Or the art of becoming a disciplined translator and your own best boss


The Interwebs are full of memes and caricatures about translators who still have a deadline even if the end of the world is already unfolding. If you are a translator, a translator’s partner, family member, or best friend, you will know this is true. You already see the image of your friend in pijama, with tired eyes, crouched over the keyboard that has naturally become an extension of their hands.

While it’s easy to joke about the situation, we know that as translators, our lives are on the brink of becoming hectic every second. Some days we can just sleep in, wake up and actually choose what we would like to do as there are no deadlines. On some other days, we can’t even remember when we last ate. When it rains, it pours, right?

This is why we need to do our best to keep ourselves healthy, keep our partners from running away and just have a happy life-work balance. Easy to say, I know…

In 15 years of translating, I have learned it the hard way. And still am. So far, these are things that proved to be useful and kept me more or less sane in the whole process:

  1. Routine
    Yes, even if hard to think it can be embedded with 4 deadlines in less than 24 hours, routine keeps us sane. It also shelters us from insomnia. Sticking to a ritual of 3-4 small things we love doing every day will keep us connected to our personal life, even if work is taking over. It can be anything from a walk or run in the morning, to meditating in the evening before falling asleep, a cup of tea on a (mandatory) break.
  2. Take breaks!
    One of the biggest traps I have fallen into (and still do sometimes) was not taking breaks. Just charging from one project to the other one like an automated conveyor belt. While that is sustainable short term, in the long run our body decides to protest. And that makes working counterproductive, when we need to spend our money on medical consults, drugs, etc.
  3. Learn to say No!
    The hardest thing I have ever done in my work was to say No to a project. The fear of losing clients, thinking that there are other translators waiting just around the corner made me say Yes to virtually all projects I was being offered. Until I realized that not only could I not sustain a maximum quality level for my work, but my health started to deteriorate beyond an acceptability point. So, I slowly started to better communicate with my clients, asking for a deadline extension for a new project, explaining I have already got ongoing work, or kindly explaining that I would be available in 2 days. So far, they are still providing me with projects. So it must have worked.
  4. Be your best boss!
    All people who have a job take holidays. My worst record was almost 8 years without a proper fully disconnected vacation. That is a lot! Unacceptable probably, some might say. And I agree. We need to learn to take a day off, sick days if needed, or just a slow day where we decide to work much less than our usual rhythm, to allow a bit of decompression for our precious body and mind. We only have one of each, so they should our best investment!
  5. Separate, separate, separate
    For years, I struggled with separating my work environment from my personal space and life. As freelancers, we have a lot of freedom, and interlacing family time, cooking, or planning our next weekend trip with our work is a big temptation. While, most of the time that can be an advantage, working from bed or a desk in the bedroom, interrupting our workflow every 10 minutes due to distractions are safe ways to bring us on the brink of exhaustion and to decrease the quality of our work, as well as the quality of our personal life. So make sure you go to the public library for work if you don’t have a spare room in the house that can be your office, or clearly separate (even if just symbolically) the working time from your personal time.
  6. Take ‘No Screen’ time off
    Take up hobbies that happen outdoors, recharge from the sun, go for a walk, talk to people, socialize, take up social activities that force you to get away from your chair and the walls of your office. These will replenish your mind on a solid stash the good vibes and will keep you happy!


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