Work-life balance: not as simple as it sounds

The self-employed interpreter is by definition multifunctional, carrying out tasks that span PR, preparation and accounting, with actual on-site work situated within a moving matrix. And that’s before

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My daughter is just 18 months old and enjoys exploring and commenting on the world around her, and brings home the occasional illness from her day-care centre. My husband works in a different city during the week, and I have a jam-packed diary working as both a part-time staff interpreter at a government ministry and a freelancer. Using some of my precious free time to write about work-life balance, I thought, would afford me a good opportunity to stop and think about the issue in regard to my own situation as the mother of a young child. After all, finding the right work-life balance is an ongoing process, not a set formula.

The term initially conjures up the image of scales with work on one side and life on the other. But is that an apt description? Perhaps it is more of a multi-directional balancing act, especially in this age of Facebook, smart phones and constant availability when the boundaries between work and personal life are becoming increasingly blurred. So, I asked myself, what are the challenges and what solutions are out there?

One thing is clear – as most interpreters are self-employed these days, we all tend to hold down more than one job. Among other things, we are marketing professionals, terminology and quality assurance experts, and naturally also interpreters, both simultaneous and consecutive, at demanding conferences, conventions and meetings, all the while striving to meet the highest quality standards. For many people, interpreting is not just a career but also a calling, which does not make the whole work-life balance conundrum any easier as it increases the risk of work taking up more and more of our personal time.

That delicate balancing act

These days it’s no secret that it pays to strike a good balance, not only for one’s own well-being but also in the interest of those who employ us and the long-term performance capability of their company or organisation. The Bertelsmann Foundation has even trained work-life coordinators for SMEs as part of a pilot project.

Interpreting requires a high level of sustained concentration (simultaneous is a bit like high-performance sport for the brain), and it is important to give yourself time off on a regular basis. As self-employed professionals, we have to be our own work-life coordinators. That means is that it’s up to us to decide how many hours we should dedicate to work and how many we should devote to leisure and other areas of our lives.

Theoretically at least, the conditions for this are favourable. Self-employed interpreters have a great deal of freedom. They are not bound by any rigid structures, are able to spend at least some of their preparation time working from home, and can decide how much they want to work in accordance with their own needs and desire. In practice, however, this is not always easy as the volume of incoming work is somewhat out of our control, although a full diary is usually cause for celebration.

It is helpful to use time tracking software to monitor how much time you are investing in different tasks. The hours spent in the booth are clearly documented, but what about the time devoted to reading up on a subject or researching terminology on special topics like annual financial statements or freshwater aquariums? Time tracking software delivers reliable data on how much time is actually spent on an assignment and how profitable individual projects are. It also illustrates which tasks fall outside your core area of expertise and could or should be outsourced to other people, such as an accountant. Monitoring the time you spend on various tasks has the added benefit of helping you use available time more effectively and appreciating how much work you actually do. This may mean that after a particularly busy week, you consciously treat yourself to a day off.

Incidentally, it is also worthwhile to keep an eye on how you spend your precious free time. Ask yourself a number of questions – and answer honestly: What really does me good? What activities give me the strength to do my daily work? Which provide a good balance? Do I have a tendency to apply my work ethic to free-time activities, thereby unnecessarily subjecting myself to “leisure-time stress”?

Once you know what you want to spend your free time doing, the trick is to create space for it. It can be helpful to include personal activities in your work calendar and take them just as seriously as your professional commitments. They don’t have to be daylong excursions to be beneficial. I have often been surprised by how relaxed I feel after a brief time-out in a café; just sitting there gazing out the window or reading the newspaper can do wonders. It is also important to set clear boundaries. This includes deliberately turning off your smart phone in the evening and occasionally even shutting the “virtual online door”.

Long-term planning is also essential. How many weeks do I want to set apart for an annual vacation? Which months make the most sense because there are unlikely to be many conferences then? To be able to enjoy your holidays without a care in the world, it may be worthwhile having a mutual cover arrangement with a colleague.

When I achieve a good work-life balance, it not only contributes to my personal well-being but also tends to enhance the quality of my work. In the end, everyone benefits – especially my family, who appreciate me most when I am in a good mood.

Anne-Kristin Krämer combines freelancing with a part-time staff interpreter position at a German government ministry. Since 2011 she has juggled motherhood and professional commitments.

The original German version of this article appeared in the May 2013 issue of “Der Freie Beruf”, a publication of Bundesverband der Freien Berufe (

Recommended citation format:
Anne-Kristin KRÄMER. "Work-life balance: not as simple as it sounds". July 17, 2013. Accessed May 28, 2020. <>.

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