Do not overwork yourself

Many freelancers work long hours, mostly because they have their own company and think it is quite fun to develop their business. But we all have a need for work/life balance and working too much can have disastrous effects on your health, well-being, family and your efficiency and productivity. When your schedule reflects the fact that your work exists to support your lifestyle and your family, you will work with a lighter heart and more focus.

  1. Have an activity for stress release

Freelance work can be quite stressful. We have many deadlines to meet and often have to deal with difficult clients and last-minute problems. Stress can usually not be avoided, but we can learn how to manage stress in a positive way. I recommend trying to find an activity that helps you relax. For some this activity is exercise-oriented, for others it can involve music, art, friends, or just going for a walk. These activities should be enjoyable for you and provide perspective for your everyday work tasks.

There is always a belief that we should be doing this or that, working more on this project or making a certain amount of money because someone else does. Set reasonable expectations, according to your own values, and do not measure them against anyone else’s. Allow your freelance translation business to empower you to set positive, healthy boundaries and put into practice these techniques to make your time more effective. With a more realistic work schedule, you will be able to improve focus and have more energy for completing tasks efficiently. (Not to mention that you will be able to fully enjoy the work that you do and the business you run.)

This article is an excerpt from the Marketing Cookbook for Translators – For a Successful Freelance Career and Lifestyle. Click here to find out more about the book.

About the author:

Tess Whitty has been a successful freelance translator and entrepreneur for over 10 years and owns the company Swedish Translation Services. Her educational and professional background is in marketing and she is passionate about sharing her knowledge with other freelancers in the form of presentations, training, mentoring and consulting. She is also the author of the book “Marketing Cookbook for Translators”, with easy to follow “recipes” for marketing your translation services and achieving a successful freelance lifestyle, and the award winning podcast “Marketing Tips for Translators”. For more information, and to connect, go to

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