Summer is stretching out all over the European continent – at least from a meteorological point of view. Everywhere schools are closing for at least six weeks and everybody is going to take some time off. But despite the advertisements of relaxation and enjoying time with family and friends or igniting the barbeque, many freelancers seems to have trouble finding the right mode to celebrate a great summer. After at least five horrendous summers I now know what to do – and what to leave behind.
Hurrying on hot summer days
From the time I started as a translator I have found it difficult to find the right holiday mode. At a time in which every translation job should be delivered yesterday, (no matter the size) every day is precious. At the same time many companies seem to switch so easily from one supplier to another, that it is quite important to satisfy them in terms of not only quality but also service in order to keep them coming back. Especially in my first few years as a freelancer, I thought I had to accept each and every job to earn a living and to keep my clients friendly. Luckily my family situation meant that I was able to continue my work during the summer months, only to take a week off in September to catch the last rays of summer. So each summer was filled up with work, in fact with more work coming in from companies I only worked for a couple of weeks each year: during the summer months, when no-one was available, companies needed me to deliver in time to their clients. And when I finally tried to relax, companies were haunting me with emails, calls and text messages to let me know that they had a tiny task to be done right now.
Of course I activated my Out of Office reply, but that did not prevent many of them still giving it a try. If I was at home, I sometimes yielded and delivered tiny tasks by email, leaving a positive customer and bad personal feelings. Worse, by saying I was off and still delivering work (or even replying to emails) I taught my clients that my OoO shouldn’t be taken too seriously: they could always give it a try and take the chance to see if their demands would be satisfied.
Of course I had clients who respected my holidays, but there were many others who didn’t, or who at least tried to convince me of a task so urgent that I immediately had to give up my holidays.
Still, last summer, I accepted a translation for a biography from a famous US Secretary of State by a great Harvard professor: a once in a lifetime chance for a 27-year old translator, which of course I would love to do on my own. So I accepted this challenging task, while still accepting some other work. The result: I built up a delay in work, which in the end, I had to overcome by translating almost every day and night for a couple of weeks while the temperature rose above 32 degrees Celsius and everybody around me was swimming, biking, and eating ice cream – in short, celebrating an exceptional summer. For me it was exceptional too: it was exciting but most of all exhausting, and I had to promise never to do it again.
— Pieter Beens (@vertaaltnu) July 14, 2016
How to cope with summer stress
Luckily in the past year I have been able to learn my lesson (although it took me seven years). After being so exhausted from translating the book and fearing a burn-out, I finally realized what my family has always told me: people that don’t respect your time off (and there are many) don’t deserve your service, while people that allow you some space can and will wait or at least come back when you are back from holidays. I never tended to believe that, and simply stressed myself to keep them all satisfied, but it has proven to be true. It’s all in the relationship: if companies only come once a year and are dissatisfied that you cannot help them out, it is questionable whether you should continue that ‘relationship’. The companies that you work with each and every week realize how important you are and how important it is to relax. And finally it is all in your hands: if you say you’re off but still accept delivering work during that time off (like I did), you shouldn’t expect the respect you are longing for.
So after seven years of learning, I have finally distilled some lessons I want to share with you.
5 tips for a relaxing summer holiday
Tip 1: Make clear you’re off
Of course you deserve your time off, but your clients should know that. It can be a great idea to add a line below your email well before you really leave to make sure that your availability is seen by as many clients as possible. On the other hand, people often only read the most important information and don’t make a note of your time off. If you’re working with agencies you increasingly have to note your holidays in their systems, which can consume a lot of time if you strictly follow their guidelines (and use their often complicated templates). The best way is to have your OoO reply on, so everybody who still dares to bombard you with dozens of emails immediately knows that it is wasted time.
Tip 2: Read your emails only when you really want to
If you are translating for a living it is important to take time off when you need to and to make sure that you also have work left when you come back. It can be a great idea then to read your email every now and again and to reply if it’s necessary (or beneficial). At the same time make sure that you’re not distracted by an overload of emails coming in when you’re in the mountains, at the beach or wherever.
It can be a great idea to mention in your OoO reply that you will check your emails, but don’t then add a timeframe so as to avoid people eagerly waiting for your reply while you’re in the pub.
Tip 3: Be consistent
Yeah, that’s my personal lesson: if you say you’re off, at least pretend that you’re off. Replying to emails will often result in a chain reaction of new emails, which requires you to check your email regularly and to reply – consuming at least a quarter of your time and making it impossible to leave and follow your own agenda. Doing that removes any holiday feelings you might have. And how can clients know that you’re really off if you always say you are but still accept their tasks?
Tip 4: Offer a solution
Of course you want to be assured that you can continue your business as usual when you come back from another planet. It’s therefore a great idea to offer a solution to your clients. You might consider forwarding them to a colleague (if you trust that they will come back to you afterwards); or you can simply negotiate a new deadline. It’s all a matter of relationship and the good clients will accept and respect it, while the bad clients can prove what they’re worth (in my experience some of them have turned into great clients after I had proved that I’d do what I said: taking some time off).
Tip 5: Take time to recharge
Holidays are not merely luxuries. They’re critical for people like translators, who are using their heads the whole day, to deliver the best possible translations. So find your own holiday mindset and recharge – whether at home, in the pool or in the forest. It is possible to recharge while checking your emails regularly, but make sure you never pass the critical border by giving clients room to occupy your holiday schedule. In the end, most of them understand that it is important for you to take a long breath in order to stay fresh and to help them by continuing to deliver great quality. Most of them do the same (and those who don’t, simply can’t keep that up for very long).
Your Out of Office reply
One valuable thing I have learned in the past is that a simple Out of Office reply doesn’t work. I was used to saying something like ‘Thank you for your email. I am off until then and then and I will reply at then and then. For urgent matters please send a SMS to [mobile telephone number]’. In many cases clients didn’t even see it, or simply used my mobile phone number to reach me, no matter the message.
Tired of that, I found a new Out of Office message, which turned out to work very well (I found it at the Internet, so no praise to me for the copy):
I know I am supposed to say that I will have limited access to email and will not be able to respond until I return –– but that is not true. My smartphone will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I will probably need to interrupt my vacation from time to time to deal with something urgent.
That said, I promised my wife that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our vacation as much as possible. So, I am going to experiment with something new. I am going to leave the decision in your hands:
– If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I am on vacation, please send an SMS or WhatsApp message to [ mobile telephone number ] and I will try to respond to it promptly.
Otherwise, I will respond when I return…
Really, this reply has yielded only positive comments so far. Just a tiny selection:
- Have a great vacation!
You should listen to your wife more 🙂
- I perfectly agree with your wife – a vacation has to be enjoyed and shouldn’t be interrupted by work.;-)
So I will try to let you enjoy it… So when will you return?
If I need to send you the translation earlier I will contact you by SMS or WhatsApp. 🙂
- I hate to bother you on your vacation since your wife is right………you should disconnect and enjoy yourself.
The trick? I think it’s the positive tone of voice, a personal message (albeit with copy-paste) and the option to contact me for urgent matters. Clients can decide themselves whether their question is urgent, and most of them don’t want to interrupt your holiday for a trivial question.
Do you have some tips? Share them below, I will read them when I am back from taking two weeks off 🙂