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I’ve been a freelance translator now for a little over 3 years, and it’s my first full-time “desk job”, and I can honestly say I underestimated the repercussions of sitting all day and having a sedentary job.
I had a lot of different jobs before I was a translator, but they were mostly on my feet, and they built physical activity into my day: personal trainer, firefighter, peace corps volunteer, pool builder, etc.
Before getting into translating I didn’t realize that those jobs were actually helping me to lead a more active lifestyle without me having to put in any extra effort. When I first started freelancing, I had a sitting-only desk. After about a year I had quickly racked up about 20 extra lbs. and had to buy myself a whole new wardrobe (which isn’t terrible I just wish it was for a different reason than that my pants didn’t button).
I was going through a lot of changes at that time like moving halfway across the world, working a few jobs and I forgot one of the most fundamental things in my life, prioritizing myself.
I’m not talking about pampering myself with massages and mani-pedis but the basic aspects of leading a healthy lifestyle like exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and taking breaks every once in a while.
It was the basic things that I had learnt at a young age and taught my clients that I was getting away from and my body was paying the price.
Something else I learned the hard way, and some of you may have gone through this as well, is that when you’re not working, you’re not making money. It may be that you’re sick, hurt, stressed, you have a headache, really anything, but that doesn’t really matter. If you’re a freelancer, you’ve decided to put yourself on an island in exchange for more freedom, control over your clients, working hours, and the other 100 things that made us finally decide to make the plunge into freelancing.
While that list is very long and I personally, wouldn’t change anything in my life right there, there is one glaring problem that all freelance translators must face, and that’s no sick days.
Most clients, in my experience, don’t care much if you’re sick or injured. They have deadlines, and if you can’t help them meet those deadlines, they’ll find someone else who can. That’s why your health, as a freelancer, needs to one of your top priorities, if not #1.
Needless to say, being a freelancer is stressful and normally sedentary. Those two things, if left unchecked, can cause a long list of very nasty side effects that we freelancers just don’t have time for. I won’t list them all here, but if you’re interested in what’s happening to your body, you can check these links about the symptoms of stress and the health risks of an inactive lifestyle.
Over the past year or so I’ve been working to improve both the mental and physical side of freelancing, and I’ve found a few very helpful tips that I’d like to share with you all here.
1) Morning routine
The number of highly successful, well-known individuals with morning routines is way too long to list here (check it out here), but they all do it for one very simple reason. Starting the day in a productive, predictable way is the best way to set the foundation for a constructive day. I’m not talking only professionally but also personally. To some extent, most of us do this but what sets many of the those in that list apart from you and I, is that their routines don’t only involve coffee, shower, and brushing their teeth.
They include activities like going to the gym, meditating, eating the same, healthy breakfast every day, reading, writing in a journal, planning their Big 3, etc.
Not only do they prepare themselves hygienically and with caffeine, but they also organize their entire day within the first few hours of waking up. This way they know exactly what they need to get accomplished for that day for it to be a productive one. Can you say the same?
2) No screens 1 hr. before bed
The effects of blue light (the light emitted from every digital screen) on your sleep and circadian rhythm have been well documented. Check out here, and here. If you’re one of the millions (my girlfriend included, I’m working on it), who checks their phone or watches TV while getting into bed you’re doing yourself a major disservice.
In a very short summary, when our body receives blue light, from any source, it tells us it’s daytime. That’s because, throughout evolution, the sun and its blue light was the only source of blue light, and it’s how our body oriented between night and day.
Less than 100 hundred years ago, we created digital screens, and our bodies react the same way to the blue light emitted from our devices as it does from the sun. So, when it’s 11 PM, and you’re staring at your phone screen, that blue light is telling your body to wake up. Waking up when you’re getting ready for bed is not conducive to rest, obviously. Turning off all screens at least 1 hour before bed will immediately improve your sleep quality.
For more on that check out: Blue light and Sleep – Better Sleep to Improve Productivity
3) Create a weekly, healthy meal plan
This is something that I’ve recently implemented, and it works wonders! Not only is it great for weight loss but it also helps reduce decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is the idea that every time you make a choice, no matter how big or small, you lose a bit of your “decision-making strength”. Enough small decisions throughout the day and you become tired of making them, the same way walking all day makes your tired.
Reducing decision fatigue is something that Obama famously included in his day. For example, he ate the same thing for breakfast every day, weightlifting three days a week and aerobic activity twice, and he wore the same suit on the same day of the week, this way he didn’t have to stare in the mirror deciding which tie to wear.
Creating a weekly meal plan not only cuts down on decision fatigue but it also relieves you of all the stress of thinking about what you’re going to buy, making shopping lists, wandering through the store and buying things you don’t need, deciding which of the 200 types of salsas to get, etc. Creating a meal plan is the single best thing you can do for your diet.
4) Midday Nap
Reading and naps are probably my two favorite things in the world. I’m not talking 1 hour or two-hour naps but 20-minute cat naps that help you feel rejuvenated afterwards. It’s my equivalent to an afternoon cup/pot of coffee.
There are numerous studies on napping and the benefits they have (Sleep Foundation) but for me, being able to grab lunch, read a chapter in my current book, and take a quick snooze is the best way I’ve found to destress, break up my day and really make the most of working from home.
Many of us chose to freelance so we could make our own schedule and have the freedom to choose what we worked on and when we worked on it. Can you honestly say you’re taking advantage of it to its fullest?
Everything these days is vying for our attention whether it’s TV, phones, work, radio (if you still listen to that) and a hundred other noisy apps and social media. Even though you may not realize it, you are listening. Tuning out doesn’t work, never has and never will.
The best thing you can do to cut out all the noise is to just turn everything off for a few hours in the middle of the day. Find those few hours where you’re at your least productive, for me, it’s right after lunch. So, close your laptop, put your phone on silent and disconnect. We all need a break, and it’s very difficult for us translators to find the time when everything we do is online. It needs to be a conscious choice.
These 5 small pieces of advice are just the tip of the iceberg of little changes you can make to prioritize your health. For a quick review, build a morning routine with activities that allow you to plan your day. Turn off all digital screens (Kindles are ok, they don’t have a backlight) at least 1 hr. before you try to fall asleep. Create a weekly meal plan to reduce decision fatigue. Grab a quick cat nap in the middle of the afternoon instead of checking your social media feeds. Lastly, unplug your devices for a few hours. Figure out when you’re at your least productive and do something else that doesn’t involve technology.
I hope you guys learn from my mistakes before you have to go spend your hard-earned cash on new a wardrobe. If you learn to prioritize your health now, then I’m sure you’ll have a very long and fruitful freelance career.
Happy Translating everyone!