When the Unthinkable Happens and Giving Up Work Isn’t an Option

Sometimes life throws you a curveball and the unthinkable happens: a family member is stricken with a long-term illness and you suddenly have to take on the role of caregiver.

Caring for a loved one can be physically and emotionally draining and as time-consuming as looking after a baby, but often with none of the happy milestones marking a transition from one phase to another. Being a caregiver takes large chunks out of your available work time, plus it often doesn’t put you in the frame of mind to focus when you finally do manage to sit down at your desk.

Giving up work entirely is not always a financially viable option for the family. In my case, I’ve had no choice but to cut down on my hours and learn to work smarter. Although my earnings have dropped by about 20% during the past two years that I’ve been a caregiver, I estimate that the time I spend translating, on administration tasks, and other work-related matters is 50% less. I now very rarely work in the evenings or during weekends, and I certainly don’t always work a full day either during the week. My goal is to get back to the same level of earnings without increasing the number of working hours. In the following, I would like to share a few of the ways I’ve managed to ensure that the unthinkable didn’t turn into a financial disaster for my family.

Reduce unnecessary spending. As a family, we went through our standing orders and direct debits and were able to cut down quite a few expenses. We looked at our insurance policies and switched to cheaper options providing the same level of coverage. Next on the chopping block was our cable television package. We also took advantage of good deals at Christmas and changed our cell phone plans. We try to shop smarter in general by not going crazy in the supermarket, checking prices, and making better choices. Bringing your expenses down lessens the burden of having to earn, which helps reduce the pressure (and stress) on you.

Stop spending so much time on social media. I don’t blog/tweet/share quite as much as I used to. I don’t want to give up social media altogether, as it’s a way of staying in touch and staving off isolation when you’re mostly tied to the home. But not being online so much is definitely a good way of finding time you thought you didn’t have to work more. I now rarely comment on LinkedIn forums and I’ve removed myself from several Facebook groups.

Use a Smartphone. Now that cellphones are more like mini computers than phones, they’re essential for keeping in touch with clients when you’re out and about. Despite my efforts to cut down on the emails I receive, a considerable number still pour into my inbox daily. Using my phone to sort through them means I’ll have more time for work when I get to my desk. And despite what I said above about social media, having Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and WordPress (for my blog) on my phone helps me stay in touch with friends, colleagues, and keep abreast of translation news.

Get a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool. I used the same CAT tool for ages, but it became really slow once I updated to the latest Windows and Microsoft Office software, so I recently switched to memoQ. Unfortunately, this means I’ll have to spend time I really don’t have learning how to use this CAT properly, but I’m hoping future time gains will more than compensate. Another reason for changing my CAT is that I want to try Slate Desktop (again, in the hope that it will enable me to work more efficiently), which doesn’t work with my old tool. Recent results with memoQ have been promising so far.

Dictate your translations. I’ve been using Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) for a while and it really does speed up the translation process once you get over that initial hurdle of feeling awkward saying everything aloud. DNS used in combination with Wordfast and the new Office software constantly made everything crash. I’ve not experienced any of these annoying problems with memoQ so far.

Choose your translation/revision jobs wisely. This is easy to say, and I don’t always get my analysis stage right. When you have limited time available to work and you need to maximize your earnings, you have to assess job offers carefully and reject any that might pose complications (e.g., formatting, terminology, difficulty level, clunky style, etc.), or you could miss your deadline.

Don’t get too booked up. Caregiving can be unpredictable and sometimes eats up substantial amounts of the time you were planning to allocate to work. If you leave some room in your schedule, you can catch up later. Being particular about the jobs you accept and rejecting anything with a tight deadline might mean you end up saying “no” far more often than you used to. Some days I reject everything I’m offered and then have no work at all, but this is preferable to letting a client down or putting myself in a pressurized situation when home life is stressful enough.

Inform your client when things go wrong. If you find that you cannot make the deadline, you need to tell your client as soon as possible. I’ve been working with some of my clients for well over a decade and I told them about my situation when circumstances beyond my control ate into my buffer and I knew it was impossible to complete the assignment on time. Obviously, not everyone is going to be so understanding, which is why it’s important to let your clients know as soon as possible.

Work for the right clients. I’m not actively seeking any direct clients at the moment as I know I don’t have time to take care of all their requirements. I also steer clear of agencies with tight turnarounds, strict deadlines, and a tendency to dock your pay if you deliver late.

Maximize concentration when working. I often listen to music especially put together to improve brain power when I need to free my mind and knuckle down. I’m currently paying for Focus@Will, although you’ll find lots of playlists to aid concentration on Spotify for free.

Learn to work in smaller chunks. I’ve always preferred to translate for long stretches at a time and felt it wasn’t worthwhile to settle down to work unless I had at least an hour available. Now I’m having to change that mindset to make use of any chunk of time, even 15 minutes, just to power on and get things done. This works for translating, but is no good for revising/editing my own and others’ translations when I need a much longer uninterrupted period to concentrate properly.

Have a shorter to-do list. I got the idea of a three-item to do-list from Elisabeth Hippe-Heisler’s Translation and Minimalist blog.1 Just trying to achieve three things per day rather than writing a long list of tasks that I would find impossible to achieve is far more calming and satisfying when I manage to tick them off.

Build a support network. Combining caregiving with earning a living can make it difficult to meet up with friends and colleagues, as social and translation events often clash with caring duties or work. I’m always grateful when a family member or friend offers to help because I need breaks to recharge my batteries. As freelancers, it’s especially important to take advantage of any opportunities to stave off isolation. If I can’t get out to see people, I can always invite them to visit me instead.

Look after yourself. This is probably the tip I’m worst at, but I’ve been putting in more of an effort recently. I dress in clothes that make me feel good about myself and always wear some jewelry and perfume. I’m also trying to spend more time exercising, relaxing, and eating more healthily. I won’t be any good to anyone if I get sick and am unable to look after my family or do any work.

Notes
  1. Translation and Minimalist blog, http://hippe-heisler.blogspot.com.

Nikki Graham is a proof-editor and Spanish>English translator and reviser specializing in leisure, tourism, hospitality, journal articles, education, and localization. She is a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (MITI), having passed the ITI exam in the subject of leisure and tourism. She is also a member of Mediterranean Editors and Translators, an association of language professionals who work mainly into or with English. You can find her blog, My Words for a Change, at https://nikkigrahamtranix.com/blog. Contact: nikkigraham@cantab.net.

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