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Why taking a (proper) break is so important for freelancers

The work culture is changing. Sending emails at 11pm at night, working for 12-hours a day or not taking enough days off (that is with zero work!) are no longer seen as testaments of being successful. Your business can still thrive when you have a clear division between work and personal life. You don't have to accept weekend assignments and can opt to work less than 40 hours a week.

Refreshed mind equals better output

Cliffs and the sea
Western Norway

When we’re tired, we’re more likely to make mistakes and not notice things we would if we always came to work refreshed. I can see it in my own work: when I’m overworked, I start making more typos and overlook consistency issues. My writing style also suffers as it’s more difficult for me to find the right flow. I often end up with a text that’s definitely missing some oomph.

It’s so important to take all of this into account when setting deadlines for freelancers – make sure you give translators enough time to take breaks. Rushing them may very well mean a disappointing result.

The same needs to be said about the budget: we can’t be expected to produce good quality work if we are not paid enough for it. Low fees mean translators can’t actually afford to take proper time off to refresh their mind or to devote their full attention to your project. They need to hustle and fill their calendar with more low-paid work so that they can pay their bills. Nobody wins here.

Good balance will make coming back to the office a pleasure

Black woman doing a yoga balance pose on her head

Checking your work email outwith your office hours will mean that you’ll constantly be thinking about work. Same thing happens when rather than taking the weekend off we end up logging in ‘just for an hour or two’. Our brains don’t get an opportunity to switch gears and when we come back to work it feels like we’ve never left – because we haven’t!

It’s difficult to come up with creative solutions for your business if you never take a step back. Engaging in activities that have nothing to do with work are good. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution here. For some, doing something creative (like sewing or playing an instrument) would be most beneficial. An ideal break for others would be reading a good crime novel. Someone else would feel the most refreshed after spending their free time out in the nature. Finding something we enjoy doing and making time for these activities will help us feel happier – and more creative at work.

The Polka Dot Translations way – and stuff I'm working on

If you follow me on social media, you will have realised that I’m a big believer in giving yourself proper time off work. Here are some things that I do to help me do that:

No work emails on my phone: I have my work account on my phone but the messages option is turned off. It’s handy to have it installed in case I need to go to the doctor’s or run an errand in the middle of the day. But I only turn the emails on when it’s a must.

Set working times: When I started freelancing, I was still at the university. To keep myself afloat, I took a few part-time jobs, too. The result was working round the clock! Nowadays, I can’t imagine not having set working hours. My clients can reach me from Monday to Thursday between 8 am and 4 pm. Other freelancers might prefer to be a little more flexible or to work earlier/later, but this schedule is ideal for me. It helps me focus on my work and create a clear division between my career and personal life.

Setting aside time and finances for actual holiday: Even at my part-time jobs, I always enjoyed a pretty good holiday allowance (we’re lucky in this respect in the UK). I knew that taking time to travel or to simply relax was unnegotiable for me. During my first full-time freelancing year, the infamous 2020, I took almost no holiday. By the time Polka Dot Translations’ first birthday came around, I was exhausted. This has taught me a valuable lesson: we all need holiday! Now I have a specific holiday allowance and I make myself schedule time off in advance (and use the full allowance, too!). Some people might not be able to take as many weeks off work as me, but everyone needs some holiday. Even a few weeks a year will do wonders.

And here's stuff I’m still working on:

🏗️ Proper lunch breaks: I’ve always taken a lunch break away from my desk, but I tend to rush through it. I’m still learning to take my time and give myself a proper break. Ideally, I’d like to start it off with a 10-15-minute yoga or pilates session. After that, I’d like to have my food and then finish it off by relaxing with a cup of tea. At the moment, I’m still unable to do a most exercises so I try to at least get out for a walk – if I need to buy a birthday card or some milk, I’d try to do it during my lunch break. Baby steps!

🏗️ Budgeting for a sick leave: After a recent accident I know very well indeed that at any point I could get ill – we can’t predict things like that! In March, I had to work when I had Covid, and it was not a great idea. That’s why after perforating my bowel I took full six weeks off (including time spent at the hospital). Unfortunately, I didn’t have a sick leave budget so my saving account suffered. Now sick leave is on top of my priority list.

🏗️ Allowing myself to be flexible: Even though I have set working times, I've started embracing the freedom that freelancing offers. A year ago I probably wouldn't see a friend for a coffee if I had an afternoon free ('what if a client needs me now?!'). I'm still working on it, but I've definitely allowed myself for more flexibility when I need it. After all, I'm the boss, right?

I hope you are already taking good care of yourself and, like me, understand the importance of taking proper time off. And if not – maybe this post has given you some food for thought. I’d love to hear what you think about taking a break from your business!


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