Welcome to the next post in the Great Productivity Project series, part of the Looking-Glass Translations productivity programme! Contact me today if you’d like to be featured in the series.

This week, I speak to Sara Colombo of Balance Your Words! Let’s go!

1. How did you enter the industry and what do you remember most about your first year in business?

I was an undergraduate student and a friend literally dragged me into this profession. At the time, I was reluctantly convinced that I had chosen the wrong undergraduate degree, but then I started to work on subtitles and did it for three years. I was helping out while juggling exams and another part-time job, and I loved it immediately.

I do remember feeling I was doing the right thing when my first payment arrived and the agency called me again. It was a confirmation, but also a motivation, to keep on working in that direction.


2. Are you a morning lark or a night owl?

A reformed night owl with a passion for early mornings. 🙂 I went from studying until late to loving pristine mornings and now I like to get up, get ready with no rush and start my day in a quiet state of mind. And my dog helped me in all this with his early morning walks!


3. On average, how many hours do you work a week?

It depends. I would say 42 to 45.


4. Do you stick to a set routine or do you prefer to go with the flow?

I prefer to stick to a routine because it makes things easier. I have regular weekly brainstorming sessions, plan my months and weeks in advance, set goals and try to spend time evaluating my career and business. From the smallest Monday-related organisational tasks to more challenging yearly ideas, I try to keep it minimal and focused, but updated.


5. As freelancers, we are very lucky in that we have a lot more flexibility than other workers. How do you take advantage of this?

As a freelancer, flexibility says two things to me: diversification and risk. We can make the most of entrepreneurial tools by offering different services, but at the same time we need to research and understand a lot to avoid spending money or time on useless activities.

The hardest part for someone creative who’s always thinking (like me) is to be determined and follow the rules. I need to have a structure or I get carried away with the freedom of flexibility.


6. What does work-life balance mean to you? Do you think it’s important?

There is nothing like a fixed work-life balance in today’s world. I see my friends and people my age changing their goals and managing to work mobile even if they have an office job – while others can afford part-time commitments and are in no rush.

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but the job market has changed and we can all see that it’s now a matter of personal balance, rather than work-life balance.

I believe in creating your own world. A flexible job can help you to juggle different activities as you can move things up and down your priority list and always find a way to achieve your plans. I believe in giving up when it’s a dead-end and a thorough reality check has proved quitting might be the right option.

You have to work hard – sometimes even overnight – to become a translator, but if at the end of the day that makes you feel good, then it’s ok. Just always remember you can quit if you’re totally miserable.

Being able to support myself by working as a translator is and has always been my core. That’s my point of balance. If that were ruining my life completely then I’d think about something different. Life is a constant movement towards balance, so why not give it a chance?


7. What’s the biggest productivity challenge you’ve faced running your own business?

Avoiding browsing the net to check on my favourite website or blog while working.

I have a thing for blogging and web design and love to spend time reading how cool people made it through the Internet, discover a new magazine or spend hour creating content for my social channels. I also like to delve into the digital world to discover bloggers and watch all kinds of videos. Yoga and fitness bloggers are just incredibly cool in terms of content and digital presence.

When I’m not working, I also use Facebook to connect with my friends from the animal rights movement; we chat, share posts and organise events.

You see… being a translator means working online, which can be a little problematic when the Internet is – in fact – your best and worst ally!

Other than that I have to say that managing a home-based office was not easy in the beginning, and I found myself curiously embarrassed to answer a Skype call in my tracksuit or work without a structure.

However, I slowly changed and now I tend to prioritise better.


8. How did you overcome it / what are you doing to make things better?

Well, as I have said I changed the way I work.

I started by de-cluttering my office, habits and work to focus on small but key priorities, then I learned to organise my weeks differently.

On Monday I spend two hours planning my week and I also make monthly plans based on expected expenses (business and personal) and expected income. Then on Friday I usually plan my social media activity and every two weeks I update my editorial calendar (blogs and socials).

At the end of every day I go through my working schedule to make sure all boxes are ticked and once a month I do a sort of business lab, first with collaborators and then alone, to check the health of our plans or update my schedule, etc.

Other than that I have said goodbye to the crazy marketing phase, so I’m more focused and less involved in activities I don’t feel are urgent or relevant to my business. I’m also delegating if necessary, prioritising and always trying to keep it minimal, but highly professional.

I’m a small business owner, so why behave like Coca-Cola? Should I pretend to be them? Who said they’re having a great time over there?


9. What’s the one productivity tip or tool you couldn’t live without?

Old pen and paper lists and my iPhone. Oh you said one… sorry! 😉


10. If you could go back in time, what’s the one thing you’d tell yourself when you were just starting out?

Be strong and don’t be afraid to be alone in the pursuit of your own goals.

Actually, go for it. Even it that means going alone.

You’ll learn that silence is never so empty as it sounds and loneliness it’s just a by-product of insecurity.

You’ll learn that there’s always a way to make something work and even if you fail at something or change your mind regarding your business or part of that – or even just a project – there’s always an alternative, even when it doesn’t look so.

There was one particular year that I recall being quite harsh for me, a time when I was feeling frustrated and stuck.

That year was the year that taught me the most in terms of what I can do by being strong.

Because I was so weak that I refused to see my options – let alone catch or chase them. I wasn’t really doing anything good for me, I wasn’t really putting into practice my plans. I was just postponing and using excuses.

If I’d been stronger, things would have been different as I can now see that even then, I had options. I just refused to see them.

And I know that because those “options” are now reality and have happened the minute I decided to be strong and work as hard as my job required.


JUST FOR FUN: Finally, we often only see each other professionally and I’d love to peek behind the business – can you name a hobby of yours that might surprise us? What do you do in your downtime?

I’m a yoga teacher and a yogi… But I guess you knew that already! 😉

I practice 5 times a week, I meditate, I burn candles, I am a sunset catcher and a forest lover, a park walker and jogger. I need nature in my life: to feel grounded, to go back to myself and to work better. Basically, I’m a puppy. 🙂

Most part of my job is to deal with people – funnily enough, working from home is not as isolating as one can think – and there’s always the risk of getting lost in anger, deadlines, anxiety, frustration or the ego.

Yoga has changed everything, connecting to nature has enhanced the experience and improved my lifestyle.

If there’s one thing I rarely talk about, it’s the fact that I was raised with many dogs and my family has always had a passion for pets, so when I have time or resources, I help out the RSPCA or other organisations to rescue or shelter dogs.  I like to play with them and we organise events to raise money, etc.

And tattoos. Now the problem is there isn’t much space left! 😉


Thank you so much for taking part in the series!


Three heads are better than one

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Would you like to be involved in the Great Productivity Project? I’d love to hear from you! Contact me today at marie@lookingglasstranslations.com to be part of it.



  • Sara Colombo

  • Balance Your Words

Sara is an Italian-French-English freelance translator and interpreter in marketing, advertising, health & wellness and medicine. She’s also a TESOL teacher and ProZ trainer, and an IAPTI and MET member and speaker. An ITI Bulletin contributor, Sara is an active blogger sharing stories and tips with other freelancers from her website. Fitness instructor, yogi.








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