Keeping a Steady Pace: Balancing work, volunteering, and family life

By Daniela Guanipa

BalanceDerek Yorek was a complete stranger until he appeared on television this year, leading the world-famous Boston Marathon at mile one. He savored his accomplishment for literally five minutes of glory; then suffered for three endless hours until he crossed the finish line.

One doesn’t have to be a marathoner to know that pushing oneself to the limit from the very beginning is rarely the best approach. But we tend to quickly forget about these words of wisdom, until we find ourselves gasping for air —whether figuratively or otherwise.

This is exactly where I found myself when January 1st 2015 arrived: I already had an agenda packed with plans, projects, and self-imposed expectations. I was ready to tackle them all, full of energy and enthusiasm.

I had made a big commitment to my local professional organization, ATIF, by assuming the role of Vice-president of the Interim Board. I was getting close to wrapping up the revamp and redesign of their website—a titanic task in itself that started in mid-2014, when I was still Secretary. Next up were all the plans for the upcoming ATA Conference here in Miami, where, naturally, our local chapter will play a big supporting role.

At the same time, I started to notice a shift in my client portfolio, and some local organizations approached me with rather interesting (should I say irresistible?) projects that demanded a lot of work, but have proven to be very rewarding experiences.

Perhaps the closest to my heart was the HistoryMiami museum exhibit, Operation Pedro Pan. This was a unique project where I had the opportunity to apply my subtitling skills, indulge in creative translations, and take advantage of my Cuban heritage when writing. The exhibition offers an interactive experience, unlike anything I’ve seen before. It was very exciting to see it all at opening night, as I had never had the opportunity to experience my work in 3-D (if you come to Miami, you’ll have to visit the exhibition to see what I mean!).

Aside from this professional-related landslide, I am also a wife and have two daughters, one of them in school. This translates into homework, playdates, extracurricular activities, and sometimes even volunteering or attending school functions, all of which I enjoy very much and wouldn’t miss for the world!

Have I mentioned I love cooking? Oh, yes, and I also like exercising, reading, and enrolling in the occasional online class.

Similar to what happened to Mr. Yorek, the fact that we have the ability to run close to the limit of our capacity doesn’t mean this is the best plan. After about three months, no matter how excited and happy I was with my accomplishments, I was already exhausted. This is when I took some time to rethink and redefine my strategy:

  1. Define your priorities. Ask yourself what is the most important thing in your life right now. (Hint: The answer doesn’t have to be business-oriented.) To identify my priorities, I applied a reverse approach: Instead of finding what I wanted to do, or what made me happy, I identified what made me unhappy at the end of the day, what caused that feeling of emptiness or dissatisfaction. That is what I was really craving for, that’s what I wanted. Our priorities change as we grow and go through different stages of life. But we must identify what these priorities are, and use this knowledge as the guiding principle of your life at this time. Try to limit your priorities to a manageable number (3 or 5, for example).
  2. Assign weight to these priorities in terms of time. Define the number of minutes or hours you want to allocate to each priority on a daily basis. For example, during my work day, I spend about 1-2 hours replying to emails, and I set aside at least 30 minutes of my day to do professional-related volunteer work (The Savvy Newcomer, ATIF).
  3. Use a time-tracking app. I downloaded the free version of RescueTime to help me keep track and see where my time was going while working. I am almost ashamed to admit I see RescueTime as my boss—when I have it running, I focus more and work more diligently, because I hate to see my daily averages dropping, or the red bars rising to indicate I’ve been wasting time. There are many other great tools like this to help you plan and achieve your time goals.
  4. Develop a daily routine. It’s hard to predict when the next big project will land in our email inbox. But it really helps to plan out at least the bare bones of your day to fill in with new projects, tasks, or the inevitable unexpected. I find that having a structure works best for me. Don’t forget to include in your daily routine some type of physical activity or another pastime you enjoy. This is your “me time” and this should be accounted for in your day.
  5. The unexpected happiness found in the word “no.” We should all set limits, but we must know what these are. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to revisit the priorities you set in #1. This doesn’t mean I immediately dismiss things I don’t want to do, but if after repeatedly trying I find that a certain project, company, or scenario isn’t working for me, I try to find a happy medium. If I still can’t solve the issue, then it’s best to free up my time for a more fulfilling experience.

After I completed this self-analysis and designed my game plan, I started to notice how—as if by magic—I had more time to do other things, even free time! I became more efficient and less stressed. Work hasn’t slowed down—in fact, we’re about eight weeks away from the ATA Conference, and things are starting to get hectic around here. There are still nights I have to work, but just by managing my time more effectively I get much more accomplished without neglecting my personal life.

As I compared my time-management strategy to that of Derek Yorek I realized we didn’t have as much in common as I initially thought: While he ran so that his family could see him on a TV screen, I want to sit on the couch with my girls reading stories with them or playing their favorite games.

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

What to do when things slow down…

By Helen Eby

road-90390_1280As freelancers, we are thrilled when we get a lot of work! Then we go pretty crazy with the load, saying yes to every assignment that comes. Fortunately, there are down times. What do we do with them?

Some colleagues get anxious about their cash flow. “I haven’t had a new assignment for a week! What am I going to do?” That’s a reasonable question. However, if work has been coming steadily, our clients will be coming back.

My mother was a freelancer. She taught English to business people in Argentina. She knew that summer would come, and nobody wanted her services in the summer. Out of every payment she received, she saved 25% for summer expenses. No exceptions. We could be running out of money for the month, but the summer cushion did not get touched. We just had to eat what was on sale for a week, or cook what was in the fridge. In the summer, we always saw the wisdom of that.

However, what can we do to make the slow times work for us? It’s a good time to catch up on many things that usually fall by the wayside, both on a personal and professional level:

Personal Professional
Connect with friends and family. Send cards, visit friends, and keep your humanity alive! Go to free concerts, go see the Christmas lights, make cookies for your neighbors. Get creative, and connect with your community and family!Why mention this? Because our family, neighbors, etc., are our support system in life, and life sometimes does get in the way of work! Strengthen it when you can! Connect with clients. Send your clients thank you cards. The kind that arrive in the mail. This shows them you care! Stop by your clients’ offices with a box of chocolates, a copy of Found in Translation, or some other gift. Or send it by mail. This is the time of year to develop that kind of relationship.

Remember: people work with people they know, like and trust.

Read for fun! I alternate an English book and a Spanish book all the time. I read the news online in Spanish and in English every day. This keeps me in touch with the “linguacultures” I work in (language and culture are so interconnected it is hard to separate them).Really, I work with languages because I love them. Read literature in your target language. Read the news in your target language. Read technical literature in your specialty field.
The more you read, the better your writing will be. As a translator, you need to keep your writing fresh! The more you read in your source language, the better your understanding of nuances in the language will be. Keep reading! Even if you are an interpreter!
Thinking. Take some time to journal, slow down, and think about life. What do you like? What do you want to change? Thinking. And planning. Where do I want to be next? What do I like doing? What could I do better? How can I get there? This is a time to write some of those ideas down, and see if you can freshen up your business plan. You just can’t do some of this analysis when you are buried in a 500 page translation!
Self-care. Many of us are busy taking care of others. It is very common for caregivers to forget to take care of themselves, and become unable to care for those they care about. Human resources. You are your most important resource. Your health is extremely important. This might be a good time to schedule those medical appointments you have been putting off and take care of yourself so that you don’t end up missing work in the future or having to reduce your workload more than you wanted to due to health issues. Develop an exercise routine you can stick to, as many have seen that maintaining their exercise routine helps them think more clearly and do better work… which means you can charge more for your work!
Your personal to-do list. This could be a good time to declutter some of your spaces, read some books, etc. A cluttered space can clutter your mind! Your professional to-do list. Call the clients you haven’t seen in a while. See how your last project helped them! Update your calendar with upcoming business events. Identify new potential clients. Work on your blog and social media presence now that you have some time and thus remind your clients and network who you are and what you do. Watch some training videos, read about linguistics, check in on courses you want to take. Learn how to use a new translation tool (there are free demos for quite a few), update your accounting software, or upgrade your version of Office. Check your website, see what needs to be updated, and match it up with the business plan you are working on!
Volunteer. I just saw that 50% of adults in the U.S. volunteer. This could be a great way to connect with your community, which after all is your support system! Volunteer. At The Savvy Newcomer, we love volunteering. Why? We learn more about our industry, we make friends, we make business connections. Attorneys list their volunteer activities on their web pages. Maybe translators should too! As you volunteer, you will understand the community you serve even better. This will make you a more valuable asset.
Family. Family comes first, but… it’s here to make sure you remember it. Your spouse, children, parents are tremendously important. In our business, it is easy to spend our free time with work things, and our family suffers. It is also easy for them to feel neglected when you have a lot of work, perhaps without you even noticing because you are so busy. Now that you have some free time, be sure to make up for lost time and make sure they know you are there for them. Neglecting your family can create problems down the road. Family. When your family is on your team, it is so much more fun to work together! You can help each other with research, practical aspects of your work, and develop new insights. My family has helped edit my work, clean up tables for use in a CAT tool, understand technical concepts, clarify business concepts, and organize my time. Not bad!

We look forward to your comments to this blog post. Please share your ideas on what to do with the slow times!

The Freelance Juggling Act: Balancing Work, Family, and the Rest of Life as a Freelancer

By Corinne McKay 

JugglingWhat’s the best and the worst thing about freelancing? It’s all up to you! Whether you work 20 hours a week or 80 hours a week; whether you earn $10,000 or $200,000; whether you finish your deadlines with plenty of buffer time, or whether you miss your deadlines entirely.

As compared with an in-house job, freelancing offers significant benefits in terms of work/life balance; whether your non-work passion is your family, your dogs, travel, yoga, or playing the cello, you can capitalize on the “free” in freelancing in order to pursue things that you love. But in order to do that, you’ll need to have your work life in order; you’ll need to say no to some work and focus on work that you enjoy and are good at. Based on my 12 years of experience as a freelancer, wife, mom, daughter, friend, animal shelter volunteer, outdoor enthusiast, and amateur musician, here are some ways to keep the balls in the air, stay sane, and earn a healthy income.

Own your priorities. A good friend taught me this lesson when I was moaning about how overcommitted I was. Her question, “Who said yes to all these things?” really helped me get some perspective. Work/life balance is all about knowing what your priorities are, communicating them to other people, and staying true to them. For example, I completely preserve weekends as family and friend time, even if one of my A-list clients has a job that requires weekend work. I refuse to overwork myself, because I think that I cannot be what my clients pay me to be—responsive, enthusiastic, creative, detail-oriented—if I am burnt out and sleep deprived. Likewise, my family takes a month off every summer and I don’t work during that time. Does it affect my income? Absolutely. But does it also force me to be more strategic about who I work for, and does it return me to work feeling refreshed? Absolutely.

Focus on the little things. I learned this from a marathon running coach a few years ago, who said “Don’t use lack of time as an excuse to do nothing. I don’t care if you have 5 minutes; do pushups for 5 minutes and you’ll be exhausted.” Use every slice of time that you can: cut 20 minutes from your social media time every day and you can do a yoga podcast before you go to bed, or throw a ball with your kids for 20 minutes. Listen to freelance business podcasts while you wash the dishes; always have a list of quick tasks on your desk so that you can bump one of them off instead of wasting time online. If you’re struggling to fit marketing into your schedule, break your marketing plan into 15-minute tasks and do one every day. Don’t wait for the big block of time that’s never coming.

Pick something to be mediocre at. Many successful freelancers are successful because they’re (we’re!) perfectionists:  people who put 150% effort into every single thing that they do, and if they don’t give 150%, they feel like they’re failing (I learned this from a Michelle Obama speech, so it must be true, or at least it’s true for me!). Being a perpetual 150%’er is a prescription for misery, because you cannot be perfect at everything, all the time. So, pick something that you’re going to just be OK at. For me, it’s my house: my benchmark is that if my house is presentable enough that my friends feel comfortable being in it, that’s good enough. I don’t want my house to be gross, but I also don’t clean it with a toothbrush. Likewise, I am not overly involved in volunteer work at my daughter’s school; I am supportive and I contribute where I can, but I accept that I am not the right person to take on major commitments there.

Don’t let yourself live on auto-pilot. Work/life balance is all about choices, so make sure that you are consciously choosing how you want to live and work, not just letting yourself do whatever work falls into your inbox, or whatever other people ask or tell you to do. If something is draining your time and energy and bringing you no enjoyment, give it the ax! Feel free to share your own work/life balance tips in the comments!

For more on this topic, come to session IC-1, “The Freelance Juggling Act,” on Thursday, November 6 at 11:00 at the upcoming ATA conference! You can also listen to a Speaking of Translation podcast on this topic at

About the author: Corinne McKay has been referred to as “the translator’s coach” and “the guardian angel of freelance translators.” She has over a decade of experience as a French to English translator and her book How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator has helped over 6,000 translators launch or grow their freelance businesses. In addition to translating international development, legal and corporate communications texts, Corinne serves on the Board of the American Translators Association, teaches for the University of Chicago translation certificate program and served for four years as President of the Colorado Translators Association. Her blog, Thoughts on Translation, is a lively gathering place for freelance translators from around the world. When not at the computer, Corinne can often be found skiing, biking and hiking in the Rockies with her husband and daughter.