I found an interesting article over on Freelance Switch about some work-life changes introduced by a freelance writer after her holidays – some Post-Summer Resolutions, if you like. The article contains some sound advice for freelance translators who have passed the start-up phase and have moved into the “I-no-longer-need-to-worry-about-starving-and-would-like-to-turn-my-attention-to-actually-being-satisfied” phase.
This rung a bell with me as my time out over the summer made me think hard about the realities of my working day. I felt I was letting my work life encroach on my personal time on a far too regular basis, and I was generally feeling burnt out and unsatisfied. I’d slipped into some unproductive habits and was fed up with spending half my day trawling through my email inbox. I wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, but it wasn’t what I had signed up for. Some translators are perfectly happy to accept these inconveniences as a fact of their working life, but they bothered me enough that I decided to set about identifying what I could do to change them.
So I’ve been trialling some changes in my working life over the past couple of weeks, to mixed success. For example, one new habit I tried to form was to write more regularly to this blog – a quick glance at October’s very sparse archive will tell you how well that’s gone down. Another new habit was to answer my emails the day after they came in (excluding work offers). This was so I could start each day with a “closed” list of emails, an idea picked up from this book. After a few hiccups, I found this suits me particularly well. I feel a lot less overwhelmed when I can see that the end is in sight, and I can make better decisions on what really needs a response after a good night’s sleep. Finally, I took a second shot at that old chestnut of productivity systems, Getting Things Done. (The jury’s till out on that one.)
In addition to all this, it was pretty clear that I needed to change my client mix in order to ensure I was focussing on the kind of work I really wanted. As I mentioned above, I’m beyond the stage where my primary concern is keeping the wolves from the door. I need to think seriously about positioning myself for the next stage of my career. Attracting clients is one thing, but making the time to pursue and retain them is another. So I set about pruning my existing client list.
By being clear on my priorities, I found that I was able to naturally pass some clients on to colleagues, by virtue of always being busy when the kind of jobs come through that take me down a path I don’t necessarily want to be on. I also raised my rates, which rang in another little bit of desirable churn. Of course, I’d love to take a leaf out of my accountant’s book and raise my rates by 50%, but that wasn’t quite the degree of churn I was after this time around (who knows, maybe next year ;)). I’m sure that to many people the fact that I can afford to turn down work may seem like a luxury. But it doesn’t have to be – even when I first started up, I was selective about the kind of work I took on. It’s paid off in the past and I’m hoping it will do so again.
I’m some way off achieving the kind of working day I’ve set out to create for myself. In fact, I expect it will take several months more while I run through a tedious process of trial and error, shuffling my client mix and trying new working processes. But only a freelance career would give me the freedom to even try to achieve this.
As somebody once said when speaking about their freelance career, “…with great power comes great responsibility. This is my gift, my curse.” Indeed!