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How do you handle time off? August 19, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices.

The Urban Muse’s post today, Open Thread: How Do You Handle Time Off?, was extremely timely, as I was complaining on Twitter and LinkedIn yesterday about business being slow. Several people responded to my complaints via Twitter and e-mail to assure me that it was simply a summer lull. As an overworked translator this is the first time I have experienced a summer lull though, so it was a little disconcerting. That said, as soon as I voiced my frustration to the world a 3,000 word job landed on my desk. The fact remains that business is still slower than last year. I think there are several factors at play, including the fact that my favorite client hasn’t had any German-English requests in quite a while (I think their client hired an in-house translator). I know that things will pick up again in September though, so there is that to look forward to.

The Urban Muse had a good point though when she summed it up with “This time of year it seems like everyone is either on vacation or getting ready for a vacation. Even freelancers need time off, though it can be tricky for us to swing.” We need to take time off and relax. The Masked Translator wrote a good post back in February on stinkin’ thinkin’ called Freaking Out About the Economy, and I couldn’t agree more. I think the recession and all the negative talk has made me a little crazy. Things have definitely slowed down for me, but I still have work coming in – just not the big jobs I have gotten in the past.

Susan asks several very relevant questions in her Open Thread: Have you taken any time off this summer? And if so, did you check email or work while you were gone? I know I am guilty of this. I rarely go anywhere without toting my laptop with me. I have been known to work on the rare occasions I am away from home. I am accompanying a friend to Myrtle Beach in October. She is planning a conference for hospital administrators, and I am going to keep her company in the car. I am getting a free hotel room and access to the conference – and am planning on working from the hotel room. I also plan to network my butt off :-), but I have a big project starting up in September that will be spanning several months so working from the hotel is also a necessity. However, I have also booked a vacation to the Everglades for late February/early March (when I will be sick of winter and aching for warmth and sunshine). I’ll be enjoying the Everglades and the coral reefs on an “aquatic and birding adventure.” I will not be bringing my laptop with me and will set my autoresponder. I have found sending e-mail announcements isn’t the best way for me, because inevitably some client I didn’t think to inform (because I haven’t worked with them in a year) will inevitably contact me with a job while I’m gone. An autoresponder ensures everyone is aware of my absence and can contact someone else if it is urgent – or wait until I return.

That said, I had a mini-vacation of sorts this past week. I had a couple slow days at the end of last week and early this week. Had I known it was going to be slow, I probably would have taken better advantage of them and actually done something fun instead of puttering around my apartment and checking my e-mail every hour to see if a job request had come in.  In the meantime, I will be taking it easy next week, because Susanne III and several other friends are coming into town to celebrate my Big 40 next weekend. I’m kayaking with my dad on Lake Erie on the afternoon of the 26th. Susanne and Chuck arrive the evening of the 27th. We’re going to cruise the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie on the 28th. And I have to prepare for the big party I’m throwing on Saturday at some point. I’ll probably set my autoresponder on those days too.

So, dear readers, since everyone is different and I’m sure everyone struggles with this issue at some point, please share with us in the comments how you handle time off. Do you find it hard to take a vacation as a freelancer? How have you handled time off this summer? Do you tell your clients in advance or do you set your autoresponder?



1. Philippa Hammond - August 19, 2009

Hi Jill,

I’m also experiencing a bit of an August lull, and like you most of the jobs I am doing are smaller than usual. Looking at my books for last year, August 2008 was a record month, so I guess it’s really hard to predict.

I have to admit to not handling time off toooo well. I’ve often found it hard to switch off. However, this year I went away with hubby for 2 weeks at the end of June, and was very well behaved about not checking my emails. I informed my regular clients that I would be away about 4 (working) days before I went and set up an out of office reply as well, just in case. I didn’t take my laptop, and even took a separate mobile phone with a non-business number so that I could switch off my business mobile safe in the knowledge any calls would go straight to answer machine (I’d even recorded a special message saying I was on vacation).

So, to sum up, I’d say that I will switch off only once I’ve assured myself I have set in place a belts and braces system before I leave! Perhaps this really helped, as I felt more chilled out on holiday this year than I have for ages.

2. Tom Ellett - August 19, 2009

Given the amount of spam I’ve been receiving lately, I’m reluctant to turn on my autoresponder when I leave for the Translate in the Catskills seminar tomorrow. Since both the conference venue and the hotel have wi-fi, I think I’ll just check my email a couple of times a day and send a personalized holding response to anything important.

3. Susanne Aldridge III - August 19, 2009

Interesting – I believe I am the busiest I have been in years!
As a client, I usually appreciate both, a notification and an auto responder – nothing wrong with doing both. It has happened in the past that I have a 90% document and I am waiting for finalization. Now, if I know that my translator is gone for a week or two, I’d rather have him do the 90% now and finish after.

Other than that … Ha – that’s me, going to visit our very own translation muser, celebrating my 4-0 with her 4-0 (we are 1 day apart).

4. Ellen - August 19, 2009

Hmm, I really have no issues with this at all. Since I started out as a freelance translator 8 years ago, I’ve never had slow periods at all and I’ve never worried about not having enough work. On the contrary, there are times (even now) when I have to turn down so many requests that I worry about clients walking away. So free time is something I have to plan in advance. Two years ago, I started taking all school holidays off (6 weeks in summer, 1 week in autumn, 2 weeks around Christmas, 1 week in early spring and 1 or 2 weeks later in spring). I spend time with my family, catch up on housework and my reading, might do some administrative tasks, but I definitely do not work.

I do check my e-mail during those weeks (primarily to avoid my mailbox from going over the limit), but kindly inform any client that wasn’t aware of or forgot about my time off that I will be available again after my holidays. I do not use OOF replies or special voice mail messages, especially not when I’m away from home – anyone mailing or calling me would know that I was away: an ideal situation for burglars…

And on the rare occasion that I have one or two days without work in between holidays (which happens perhaps once a year), I just treat myself to a nice, lazy day of doing nothing at all…

5. Ryan Ginstrom - August 19, 2009

I took two weeks off this summer for a trip to the US. Including the two weeks I plan to take this Christmas/New Year, this will be the most vacation time I’ve taken since I started freelancing (6 weeks).

When I got back to Japan from my latest trip, I had a lull in work, which I had planned to use to get some programming done. Unluckily for me, my plans were disrupted by a case of the H1N1 (AKA swine) flu. Although a lot of my programming time was shot, however, I recovered right when my work started picking up.

6. Angela Dickson - August 20, 2009

Hi Jill! I wanted to respond to your tweet but the 140-character medium didn’t suit what I wanted to say. For me, the lull was in April and May this year, and I’ve been working at 100%+ capacity since the beginning of June. I have taken some time off in the meantime, though – like you, I don’t send a blanket notification, though I do tell the clients I’m working with in the weeks leading up to a holiday. I set the autoresponder and go.

If I’m going to a translation conference or medical network event, in other words if it’s work-related travel, I take my laptop and check email from time to time, sending personal responses as required. If I’m on holiday or away playing music, though, I want to forget about work, so I do all I can to ensure I don’t have to think about it.

I cope better with work lulls than I used to, though I still find it hard to take advantage of the chance to relax.

7. Craig - August 20, 2009

I just cycled for 9 days with a laptop/nettop, flatrate WWAN, and Blackberry. Others do most of the work for me, but I can still keep an eye on things; see http://notesfromotherside.blogspot.com/.

8. Sarah Dillon - August 26, 2009

Hi Jill, I know I’m weighing in a bit late, but I wanted to wish you a happy birthday! Your holiday plans sound great.

How I handle holidays really seems to vary. Generally, I’ll give my “core” clients a bit of notice and ask if they envisage any work coming up, so I can try to limit any inconvenience to them by fitting work in before/ after I go away, etc. This usually works quite well and jobs are out of the way before I go, or held off until I get back – my clients are great like that 🙂 Once I even lined up a holiday-cover translator for them and that worked well too, I think.

I tend to prefer lots of smaller breaks throughout the year, extended weekends, etc. I find I don’t need to let people know about these as I won’t be away for many working days in a row. I think it helps that my clients and I have worked out a good understanding around response timeframes too.

One year I went to Peru and took about 4 weeks off, completely away from the computer with no email checks, etc. I *think* I had an email autoresponder on then, just saying I was out of the office from X to Y. Certainly I’d already told all my clients I was going anyway at that stage! But usually I don’t worry too much about autoresponders. I’m planning a big trip back to Europe early next year, so maybe I will use one then even though it will almost certainly be a working holiday.

I have to admit I never find it hard to take holidays as a freelancer! I’m not sure why, but I seem to be missing that particular worry gene. (I have lots of other ones instead of it).

Sounds like you have lots of exciting things coming up, enjoy!

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