An atypical dilemma: "I need less work"

Here’s a question I received from a colleague: “You’re always writing about how to find new clients and get more work. I have the opposite problem: I have work coming out of my ears and I’m trying to cut back.” OK! Thoughts on Translation is committed to addressing issues at all points on the freelance spectrum, so let’s give this one a try.

This actually is not the first time I’ve heard this question, primarily from translators in their 60s and 70s who still want to work, but not full-time and not under stressful conditions. But it also applies to some translators with young kids, or people with other jobs. Definitely worth a look.

If you’re in the “I need less work” boat, first you have to accept that maybe 1% of freelancers have just the right amount of work. The other 99% of us have to choose between a little too little work and a little too much work. And because I hate worrying about money, my preference is to have a little too much work, then take longish vacations where I don’t work at all. But if you’re bound and determined to cut down on your work flow, first ask yourself:

  • What do you want and not want out of your work situation? For example I’d say the typical person in this category says, “I want some income, I want some professional activity in my life, but I don’t want to be stressed out and I want a significant amount of free time.” Even if your answer is radically different, make sure to answer that question. What’s your priority? What do you not want to deal with?
  • How much of a factor is money? If you’re on the semi-retired end of the spectrum, money might be less of a factor; you might have the luxury of working for clients you really like, rather than the clients who pay the most. If you have young kids, it may be the opposite situation: money is paramount, because you need to earn a semi-full-time income while working around your family’s schedule.
  • How much of a factor is job satisfaction? Again, this varies from individual to individual. Perhaps you’re that semi-retired translator who’s working primarily or even exclusively because you enjoy it; perhaps you’re that new parent thinking “$%&^& satisfaction…the point is to make money.”

Then, pick a strategy. Of course, the path of least resistance is to raise your rates. A lot. Own it; tell clients, “If you’re looking for an inexpensive option, it’s not me,” or “I only work with the very high end of the market,” or “Call me when you have a bigger budget.” That should do the trick pretty quickly, but it may also eliminate clients you want to keep working with, especially if job satisfaction is a priority for you. So you could also try:

Putting some parameters on your availability or your working conditions. You don’t work on Fridays, or you don’t work with clients who require you to work in their online TM portal, or you don’t work with clients who send out work offers via mass e-mail.

Taking longer vacations so that you’re working less overall. I’ll be honest: I’ve tried the “I need to work less” system a few times (I’m going to take Friday afternoons off, I’m not checking e-mail after 5, I’m not finishing stuff up in the evenings, etc.), and it’s never really worked. So my preferred solution is to take longer vacations where I may be checking e-mail, but I am not actively working. By timing these to coincide with most of my clients’ slow periods (Christmas/New Years, July and August), I don’t know that I actually lose a lot of income, but I definitely gain sanity. Each year I take about six weeks completely off, which is pretty normal outside the US but almost unheard of within the US. So that’s my recommendation if you’re in a decent financial position: give yourself a month off this summer and do some digital detox.

Doing the “does this spark joy” test on every project. If you get that knot in your stomach, turn it down, or stop working with that client. Only work on projects that make you feel excited about working.

Readers, over to you! Any thoughts on this?

17 Responses to “An atypical dilemma: "I need less work"”
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