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Always be curious Work/life balance

How in-house translators spend their holiday(s)

Does a translator really switch off? Or do they end up looking for translation errors in restaurant menus. Three lists are key to me in switching off.

I turned off my work laptop after submitting my timesheet and activity record, and set my out of office message. Holiday had felt overdue for at least the last two weeks. August commutes had been punctuated by the slew of articles about “quiet quitting” – this summer’s controversial buzzword. That was until I ditched my smartphone on the tram and bus for my Kindle. “Taking back control” they call it. In another way to those who decided to take back control on holiday by taking stock of their situation and initiating change.

Flagging mask-wearing attitude in Vienna indicated that people consider the Covid-19 pandemic is over. When commuting on public transport, between one-third and one-half of passengers ignored the FFP2 requirement. Although triple-vaccinated and recovered, the final two weeks were in fear of a new infection before my holiday.

I had no thoughts of “quiet quitting”, but what was on my mind in ahead of my holiday to Tyrol, Salzburg and Bavaria?

Before physically setting off on holiday, I powered down and guided my eldest son through his final days at Kindergarten. He clearly also needed a break. Before we left, I packed and loaded the family car, and finished some admin to allow me to relax. A catch-up with a friend from Uni and his family over beers was a perfect wind-down exercise.

As I was leaving for my holidays, freelancer contacts announced their return to the office after theirs. They posted about marketing and customer acquisition work, due to a dread about a lack of work. It was similar when I freelanced, even with a steady set of fixed customers.

So what was/is on my mind?

Years in the same position have reassured me that I can go on holiday, relax as intended and take a third week off that is crucial for regeneration. Focussing on relaxation and regeneration, I downloaded several books for my Kindle, to enjoy while away. In addition, I stocked up on enjoyable podcast episodes (Decades from Home was a shoe-in given our visits to Bavaria). I also dialled down my current affairs intake – so took a break from Today in Focus. And deliberately also didn’t start getting into The News Agents until my return from holidays. My reading list consists of several biographies, some non-fiction reading and a couple of books related to translation.

Sufficient holiday reading has become essential, especially when booking issues mean sharing a room (and large bed) with your sons. My wife shares with our daughter, when requested adjoining rooms are overlooked. The boys flake out early, giving me a couple of hours’ undisturbed reading. Due to their nocturnal thrashing about, I often end up sleep at the bottom of the bed.

Holiday days vs being on holiday

Taking paid leave (holiday days) is vastly different to “going on holiday”. Out of three weeks paid leave for my summer break, only half of that is actually spent on holiday. I assign a day of paid leave at the start to catch up on filed admin tasks. This quick “stock take” clears my mind for relaxing while on holiday. And I make a “before” list. Similarly, I have a “soft return” to the office in that I log on from home the evening before starting back to get the software updates done and come up with my “after” list. It is my way to ensure that I resume “on the ‘B’ of bang“.

Comparing the “before” and “after” lists helps me see whether my pre- and post-holiday thoughts are on the same wavelength. They aren’t always – some “tired” thoughts at the start of my leave period are duly ditched. A third “during list” contain the thoughts that flitted through my mind while away (relaxation inspires!).

I first became aware of the difference between holidays and being on holiday in 1994. It was after my first year of A Levels. My teachers gave me holiday reading in French and German. One explained with a smile that school holidays didn’t mean a holiday from learning. Surely paid leave is a different matter though?

Does switching off the computer mean really switching off?

While I switch off from my work as an in-house translator, I still struggle to switch off completely. I do try and reduce some of the sources of interference. This year, it was actively leaving all Xing groups. The step was to pre-empt their closure. Doing so also gave me instant impulses for my “during list”, which in turn help with my “after” list.

As a translator, I actively avoid looking for mistranslations in restaurant menus on holiday. I know that non-translator friends will supply enough source material to make up for me not looking. And some still think I need to see the culinary howlers. I now untag and delete these kind of posts. I do this to actively stop thoughts wandering to ongoing and future translation projects.

Breaking the (social) media onslaught

One reason I choose active holidays (in terms of going out and doing and seeing things, rather than lying on a beach or a sofa or a bed) is that it helps me reduce my consumption of other social media. It is also good for actively being present for my children, seeing and experiencing the world. I mute Facebook and WhatsApp group chats (in particular WhatsApp parents groups as our three were away from Kindergarten) to reduce distraction.

I also partially mute Twitter (and actively add some words to the block list!) particularly to avoid its toxicity. Instead, I actively reach for the Kindle and read when tempted to doomscroll. As mentioned above, I also limit my news consumption – in desperate times of rolling news, it is necessary to take a break from it all. It also helps avoid the emergence of a holiday fug by removing the everyday stimulus.

Does anything meaningful come out of my lists?

I mentioned having three lists (before, during and after) during my leave period. My “before list” had three to dos that I completed once back from holiday. Satisfyingly, I didn’t think about them once while on holiday. Two work-related items were also handled in my absence.

My “during list” was an interesting one. Thoughts while relaxed on holiday, hastily scribbled on a free postcard from a bar, might develop into tangible projects. I came up with a machine learning use case for a forthcoming course while sat drinking a can of Spezi. Two conferences I want to attend (preferably in person!) flitted through my mind. I had a crazy thought involving regular expressions (RegEx) that could bear fruits. And there was a mental plan how to rearrange the office at home.

My “after list” prepares me for the return to office. I log in once in advance to let my computer update before I go back to the office. I also catch up on calls for papers for conferences. This is a positive sign, as I recently decided not to submit abstracts, nor to attend a couple of conferences. It also contains a very quick list of all the mails from a single session in Outlook that I need to attend to. I usually revise that part of the list to make sure I prioritise what needs dealing with first.

How do hybrid working arrangements optimise returning to work?

As mentioned elsewhere, I work from home on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I therefore try to ensure that my holiday weeks (of five consecutive working days) run from Thursday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Tuesday. This means that I start back from paid leave in my office at home, and can get on with work with less disturbances than if in the office from day one.

Similarly, when preparing to go on holiday, I try to ensure that I finish in the office one day before I have my final working day. It means that I think more carefully about what I need for the final working day, and focus on what needs finishing off. It also means that I can leave my laptop set up in my office at home and also do my “soft return” logon to allow my computer to do all the updates before I start back at work.