Strategic Siestas

Eventually – about half way down the page, you will be able to read about my freelance translation summer survival plan. But first, the historical preamble:

I am relatively new to the whole experience of the European summer. As a recent immigrant to Portugal from Zimbabwe, this is only my fifth one. Southern African seasons are less well-defined than European ones. Final exams take place in the heat of summer. I spent ten successive summers of my school and university life sweating and thinking. I believed that I could ride the crest of any heat wave Portugal had to offer. I was wrong.

The first one and a half were spent sweating it out in a laundry. The owner of the establishment had cleverly placed the digital barometer/thermometer on the wall furthest from all the heat-generating machines. I had that figured from Day 1.

So that my soul did not die from translation deprivation, I left the laundry halfway through summer 2010. I applied generous doses of cream to my bleach-swollen hands several times a day, and resumed my freelance translation career. The resultant sense of relief made me almost oblivious to the incongruity of my immediately embarking on the translation of two pulp fiction titles. Hardly my specialist field! One was set in Iceland; the other took me on a fairytale tour of the Italian Alps. Imagination is an amazing thing. Waxing lyrical about crisp mountain air and such while wiping perspiration from one’s brow is a feat in itself.

Summer 2011 rolled around soon enough. Midway through, I completed the Vine Atlas which, funnily enough, turned out to be much more down my alley. After such a large project, I felt somewhat shell-shocked, and trying to build up my client base after five months of being out of the loop was not nearly as easy as typing this blog.

By Summer 2012, I finally seemed to be on my feet. Just as this glorious season showed signs of showing up, João broke her leg. After seven hours in the emergency ward of the hospital, and twelve hours of elapsed time, meeting the deadline of the translation I was working on at the time constituted a minor miracle. João has MS. Her sense of balance was shot before she broke her leg, so crutches, which we still have from her more ambulatory days, were out of the question. Attending to her every need and lifting and shifting her – sometimes as often as twenty times a day – for the ensuing four months, while still trying to maintain my normal work schedule, left me burnt out.

I was exhausted, and yet had no choice but to carry on working. Of course, the burn-out made me depressed. What better way to ignore one’s depression than by taking long, two-hour naps in the afternoon? Those sleeps may have been my saving grace. By mid-November, I finally started to feel normal again. I patted myself on the back if I got through an eight- to ten-hour work day with only a lunch break somewhere in the middle.

It's bamboo. It's plastic. It's a breakfast-table decoration at a 5-star hotel in Porto. It's what I call appealing kitsch. My biggest fear as summer 2013 approached was that I might burn out again.
I had to have a plan. A guilt-free plan. After all, if a two-hour sleep is part of a defined survival strategy, then you cannot call it slacking, can you?

This is my mid-season progress report.

The basic daily plan of action is this:
Wake up in the morning – either with the sun, or by 07h30 at the latest.
Have a shower, choose a vest and a pair of shorts, make the bed, and get to work.
Forget about all other housework until my first “creativity break” just before lunch.
I mean, why perspire in the coolest part of the day?
This give me about four hours of work with little stand up and stretch breaks in between as usual.
Lunch happens soon after what I shall term “kitchen reorganisation”. Kitchen reorganisation also includes general housework in the rest of the apartment. It may also involve some appreciation of nature while I either hang up or remove clothes from the washline.
Lunch is a brief affair, because the heat diminishes one’s appetite.
Normally, two hours of work after lunch takes me to about 16h00.
I never really have to look at my watch.

I know when it is time to crash. This is when I stare blankly into space. Nothing else, Just staring. No thoughts related to the translation I am supposedly doing. No thoughts at all. Motionless. Perspiring. Staring. Production level: zero. Then, it occurs to me that it is now:

Strategic Siesta Time!

Before crashing on the bed, I drink about another half litre of water. I read somewhere than this prevents muscular cramps in the legs, and so far it has worked.
This is not, strictly speaking, a siesta.
I understand a siesta to be a brief (37 minutes, or some such, is the ideal period according to the Spanish) snooze immediately after lunch.
This is a two hour sleep.
Some nice little relaxation exercises and a bit of breathing before falling asleep is always a good idea.
Relaxation is easy: The heat has already put me into a stupor.
I never finish my relaxation exercises. I often achieve oblivion long before that.
In short, I have passed out without a care in the world.
I do normally set my alarm for either 18h00 or 19h00, depending on how early I have started the day.
Upon waking – either with or without the alarm – the hottest part of the day is over.
The drowsiness is gone.
This is the time of day I am kindest to myself.
We may have a snack – or wait until about 22h00.
We drink a lot more water. Let’s face it, you work up a pretty healthy thirst sleeping supine with your mouth open for two hours!
I ease gently back into work, and normally manage another four hours to midnight, or 01h00, if I am feeling energetic, or spurred on by a looming deadline.
That brings me to a total of 10 hours’ work a day. And two sleeps; one of two hours, and one of about six.

So far this summer, I have had work every day, for which I am immensely grateful.
One of my clients knows about my summer schedule; another simply knows that I am “available for work during summer”, and that seems to be good enough for both of us; a third client is Portuguese, and coming to think of it, may well have gone on holiday at the beginning of August, for all I know; a few other smaller clients do not seem to mind a reply two hours or so after they have sent an e-mail at 16h00.

What I do know is that my stress levels are low. Dedicating two hours of every day to doing absolutely nothing except making sure I fall into a deep sleep during the most unbearable hours of the day is a positive move. My productivity has improved over the last two and a half months.
I attribute this to a combination of the siesta strategy and my recent disovery of some really good German-made wax ear plugs.

Ear plugs are good for blocking out the noise of the oscillating fan, which is soporific at best. But they are excellent for blocking out all distractions when I am focussing on my super-duper siesta. They guarantee a high quality, out-for-the-count-and-I-don’t-care session which I have come to love for all the right reasons. I have not wasted a single morning, or afternoon, or evening, the whole summer. Yay!

The vagaries of freelance translation deadlines being what they are, I sometimes do not have my late afternoon all-fall-down time. No problem. I simply go to bed a little earlier – 23h00, for example – and start the strategic siesta system all over again the next day. There are also days where I do not work 10 hours a day because other aspects of life require attention too.

Now, at least, those of you who may have been wondering why I am not blogging so often these days will have a peg on which to hang your hat.

I am off for my next snooze now!

Wide-awake, most of the time.

7 thoughts on “Strategic Siestas

Add yours

  1. Love your strategy, Allison! Your post really made me smile. While I’m still jealous of your hot summers (!!!), I understand that it must be seriously draining to work in such heat. I think you found a great way to deal with it 🙂


    1. Motivation, as they say, is half the battle won. This may account for the fact that I would need at least three days’ worth of siestas to tick “ironing” off the mental chores list. The very thought of that induces a fresh flush of perspiratiion. 😉


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