The importance of being on holiday

Freelancing and holidaying – does that go together? Sometimes when I hear fellow freelancers talk about their holidays, I get a little confused. Many of them take their laptop and phone and check their emails regularly, even take on work, while they are away. This does not sound like a holiday to me, and I wonder if it is beneficial – for the freelancer or the client.

I just got back from a holiday in Somerset, relaxed, refreshed and with new ideas. I had been working flat out since February, and I switched off for the whole week. No emails, no phone calls, no Internet. Is that scandalous, irresponsible or damaging for my business? Let me explain why I think it is the exact opposite.

watchet harbour
Scandalous!
Everyone needs a break from time to time. I don’t know about you, but I find that I am working harder as a freelancer than ever before. Why? Because I love my job, I care for my clients, and I am responsible for every aspect of my own business. I work evenings and weekends if need be, and I don’t let a cold stop me from sitting at my desk. So do I need a break occasionally, just like everyone else? I think so.

Irresponsible!
How can I leave my clients on their own while I go on holiday? How can I not post anything on social media for a week or two? Will my blog be overgrown and all my followers gone by the time I come back? These may indeed be issues to consider before you go on holiday. Depending on the business you are in, you may need to find someone to cover for you, schedule a few posts or plan the timing of your holiday carefully. But let’s be honest – no one is really that indispensable that she or he can’t go on holiday for a few weeks without everything falling apart. In fact, it would be irresponsible if that were the case.

Damaging!
Of course, I don’t just drop my pen, shut down the computer and run off. As a freelancer, there are a few things I need to do before I go on holiday. A couple of weeks in advance I send out an email to my regular clients to inform them about my upcoming absence. That way, projects can be planned and scheduled around it, or – if a job really needs to be done during the time that I am away – a colleague can be found to do the job instead (which, by the way, I don’t consider as damaging either, as colleagues may need help sometime too). A week before I go on holiday I stick a message in my email signature that reminds anyone I am in contact with that I will be on holiday soon. And just before I go on holiday I switch on my out-of-office assistant and change my message on the answering machine so that people know when I will be back. This seems to work, and so far I haven’t lost a single client over a holiday.

Switching off – is that allowed?

In our fast-paced online world it may seem impossible to switch off for fear of missing out on something. However, I think going on holiday and not switching off can be damaging to the business. We need to take a step back from time to time to reflect on what we are doing. While we are in the thick of things, we don’t often realise if we are still on course, if we look after our own health enough, if we treat our clients the way we want to. So being away and having some time out can be rather beneficial – for ourselves and for our clients.

coastal path
I returned from my holiday with a clear head and fresh insights that came to me while I was busy inhaling the scent of the sea, admiring the views on a walk, savouring a glass of ale. New ideas popped up like corks that previously had been suppressed by daily routine. Suddenly I know what I will be concentrating on in my professional development, how I can improve my website, which post I want to write for my blog. And coming back with recharged batteries, I can’t wait to catch up with my clients and give them my full attention and best service. I would say all this is rather good for business. Wouldn’t you?

How do you organise your holiday? Do you switch off completely or take (some) work with you? I’d love to hear what works for you!

Stuck in a rut?

Whenever I need some inspiration, it helps to step away from my desk and look at things from a different perspective. I get my best ideas when I am running or walking in the countryside, breathing the fresh air, stretching my legs and enjoying the view. As soon as I am outside, the synapses in my brain that were previously tired and uninspired seem to find a new spark. Suddenly I know the right solution for a tricky translation, the ultimate gift for a friend’s birthday, even a fresh idea for a blog post.

One day when I was running around the fields, I noticed that I was skipping between the two ruts in the path, because the one I was running in always seemed to be full of obstacles – long grass, muddy ground and rabbit holes. By contrast, the parallel track always looked much easier to navigate. Funnily enough, as soon as I hopped over to the other side, it turned out to be just as challenging to run on as the first one. I skipped between the two tracks for a while and started to think about it in a more figurative sense, thanks to the revived activity of the synapses, no doubt.

Sometimes it can be tempting to glance at how other people fare from the side and believe that they have it somewhat easier or that they are more successful, and you may find yourself thinking: I wish I could be ‘running in their rut’. But just imagine for a moment that you were – is it really that much easier? They may be better off, but perhaps there are areas of their life that are harder than in yours: a difficult relationship, a chronic illness or other worries that you are not aware of.

Just as I came to the conclusion that the other track was as tricky to navigate as the one I was running on, I realised what an illusion it is to think that someone else could have it easier. And just as I decided to choose one track and stick with it instead of hopping back and forth and expending even more energy, it dawned on me that it may be a good idea to concentrate on my path and do my best to tackle it instead of being distracted by the way other people tackle theirs.

That afternoon I could suddenly relate to the old adage that the grass is always greener on the other side, or as they say in German: the cherries in your neighbour’s garden are always sweeter (die Kirschen in Nachbars Garten schmecken immer süßer). Of course, it is not wrong to get some inspiration from the way other people go about their business. It does not mean, however, that they don’t have their own obstacles to overcome.

So, by all means, if you feel stuck in a rut, hop over and try out the other one. But don’t be too surprised if it turns out that the path you were on is just right and worth persevering. Maybe you just need to step outside and take a brisk walk to fire up your synapses.

What do you do when you need a little bit of inspiration? I’d love to hear where you get your best ideas!

Aromatic spice tea

A wonderful pick-me-up (not just) for wordsmiths

 Image courtesy of TeddyBear[Picnic] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Image courtesy of TeddyBear[Picnic] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I am working long hours, concentrating on a text in front of me or trying to find the best word for a translation, I need the occasional energy boost to keep me going, especially in the dark winter months. If you like yogi tea or chai, the recipe below will be your cup of tea (pardon the pun). This spice tea is warming and energising, and a great caffeine-free alternative if you already had your daily dose of tea or coffee. I usually make a large pot, because it tastes even better the next day. Enjoy!

1.5–2 l water
5–6 cardamom pods, crushed
½ tsp ground cloves
1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp (i.e. a good grating) nutmeg
4 black peppercorns
2–3 cm fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

Crush the cardamom pods and slightly warm them in a large pan until you begin to smell the aroma.
Add the water (careful if the pan is hot), all the other spices and the fresh ginger and bring to the boil, then simmer on a low heat for at least 30 minutes with a lid on.
Pour the tea through a fine sieve into another pan or jug. This will keep for a day or two.

In a separate pan, heat the amount of tea you want to drink with some milk (to taste) and enjoy. Add honey to sweeten, if you like.

Good for the senses

If you are working indoors all day, perhaps you are looking for a way to balance your work life with a bit of outdoor life as well. As a translator and proofreader I spend most of my days sitting at my desk in front of a computer screen. Especially in the winter, when the days are short, I don’t get out much. So I was yearning for some fresh air and exercise as well as keen to volunteer for the Essex Wildlife Trust when I joined their work party at my local nature reserve last December.

As soon as we enter the woods on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, my hibernating senses come back to life. There is the earthy smell of wood, fungi and rotting leaves. The cold winter air, combined with physical exercise as we clip and clear away shrubs and build a natural hedge, soon colours our cheeks red. The sight of a heron flying overhead makes us stop for a chat. We can hear a great spotted woodpecker heckling noisily from a nearby tree. After a few hours of work in the cold, a hot cup of tea and a piece of cake taste like heaven.

Nothing beats the company of like-minded people. I have learned so much about the local flora and fauna on these afternoons on the reserve. Did you know there is a fungus that grows on dead ash trees and can be used to make fire (King Alfred’s Cake)? Or that the plants of the Euphorbia genus have a milky sap that can leave you blind if you accidentally rub it into your eyes? Or that there are barn owls nesting in the big tree with the fire damage near the footbridge by the river?

It also is immensely satisfying when you see the result of a few hours labour right in front of you. Unlike the achievement of business targets, measured over weeks or months, working on the reserve gives you an instant gratification. For me this is a winning combination: apart from giving you a reason to go out in winter and a free workout, you get to hone your gardening skills, work with great tools, learn about the environment and are instantly rewarded for your efforts. Oh, and you can watch a couple of robins negotiating their territories while you are at it. It simply is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, good for the soul and for the senses. I, for one, already look forward to next winter.

Check out your local Wildlife Trust for opportunities to volunteer.