Category Archives: Tools

How can corpora help editors and proofreaders?

How often have you needed another word for a common term or phrase to avoid repetition? You can turn to a thesaurus, but there is a much more comprehensive source of inspiration accessible online. Ana Frankenberg-Garcia explains.

To make texts accurate and readable, we are required to evaluate other people’s words and wordings. However, people express themselves in different ways, and it is not always straightforward to tell whether documents need to be changed or how they can be improved. This is especially true when the subject matter, terminology or style of the text at hand is not entirely familiar. Dictionaries, glossaries, style guides and online searches can help, but not always. That is when we turn to more experienced colleagues. But what if they too don’t know the answer? What if they give us conflicting responses? What if it is late at night and we have an early morning deadline? Don’t worry, a corpus can help, and can often help more than any other source you have used before.

What is a corpus?

A corpus is a collection of authentic, machine-readable texts sampled to be representative of the language or language variety we wish to focus on. For example, a corpus consisting of a large number of business letters written by business people going about their normal routine can help us observe how words are objectively used in business correspondence.

How can corpora help?

Imagine you are not sure whether a business email should end in I look forward to hearing from you or I am looking forward to hearing from you. A corpus such as Professor Yasumasa Someya’s free Business Letter Corpus, with one million words of UK and US business letters, will do the trick. Compare the search results for looking forward and look forward.

First, you can see that look forward, with 997 occurrences, is more conventional in business letters than looking forward, with only 161 hits. Note that this is just in UK and US business letters, not the entire internet, so you know exactly where your results are coming from. Next, you can see that corpus software aligns the expression searched in the centre of your screen, which means you just need to scroll down to inspect every single occurrence of it. Reading ‘vertically’ makes finding out how words are used in context much faster and easier than reading linearly, as we normally do. And indeed, if you observe the context of how these wordings are employed, you will notice that looking forward tends to occur in more informal circumstances (eg fun night, great show, long chat), whereas look forward is used more formally (eg favourable reply, challenging career, future opportunity).

Another thing that corpus software does is help you to find out, in seconds, how words are used together.

Imagine you have a blank and can’t think of a verb to go with opinion. If you run a search for opinion in the enTenTen corpus (with 38 billion words of current English), you will not only be able to scroll down results like the ones shown above, where you can spot verbs like give, sway and form, but you can also carry out a further search step where the software automatically counts, ranks and sorts all the words that occur, say, four words to the left of opinion. This will generate a list of words frequently co-occurring with opinion, which you can scroll down and notice verbs like express, voice and share (see right).

Or, even better, you can sort this list to zoom in on just the verbs that occur in the context of opinion (see far right). There is no space here for more examples, but there are countless other ways in which corpora can help editors and proofreaders.

How can editors and proofreaders access corpora?

Until a few years ago corpora were only accessible to researchers, but nowadays anyone with access to the internet can consult one. A good place to start is the no-frills, free, online SkELL (Sketch Engine for Language Learning) corpus. The British National Corpus and the Corpus of Contemporary American English can also be accessed free of charge. If you want more English corpora, and corpora in many different languages, the incredibly powerful Sketch Engine tool used by big dictionary makers is available for a modest subscription fee.

Anyone who works professionally with language can benefit from corpora. Corpora are, after all, where lexicographers and linguists get the raw material they need to compile dictionaries and other language resources in the first place. Although corpora don’t provide us with black-and-white answers, they do give us access to how words are used in the real world, in ways that allow us to draw our own conclusions. Even when it is late at night and we have an early morning deadline!


This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Editing Matters. CIEP members can access the Editing Matters archive.


About Ana Frankenberg-Garcia

Ana Frankenberg-Garcia is the programme leader of the MA in Translation, University of Surrey. Her research focuses on applied uses of corpora in translation, lexicography and language learning.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credit: letters by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

 

 

The 2021 CIEP conference: How to check text with The Chicago Manual of Style for PerfectIt

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Marieke Krijnen reviewed How to check text with The Chicago Manual of Style for PerfectIt, presented by Daniel Heuman.

In one of the most joyful announcements of the year, a perfect union was proclaimed: The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and PerfectIt (PI) had been working together to integrate the former into the latter! Like anyone who uses PI and CMOS religiously, I was thrilled.

I adore CMOS. A client has called me ‘the Yoda of Chicago style’. I cite passages from the manual as if they’re from a holy book (‘Changing a dash in a quotation is permissible; CMOS 17, 13.7’). I say ‘Chicago’ when referring to the style, not the city (leading to interesting misunderstandings with my husband, a UChicago alum). I was first introduced to CMOS when a publisher took a chance on me, a newbie editor, asking me to proofread a forthcoming book and check that CMOS 16 was followed. I completed the job within a week and spent long, very long hours scrolling through the manual’s digital version and typing search terms. I discovered that this magical book had something to say about pretty much everything one could possibly wonder about while editing non-fiction. I ordered a hard copy soon after that, and it has little bookmarks all over it. If I had the nerve to get a CMOS tattoo, I probably would.

I’d like to say that I have memorised most of CMOS by now. However, it’s more accurate to say that I am aware of the things CMOS says something about, without me necessarily always knowing what it says precisely about, for example, headline capitalisation, when not to use an ellipsis, how to style the original titles of translated works, and so on. A good editor knows how to look things up, right?

PI’s union with CMOS is so great because it saves you hours of research. I was delighted that Daniel Heuman, PI’s CEO, was coming to talk about this happy union at the CIEP conference. He was joined by Russell Harper, the principal reviser of the 16th and 17th editions of CMOS. And so off we went into a session jam-packed with useful info.

The CMOS plugin for PI checks your manuscript and flags anything that does not seem to conform to Chicago style. It also displays the actual CMOS entry so you can judge for yourself whether the suggested change should be applied. No more opening up the digital edition or your book and looking for the precise entry; it’s right there on your screen! In the actual CMOS online font and style, people. And if you want to see the full entry, just click on its red number and it will take you straight to the digital style guide!

Daniel explained that PI’s philosophy is that ‘people make the best editing decisions’ and that PI seeks to provide the ‘technology to help people edit faster and better’. Therefore, the integration of CMOS into the software does not mean that decisions will be made for you. Instead, the plugin searches the text for you and teaches you the principles of Chicago style.

Not everything in CMOS is included in the check, but the plugin will check for hyphenation, abbreviations, numbers, centuries and decades, punctuation, and possessives, with ‘a focus on style and usage that form the basis of house styles’. Checks are thus not exhaustive, false positives may come up, and context needs to be considered. PI can’t think of every possible exception. For example: ‘daughter-in-law’ is usually hyphenated, but when a sentence such as ‘a daughter in law school’ is flagged, PI relies on you, the editor, to see this and not apply the suggested hyphenation. The takeaway: context is everything, so always carefully check PI’s suggestions!

After a live demo, we learned that the new CMOS style in PI can be combined with any other style in the Windows version. Combining the CMOS style with the UK spelling style is not yet recommended, however. Instead, switch off ‘spelling variations’ when running the CMOS check and then run the UK-style check with all options off except for ‘spelling variations’. Daniel is planning to eventually provide a solution to combine CMOS with other spelling and dictionaries, and he is open to cooperating with other style guides to develop similar plugins. Hence, this wonderful thing can only get better!

Marieke Krijnen is an academic copyeditor and an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She obtained a PhD in Political Science and has a background in Arabic and Middle East studies and urban studies.

In her free time, she enjoys trains, birds, and playing violin. She’s on Twitter as @MariekeGent.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The 2021 CIEP conference: Business data for freelancers

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Abi Saffrey reviewed Business data for freelancers, presented by Maya Berger.

Knowledge (about your business) is power

‘Business data is the key to making informed decisions.’

Maya Berger is an experienced freelance editor who loves data, and in this session, she highlighted the importance of gathering data and then using that data to make smarter business decisions and meet business goals. Maya highlighted a few areas where freelancers can record information and use it to answer specific questions.

Tracking your time

  • How many days off have you taken this month/season/year?
  • How many sick days?
  • How many weekend days have you worked?
  • How many hours are you working each day/week/month?
  • When are the busy times?
  • How many days off do you want next month/season/year?

By tracking hours and days worked, you can identify whether you have the work–life balance you want, whether you need to set/adjust boundaries, or whether you can take action to enable you to work fewer hours or on different days.

CPD

  • How does the content within a CPD activity relate to the editorial work you do and the way you run your business?
  • Is the time spent on the activity proportional to how much it’s going to help you and your work?
  • How do you change your working practices/approach after undertaking a CPD activity?

Tracking the hours spent on watching webinars and reading blog posts – and the topics they cover – can show that too much time is being spent on one topic that may not be directly relevant to your work. Or not enough learning or practice time is being allocated to a tool or issue you deal with every day.

Job satisfaction

  • Are the projects you’re working on moving you towards a desired goal?
  • How many of your projects are in a subject area you are interested in?
  • Which projects drain you or engage you?
  • What kind(s) of work can you look for that will improve your job satisfaction?
  • Have you taken enough time off to stay energised and motivated?

Business expenses

Freelancers must record allowable business expenses for the tax authorities.

  • Are you subscribing to a tool or service you rarely use?
  • Is there a paid-for ad-free version of an app that you use every day?
  • Do you use a tool/service more for personal tasks than for work ones?

Knowing what you’re spending your money on can provide the momentum to cancel a subscription, or invest in something that will make each project go more smoothly.

Rates/fees

  • Do you earn enough to cover your living (and business) expenses?
  • Do your rates reflect the work done, and your skills and expertise?
  • Do your rates cover the time spent on querying, invoicing, communicating and logging the project details?

With this information, you can make an informed decision about raising your rates, and ensure that you build admin time into quotations and fees.

Income

  • How much did you quote?
  • How much money did you receive?
  • How many hours did you estimate the work would take?
  • How many hours did the work actually take?
  • Was the money worth the time and effort?
  • Were there any other benefits or costs?
  • How many projects has a client offered you over a year? How many did you work on?

Client data

  • Where did you find your client?
  • How did you approach them? Did it get you work?
  • Where did your client find you?
  • Why did they approach you?
  • Did they provide feedback?
  • Do they want to work with you again?

It’s possible to collect a huge amount of data about our businesses – we can harness that information and turn it into practical actions and goals, rather than leaving it in a file somewhere to gather dust. The information can help us to understand our value and present that to existing and new clients. It’s good to start small with a spreadsheet or two. Maya set attendees the challenge of tracking one new aspect of their business over the next week; I was still in a post-conference daze and didn’t manage it, but the session’s given me loads of ideas for what to look at over the coming months (and I’ll record how long I spend tinkering with my spreadsheets).


Maya has created a suite of integrated Excel spreadsheets for freelance editors, for the easy management of income, expense and project data: The Editor’s Affairs (TEA).


Abi Saffrey has enjoyed using spreadsheets for over 20 years. She’s an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, offering editorial project management and copyediting to a variety of organisations that publish digital and printed content.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The 2021 CIEP conference: Using Word styles

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Abi Saffrey reviewed Using Word styles, presented by Jill French.

Stylish editing

This session allowed people who have not yet completed the CIEP’s Word for Practical Editing course to benefit from Jill French’s calm and clear approach to explaining something that many editors, let’s be honest, are a bit bamboozled by.

Microsoft Word is packed with tools and functions that many editors never use, but styles are incredibly useful even when a client (or manager) does not ask for them to be applied to a document.

Jill explained that a style is a pre-set combination of font features (size, bold) and paragraph attributes (spacing, indents). Existing styles can be applied or amended using the Style section of the ribbon at the top of the Word window, or by expanding that into the Style Pane (by clicking on the little arrow in the bottom-right corner). As well as applying styles to text, it is possible to add ‘direct formatting’ using the Font and Paragraph options on the ribbon. Direct formatting only affects that one occurrence of the text, whereas Styles can be modified to amend all occurrences throughout the document.

Jill walked us through elements of the Style Pane, including the very useful Style Inspector. The little icon with a magnifying glass gives all the style details of a selected character, word or paragraph. Jill then moved on to cover applying built-in styles, creating new styles and amending a style. As well as looking at the font elements of a style, she covered elements of paragraph formatting, including line spacing, indents (or not) and page breaks. The latter was one of my major takeaways from this session – it’s possible to add a line break to a style; so, for example, each chapter can start on a new page if you add a page break to the chapter heading style.

Jill briefly looked at how styles can help with reordering content. Via the navigation pane (on a PC found on the View ribbon), or by clicking Ctrl+F, it’s possible to see the sections of the document under ‘Headings’. Within that pane, it’s possible to drag one heading to above/below another, which reorders the text within the document – mind blown!

To share styles, it’s possible to share a document with the styles within it, or create a template document (filename.dot) that can be used as the basis for new documents or attached to existing documents.

Jill finished the session by highlighting how Word styles can save time, keep documents under control, and make them (and you) look professional.

The session was a very comprehensive introduction to Word styles, and demonstrated the importance of using this functionality in everyday editing life.


Learn more about working in Microsoft Word in the CIEP course Word for Practical Editing.


Abi Saffrey has been tinkering with Microsoft Word documents for over 20 years.

She’s an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP, offering editorial project management and copyediting to a variety of organisations that publish digital and printed content.

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

A new CMOS style sheet for PerfectIt users

PerfectIt users asked for a CMOS style sheet, and PerfectIt has delivered!

Exciting news – from 10 August 2021, PerfectIt will include a style sheet for the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) for all PerfectIt users, whether on PC or Mac. I think this addition to the program will make many PerfectIt users very happy! The style is an official product that the CMOS team has created for use in PerfectIt.

A valuable tool for editors

In case you are yet to discover PerfectIt, it is one of the best tools available for improving the speed and quality of editing in MS Word. PerfectIt arrived on the scene about 12 years ago as a consistency checker, picking up things such as ‘centre’ and ‘center’, ‘Client’ and ‘client’, ‘8’ and ‘eight’. The program flags these inconsistencies and prompts the user to decide whether to make changes and which option to choose. Over the years, PerfectIt’s capabilities and usefulness have increased. For example, the program now fixes basic formatting issues and can create lists of abbreviations and comments as quick, discrete tasks.

The power of style sheets

Using PerfectIt’s built-in style sheets takes the program to another level because it picks up not just inconsistencies in a document but also deviations from the chosen style. The program has style sheets for different spellings (eg Australian, Canadian and US) and organisations (eg European Union, United Nations and World Health Organization). All style sheets are available in both the PC and Mac versions, although anyone using the PC version of PerfectIt has the added benefit of being able to modify those style sheets or even create their own.

Online style guides

When I first started editing, looking up something in a style guide meant finding the book, consulting the table of contents or the index, then scanning a particular page to find the relevant advice. Today, editors can generally consult an online style guide, making the process much quicker and easier. CMOS was a trailblazer in this regard, with an online version first available in 2006. In Australia, we lacked a local online style guide until recently, when (like buses) three came along at once!

Now, imagine that the power of the online version of CMOS could be combined with that of PerfectIt. Well, that’s exactly what is now on offer for PerfectIt, with an integrated product that shows both the relevant advice from CMOS and the appropriate portion of the manual. This product is available to anyone who is running PerfectIt 5 (the latest version of the program) on a PC or Mac and has a subscription to CMOS Online (although only those using the PC version will be able to customise the style sheet).

PerfectIt + CMOS in action

To investigate the new feature, I ran PerfectIt on a test document, selecting the CMOS style sheet. The first thing it finds is under the ‘Hyphenation of Words’ test, and the sidebar tells me that a word appears with and without a hyphen:

If I want to know more, I simply click on ‘See more from CMOS 7.83’ and, hey presto, the relevant section of CMOS appears (I can scroll down to read the complete section):

The beauty of this system is the seamless link between PerfectIt and CMOS, which allows me to access the relevant advice without leaving my Word document.

In another example, under the test ‘Spelling Variations’, PerfectIt picks up the use of ‘focussed’ and gives this summary:

As above, I can click ‘See more from CMOS 7.1’ to see this particular entry from the manual:

You’ll notice that some of the text is red – those are active links that take me directly to the websites. Some quotes from CMOS text contain links to other parts of the manual; again, these appear in red and take you into the online CMOS.

A highly detailed style sheet

Looking behind the scenes (via the ‘Style Sheets’ section of the PerfectIt tab), we can see what makes up this CMOS style sheet. The first page explains that the style supplements the 17th edition of CMOS and is designed to help users to apply the style and learn how it works.

Clicking on ‘Always find’ in the Style Sheet Editor provides a list of the tests that PerfectIt runs for this style sheet. The list is more extensive than for previous style sheets. For example, in the case of hyphenation, the WHO style sheet has the categories ‘Hyphenation of Phrases’ and ‘Hyphenation of Words’, whereas the CMOS style sheet has those two categories plus numerous subgroups. It also has multiple subgroups under ‘Preferred Spelling’:

If we investigate one of those subgroups, ‘Hyphenation of Age Terms’, we can see where the notes that appear in the style sheet come from:

The text under ‘Instructions’ in the list above is what appears in the sidebar (directly under the name of the test) when PerfectIt is running. This level of detail makes the CMOS style sheet extremely useful.

Congratulations to the team

Having been involved with the various iterations of PerfectIt’s WHO style sheet, I’m aware of the work that’s involved in developing the program’s style sheets. I can only imagine how much harder it must have been to take this to the next level by adding links to CMOS, and I congratulate PerfectIt and CMOS on a job well done. I’d love to see this approach extended to other style guides.

PerfectIt is a fabulous tool for editors, and the addition of the CMOS style sheet has taken it to a whole new level.

Disclosure

The author received a one-year subscription to PerfectIt and CMOS in return for writing this review.

About Dr Hilary Cadman

Dr Hilary Cadman is an established technical editor and trainer. She is passionate about helping fellow editors to save time and improve the quality of their work by becoming confident with technology. She runs online introductory and advanced courses in PerfectIt. Find out more at: cadmantraining.com

New to PerfectIt? Try taking one of Hilary’s online, self-paced PerfectIt courses. CIEP members receive a 25% discount on all Cadman Training courses.

Log in to CIEP as a member > Training > Promoted courses > Cadman Training

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Posted by Liz Jones, information team editor.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Flying solo: Using your records to price jobs and make business decisions

This article by Sue Littleford, for our regular Flying Solo column in member newsletter The Edit, looks at how to use Excel’s filter function to help you decide how much you’d like to be paid and how long you need to do the work. It also considers some other decisions you may want your records to help you with.

The Going Solo Toolkit contains a spreadsheet for you to record your work (available to CIEP members only). There’s an older, simpler work record available, and I daresay many people have devised their own record-keeping system.

Everything you could ever want to know about calculating a price for a job is covered by the CIEP guide Pricing a Project: How to prepare a professional quotation by Melanie Thompson. So, this article is going to look at how to extract the information from records to help you arrive at a decision on how much you’d want to be paid, and how long you need to do the work, and then take a look at some other decisions you may want your records to help you with.

You already know that you need to record the work you do for your tax return, and you already know that if you record – or calculate – the right detail you can use that record to inform your estimating and quotes for jobs, both in time and in money.

But I know that many people struggle a bit with using Excel, so how on earth do you get the information back out of the spreadsheet? The more data you have, the more useful your records should be, but the more data you have, the harder it can be to see at a glance what you want to find out.

The filter

I’m going to talk about just one tool in Excel: the filter. Once you get to grips with it – and that won’t take long – you can use that same tool over and over, layering it up, even, to get an analysis out of your records of whatever information you’re focused on.

You can, of course, sort your rows of data in order, just as you can in Word, but the filter doesn’t disturb the original order of your spreadsheet, and enables you to do what amounts to multiple sorting, so it’s more powerful and less bothersome, which is why I use it so much.

I’m going to make a big assumption and show examples based on the Work Record spreadsheet from the toolkit. The principles are exactly the same, as long as you keep your records in Excel. If you keep your records in Word or on paper, you won’t have access to these features. Perhaps this article will encourage you to give Excel a try!

The screenshots here are taken on a PC running Office 365. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve hidden a few columns.

If you use a Mac, the principles involved are still relevant to you, and I’ve linked at the end to some YouTube videos, and Microsoft articles, on filtering for both Macs and PCs.

Right, to business.

The filter is your best friend when it comes to interrogating your spreadsheet. It’s in the Editing group on the Home tab, and it looks like this: Click on it, and you’ll see this:

The filter lets you select all records in a column with a particular value, but you can be a bit fancy about the values you use.

Let’s keep it simple for now.

The handiest way is to make the filter available on every column in your spreadsheet. You can do it the really easy way, and just click at the top left corner where the row labels meet the column labels, where the little triangle is:

Then click on Sort and Filter, then Filter, as you can see in the first two screenshots. A little down arrow will appear at the top of each column (you can’t filter by rows), and they look like this:Click on any of those down arrows and you’ll see you get a list of the unique entries in that column – and if you’re looking at dates, you’ll get a family-tree-like menu with checkboxes, so you can select by year, by month or by day.

Now you’re cooking!

Select an item, and your spreadsheet will now show you only the rows that match that selection. So you can filter by client, by type of work, by fee earned, by imprint, by word count, by rate per hour …

Coming to a price – or evaluating a proffered fee

Suppose you’re asked to do a copyedit of 75,000 words. To get a feel for how long that takes you, and how much you’ll want to charge, you may decide to filter your records to jobs in the range 70,000–80,000 words.

This is the starting view of the spreadsheet I mocked up for this article:Clicking on the little down arrow at the head of the word count column will give you a list of the unique values in that column, sorted in ascending order:

Now you have a choice of how to proceed. You could simply uncheck the (Select All) box, then either click every value between 70,020 and 79,989 words, or you could click on the Number Filters option, just above it.

That gives you more options: above average, below average, Top 10 … but let’s keep to the immediate job in hand. You want to filter on the jobs you’ve already done, between 70,000 and 80,000 words. So click on the Greater Than option:type 70000 in the first box, keep the And radio button selected and then use the short drop-down box beneath to select ‘is less than’ and type in 80000:and click OK. The box will disappear and you’re left with a list of rows of data where the word count falls between those two values. As you can see, the original row order is preserved.You can stack up filters, so can filter down to just proofreading jobs or just copyediting jobs, or just developmental editing jobs, or what have you. Because I’m currently assessing a copyediting job, that’s what I’m going to pick.And that shrinks the list further, to:Now you can easily see what you’ve earned before doing copyediting for that kind of word count. You can see jobs ranging from 48 to 1,021 notes. What about the job you’re assessing? Where does it fall on this spectrum? You can see that jobs had few tables, but up to 52 figures, and you had a mixture of Harvard and short-title referencing. You can see how many days overall the project took, how many hours, what kind of speed you were achieving and whether you had a large number of authors or just one.

If you work in fiction, or in some trade nonfiction, you may have no notes, no references, and quite possibly no tables or figures. But you would still see your editing or proofreading speed, what you got paid and how complex the job was.

Whether you use just one filter, or whether you stack them, you do need to turn them all off once you’ve finished, or risk being really confused next time you open the spreadsheet, with a chunk of your data apparently missing (I speak from experience!). You can see which column(s) a filter is active on as it changes from the simple down arrow you’ve already seen to this, a down arrow alongside the filter symbol: 

You can see it in situ on the type of work and word count columns. Click on each active one and select the ‘Clear filter from …’ option, or to clear all the filters in one action, go back to the original Sort and Filter button and click on it, then either on Filter (to toggle it off) or on the option below, Clear.

Establishing a probable duration

Using these same principles, you can estimate how long the job is likely to take you. In the last screenshot of the filtered spreadsheet, you can see the words per hour range from 1,111 to 1,743. You still have the information about complexity – referencing, notes, artwork – so how does that stack up against the job you’re evaluating, or quoting on? Are you likely to be nearer the lower or upper end of this range?

When you’ve worked out how many hours you’ll probably need for the job, you can then see when and whether the job will fit in your schedule, assuming that the quality of the raw manuscript isn’t significantly different from the manuscripts you’ve already edited or proofread. That’s a big assumption, so think about that, too, when you’re looking at the sample to provide a quote, or the full manuscript to decide whether the fee being offered will be enough.

At the left-hand side of the spreadsheet, you have the number of elapsed days that the previous jobs took. That will also help you decide whether you can take the job on: how well does it fit in your schedule? And what else is happening at that time? Do you have some other commitments in your diary? Did you plan on taking some time off?

Incidentally, I’ve personalised my copy of the spreadsheet and include a column for days worked, too, that I take from the time-log for the job. I can then tell whether I was all-hands-to-the-pump or whether I was working at a more sedate pace. For the first job in the screenshot, 29 days elapsed from starting work to finishing it. But did I actually work 15 days, 20 days, 29 days of the 29? That will fine-tune the information and help me decide whether I can fit the proffered job in the timescale wanted.

I always give myself plenty of wiggle room when working for indie authors, particularly, and when necessary I negotiate with corporate clients on the deadline as well as the fee. Life happens, as the saying goes, so you want to have the time to do the work at a sensible and safe pace, and have some time in your back pocket for contingencies.

The information stored in your spreadsheet can support your quotations and evaluations, if you actively use it.

Who is my worst payer?

This is a question you should ask yourself at least once a year. And when you’ve found out who it is, in an ideal world you would fire them and make room for better-paying clients. You may have a sound reason to stick with a low-paying client, of course. Perhaps it’s work for a cause you want to support. Perhaps the work is really interesting, the deadlines are sensible and the client is a delight to work with. Then aim for the next worst-paying and fire them, instead! Don’t burn your bridges, though; just be ‘too busy’ the next time they ask so it’s open to you to accept work from them another time, if you need to or just want to.

Always take a look at the latest version of the CIEP’s suggested minimum rates, to inform your thinking.

But the first step is finding out who is your least-good payer.

The Work Record spreadsheet in the Going Solo Toolkit gives you two ways of looking at your earnings: per hour and per thousand words.

First, if you offer more than one service, you’ll want to filter by service: copyediting, developmental editing, project management or proofreading, for example. There’s no point comparing oranges with apples.

We’ve already seen that putting a filter on a column and then opening up the filter gives you the unique values in that column, listed in ascending order. That may be all you need. Select the lowest value – or two, or three or more – and see who those clients are. Or filter on numerical values, less than £x per hour, or less than £x per thousand words.

There’s an ultra-quick way of taking a look at how much your clients vary, though. Click on the top of the column to select it, and look in the status bar at the foot of the spreadsheet, towards the right side. If I select the £ per hour column in the spreadsheet I mocked up for this article, I see this:That shows me that my rate per hour runs on a spectrum from £21.98 to £38.11, via an average of £30.28. If you do this on a spreadsheet of your own, and don’t get these values showing up, then right-click on the status bar and start ticking some of the options in the pop-up box:The ones you want are in the third section from the bottom of this list, from ‘Average’ to ‘Sum’.

Am I happy to be earning £21.98 per hour? What’s the minimum I want to accept from now on? Let’s say £27.50 for the sake of demonstration.

So on the £ per hour column, I set the number filter to ‘less than 27.5’, in the same way as before, and I get this result:

I can see that the three clients who paid me less than £27.50 per hour are all different, and for only one job each. Two of the three worst payers per hour were for proofreading. But look at that difference in £ per 000 words: from £12.88 to £17.68, although the lowest rate per 000 words paid more per hour than the job below it. I can see that the good £ per 000 words job had a lot of references and notes, which would have slowed me down, and yes, that’s reflected in the words per hour column. Do I want to fire Barbara Seville? Let’s take another look at the data and filter just the jobs for that publisher, turning off the filter on the £ per 000 words column to get everything for that publisher:Now I can see that low fee in context. That low rate is looking like an anomaly, and all the other jobs I’ve done for them paid more than my line in the sand of £27.50 per hour. Maybe I’ll keep accepting work from Barbara Seville, but keep an eye on how the fees work out.

The worst payer of all was Barry Island Press, so let’s look at them in context. Clear the checkbox for Barbara Seville from the filter and tick Barry Island Press:I’ve only done two jobs for them, but I can see that their proofreading rate is a lot less than their copyediting rate, although it’s hovering just a few pennies above the suggested minimum hourly rate (as at the time of this writing). Maybe my decision will be to decline any proofreading from them, but keep on copyediting for them – or maybe I’ll decide to ask for an increased fee, if I otherwise like working for them, and see what happens.

Play around with the filters: in the numerical filters, the above average and below average are useful for deciding who you want to work for less, and who you want to work for more often. The Top Ten option allows you to pick a number other than ten, and the bottom as well as the top of the pile – you could easily find your top three earning jobs, your bottom three earning jobs, or ten jobs, actually up to 500 in either direction, but I suppose ‘Top Ten’ is snappier than the ‘Top or Bottom up to 500’.

Additional help

There are, as you may expect, YouTube videos and other resources on how filtering works. Here’s a small selection:

For PCs

  1. Microsoft’s instructions on how to apply filters: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/filter-data-in-a-range-or-table-01832226-31b5-4568-8806-38c37dcc180e#ID0EAACAAA=Windows
  2. This video is by a Microsoft employee: youtube.com/watch?v=BtiVbY7lhqw
  3. Here’s another guide on filtering, which includes keyboard shortcuts if you prefer those to all-mouse: youtube.com/watch?v=wMlTDXPEjag
  4. And if you’re very new to spreadsheets, here’s a beginner’s YouTube video: youtube.com/watch?v=k1VUZEVuDJ8

For Macs

  1. Microsoft’s instructions on how to apply filters: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/filter-a-list-of-data-8ec38534-e2f1-41d0-b8bb-e3f5fcad95a0?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US
  2. Some intermediate features, including filters, are covered in this video (if you want to skip to filters, they show up at 19:34): youtube.com/watch?v=Z9sKEjHaIm4
  3. And if you’re very new to spreadsheets, here’s a beginner’s YouTube video: youtube.com/watch?v=znqfM4ligew

About Sue Littleford

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences.

 

 

About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:

 

Photo credits: numbers by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Flying solo: Turn hindsight into foresight with checklists

In this new column, Sue Littleford looks at running an editorial business and how to make things more efficient and effective.

Checklists. Write them for your processes, use them consciously and keep them updated. Don’t try to make one checklist work for every type of job.

I could stop there, but we’re learning that the active use of checklists is a gamechanger in avoiding mistakes. The World Health Organization published the lifesaving (or merely inconvenience-saving) results of using checklists in 2008. In 2009, one of the drivers behind the checklist movement in medicine, Atul Gawande, published The Checklist Manifesto. Malcolm Gladwell is a fan. Also in 2009, Apollo astronauts called checklists their ‘fourth crewmember’. In 2019, Scotland reported that, since introducing checklists in 2008, surgical mortality rates had fallen by 37%. Checklists have been applied to air safety since the 1930s with great results.

Lives have been saved, money has been saved, time has been saved, reputations have been saved. What’s not to like?

Checklists help in three ways

  1. You need to think through your processes. Once you see them laid out in front of you, look for gaps and replication, and streamline your systems. That’s an immediate efficiency gain on every single job you do.
  2. They keep you focused. Don’t just glance down a checklist you’ve used a gazillion times and say to yourself, ‘Yeah, that looks OK, I’ve probably done everything’. Pay attention as you work through the list, and tick off each item deliberately. (Like exercise equipment, it doesn’t work if it stays in the box.)
  3. They reduce cognitive overload and anxiety. No need to rely on memory for all the steps, nor to worry you’ve missed one.

You could cover your processes for:

  • taking in a new job and setting up your skeleton records
  • communicating with others
  • doing the initial clean-up
  • converting US to UK English
  • maintaining adherence to the client’s style
  • maintaining consistency between chapters
  • final checks and polishing
  • handover and invoicing.

I’m sure you’ll think of more, relevant to your own practice.

Tailor your checklists to suit each client and their workflow, and each type of job. A proofreading checklist will look very different from a copyediting checklist, which will look very different from a manuscript critique checklist.

The cardinal error is to aim for one big checklist to cover everything. That’s a bad idea for two reasons:

  • you simply can’t cover everything. The unexpected happens, the novel happens; and
  • long checklists are confusing and difficult to follow. They become wearisome and self-defeating.

Instead, have a separate, short checklist for each part of a job.

What a checklist is not

It’s not a list of instructions. It doesn’t contain the detail of how you do your job. It doesn’t remove your autonomy (after all, it’s your checklist and you can change it). It’s also not your first attempt – you will find you need to refine it quite a bit, initially, as you figure out what you need to be reminded about to work well and consistently, as well as what you never forget, and therefore don’t need to include.

What a checklist is

It’s a set of reminders to do the stuff that would make you look stupid if you missed it, and to do the stuff you find you often forget, even though you know you should always do it. It’s your failsafe. And it’s a timesaver, as you work efficiently consistently.

What a good checklist is

It’s a practical, precise, brief and unambiguous reminder of the essential steps you need to take. It underlines your priorities, it stops you forgetting the important stuff in a moment of inattention and it makes you look good to your client or boss.

The big secret: checklists go out of date

I have a client that I’ve worked with for several years, starting out on books and then becoming the sole copyeditor for a journal. I could use the same checklist for both, right? Same publisher? Every time, I sighed heavily about bits of the checklist that were irrelevant, and about the extra bits I needed to remember to check, different for the journal and books. Then the publisher updated their style guide – about a fifth of the checklist was defunct.

Finally, I decided it was time to review the checklists I use most often. I realised that the core of my final-checks checklist had stayed essentially unchanged for about ten years. Ouch. What I’d needed to spell out for myself back then, now only needed a short reminder or could be omitted altogether.

I’d been dotting about the checklist because the flow was no longer logical now I’d matured as a copyeditor. If you’re jumping around your checklist, it’s no longer methodical; it’s an accident waiting to happen.

A checklist for checklists

1. Document your processes

  • List out what you do for each stage of each type of job and for each client.
  • Do you tackle these tasks in the most efficient and logical order? Shunt things around until the sequence is right.

2. Write a checklist that’s no more than one page long

  • If it’s longer, ask yourself why. Are you trying to write an end-to-end checklist? Stop! Short checklists work better than long ones. Don’t include details.
  • Write the checklist as bullet points, and use the empty checkbox symbol as the bullet (I like Wingdings character codes 113, 109 and 114. In Word, Insert tab > Symbols > Font > Wingdings > Character code).
  • Or set out the checklist as a table. I do that if I have to change a bunch of chapters from US to UK English, for example, with the chapters as the rows and each feature that needs attention as the columns.
  • Print out the checklist to use it. Physically tick things off as you complete each task. Your eye is less likely to betray you than working down an onscreen list, but if you’re really trying to reduce your use of paper, use highlighting or set up checkbox content controls in each list to ensure you miss nothing.

3. Set up each checklist as a template

  • As you start each job, open the final-checks checklist you’ll be using and save it specifically for that job. As you work on the text, add to the checklist any tailored checks you need to make at the end of the work – author’s tics, layout issues, anything at all that will add to the accuracy of the finished job.

4. Keep the checklist fresh to your eyes

  • It’s easy to stop paying attention to something you see all the time. To stop your checklists from becoming wallpaper, change the typeface every few uses.

5. Review your checklists

  • How well did the job you just finished go?
  • Were there any catches made at the last moment that could usefully be added to a checklist?
  • How well did the checklists support each aspect of the job? Has this client changed their style or requirements?
  • As you become more experienced, can your checklist be condensed?
  • Have you started using a new tool that should be added to a checklist – a new macro, perhaps?

6. Review your processes

  • You’re not standing still: with every job you gain experience and increase your competence. Review your processes periodically to check whether you’re being as efficient as you can – diarise reminders to do this, or maybe add it as the final item in the last checklist for any given job.
  • Review constantly: be alert to your weak spots. What does your eye tend to glide past? What tasks do you like least and may be inclined to skip or rush? What feedback have clients given you?

Thoughtfully crafted and well-maintained checklists turn hindsight into foresight. And that’s invaluable.

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford is the author of the CIEP guide Going Solo, now in its second edition. She went solo with her own freelance copyediting business, Apt Words, in March 2007 and specialises in scholarly humanities and social sciences. Before that, she had been the payroll manager for a major government department for some 14 years. Her whole career had been markedly numbers based – both in central government and in the private sector – even though she became the go-to wordsmith everywhere she worked. She eventually switched to words full-time, transferring her skills and experience to hone her business efficiency and effectiveness.


Photo credit: hand-written checklist by StockSnap, both on Pixabay.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

Making the most of Microsoft Word

By Alison Shakspeare

It’s a fierce world out there, particularly for freelancers, and freelance editors need to make the most of every second when their hourly income rate depends on it.

Although ‘other software is available’, Microsoft’s Word is still the go-to writing program across the English-speaking world. Therefore, maximum familiarity and minimum ineptitude have got to be good things – and those are on offer through the CIEP’s Word for Practical Editing course.

I’ve been using Word since expensive new IBM PCs were gingerly invested in by my then-employers. There was no money for training and an infant worldwide web, so when you had a query it was a case of wading through cumbersome, incomprehensible manuals or picking the brains of those who’d been using it for longer. So, over the years I’ve gradually absorbed and researched ways and means of improving my knowledge and use of this ever-updating, universal software – but it’s amazing what you fail to pick up on if you jog along on your old familiar track.

You can tell the course has been written by practising editors because it acknowledges the numerous approaches to editing tasks. Therefore you don’t feel that there is only one way to use the program or to find and use the tools. The course uses screencasts as well as documentation, so you can absorb the information in the way that suits your brain best. And when you’ve finished you end up with the study notes, exercises, model answers and a range of useful resource downloads to refer back to.

What Word for Practical Editing is not is a beginner’s guide to using Word. You do have to be a user, and you do have to know your way around the basic conventions and tools, or you’ll find yourself floundering in a sea of unfamiliar terms.

What Word for Practical Editing does do, which may be unexpected, is widen your knowledge of working in the editing world in a business-like manner and of dealing with clients.

Whether you use a PC or a Mac, this course is for you if you want to:

  • extend your knowledge on approaching a project, beginning with the client brief before you approach the Word manuscript and tips on setting up the program and its tools, and different ways of viewing it
  • improve your ability to find errors and inconsistencies – not only are you told how to use the inbuilt Find & Replace (F&R), Spelling & Grammar and Macro tools and are referred to some great add-in programs, but you are also given a useful list of common errors any editor needs to be sure they are clearing up
  • clearly communicate your findings with your client – from checking the compatibility of your Word versions, to being sure that what you receive matches the brief, to different ways of showing Track Changes; you are also given useful templates for a stylesheet, an invoice and a feedback form
  • check that you are using styles and templates as effectively as possible – there are several layers to using these universal bugbears, and if every Word user were sent a copy of this information the air might be less blue
  • widen your knowledge of shortcuts – and you can download a useful list of them to keep referring to until they become second nature
  • gain insights on archiving and CPD, because jobs aren’t always done with once you’ve sent off the edited Word doc.

I will probably not end up using all the shortcuts the course introduced me to, even though they save on keyboard time and could even ward off RSI, but I’ve certainly expanded my knowledge of what Word offers and tightened up my use of it – and therefore increased my hourly income.

What more could you want?

Alison Shakspeare came to editing after a career in arts marketing and research for leading national and regional organisations. Her client base has expanded as her skillset has grown from basic copyediting to offering design and layout services. She truly enjoys the CPD she gains from working with academics, business organisations and a growing number of self-publishing authors.

 


Photo credit: Love to learn by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

How can I be more productive? Part 2

By Abi Saffrey

Keeping track of time and projects (and money)

Part 1 looked at ways we can increase our focus and reduce distractions when we’re working. This post looks at efficient and speedy ways we can keep an eye on our time and projects.

I once went on a three-day training course where the trainer told us to leave our watches behind. She took the clock off the training room wall. And we weren’t working on computers. I can’t really remember what the moral of the story was, but I do remember how odd it felt to have no idea how much time had passed, and how long it was until lunch. There was certainly some discussion about how we are all pretty much constantly aware of the time, with it in the corner of our computer screens. And that weird thing about looking at a watch, seeing the time, and then having to check again barely a minute later.

Anyway … Now I keep tabs on what I’m doing pretty much every minute of my working day, and I know what projects I have to prioritise this week and next (and occasionally next month too). Here are a selection of tools that could help you maximise your monitoring – and if you know of something good that isn’t mentioned, please do share in the comments below.

Time monitoring

It’s really important, for your business records, to keep track of how much time you spend on each task or project. Even if you’re not charging an hourly rate, you can use the time taken on one project to estimate how much time a future similar project will fill.

You can use paper and pen to note down times as you work, or Excel: a recent CIEP forum post highlighted some Excel tips for time tracking (following Maya Berger’s excellent conference session on using Excel to manage your business). The Pomodoro Technique (covered in Part 1) lets you assign 25-minute blocks to each task, and then tally those blocks up at the end of the day.

A popular time tracker is Toggl Track (previously known as Toggl), which has a web version as well as desktop and mobile apps. The desktop version pops up regularly if you’re not tracking your time to prompt you to start; the easy-to-use reports (only accessible via a web browser) can be filtered to only show specific projects or specific timeframes; and you get a weekly email summarising what you’ve been doing (free and paid plans available).

RescueTime is a desktop app that keeps an eye on what software you’re using (and which websites you’re visiting), and then categorises your activity – you can then finetune that and add more granular details if you wish. You can set goals and receive a weekly report. The premium (paid-for) version has distraction-blocking software, so can help you stay away from your favourite procrastination websites (free and paid plans available).

FreshBooks is accounting software, but all its paid plans come with a time-tracking app included. The time-tracking data can be automatically pulled into an invoice and sent directly to clients (free trial, followed by paid plans).

Work management

How do you keep track of what you need to get done today, tomorrow, next week? There’s always the classic notebook option (I do like a Collins Metropolitan Glasgow), or a physical diary (I’m trying out a BLOX one in 2021).

All laptops, phones and tablets have an inbuilt calendar of some kind or another, and they have very similar functionality.

I suspect Excel is used by most self-employed editors and proofreaders to collate the details of the work they’ve done – I use a spreadsheet to note down all the information about a project, and a summary sheet tallies up my total earnings, and my average hourly rates. Every financial year I copy the last spreadsheet, remove all the data and start filling it in again. The CIEP will soon be launching a range of Excel templates to record work, finances and CPD to accompany a new edition of its Going Solo guide. Maya Berger has created The Editor’s Affairs (TEA) – a selection of spreadsheets that will give you an insight into what you’re earning and what you could be charging (paid for, with personalisation available).

Todoist is a comprehensive but simple task manager – or to-do list – app; it allows you to add tasks by forwarding emails, and has integration with many other apps and tools (including Alexa) (free and paid plans).

Trello is based on Kanban boards, a project-management tool where tasks can be moved from one section within a board to another, or across boards. This has been the one thing I’ve tried in recent years that has really worked for me: I’ve been using Trello for about two years, and create a board for each week. Within each board I have a list for each day, as well as a master ‘to do’ list and a ‘done’ list. I start the week with all my cards (tasks) in the ‘to do’ list, and drag them across to the day on which I want to get them done. At the end of the week, I move all the things I haven’t done into the next week’s board and close down the now old board (free).

A quiet week on Trello

Sue Browning wrote a blog post last year about Cushion, an app that helps you plan your schedule, track your time and sort out your invoices (free trial, then paid-for plans).

There are lots of accounting software/app options too; QuickBooks, FreeAgent and FreshBooks are set up for sole traders, and can save you time when it comes to tracking expenses, invoicing and preparing your tax returns (all free trial, then paid-for plans).

The good news is that these two posts on productivity have barely scratched the surface of what’s available. New options appear all the time, so keep in touch on the CIEP forums, or comment below if there’s something you really rate that hasn’t been covered. We may even be able to produce a third blog on productivity. Now that’s what I call productive.

Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She’ll try any productivity gimmick or gadget but really didn’t get on with bullet journaling. A member of the CIEP’s information team, she coordinates this blog and edits Editorial Excellence, the Institute’s external newsletter.

 


Andy Coulson’s most recent What’s e-new? post covers some other tools that can help you boost your business in 2021.


Photo credits: clock by Sonja Langford on Unsplash

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

How can I be more productive? Part 1

By Abi Saffrey

I looked up the dictionary definition for ‘productivity’ (on Lexico).

productivity      [mass noun] 1. The state or quality of being productive.

Oh.

productive        [adjective] 1. Producing or able to produce large amount of goods, crops or other commodities.

1.2. Achieving a significant amount or result.

Productivity is something that repeatedly comes up in online discussions and ‘build your business’ blog posts, and it’s seen as something that we all have to strive for. Certainly, as a business owner, if I can raise my productivity, I can raise my profits (without increasing my working hours).

As I started to think more about tools that can increase an editor’s or proofreader’s productivity, it dawned on me that there are two main areas where changes can be made:

  • the work itself – editing/proofreading more efficiently, and
  • the management of the work/your time.

Editing and proofreading productivity

In this category, we have tools like keyboard shortcuts, Find and Replace, Word styles and templates, PerfectIt, macros and predictive text/phrase expanders. These are covered in the CIEP’s fact sheet ‘Increase your editing efficiency in Word’, and its new course Word for Practical Editing (there are even rumours of Efficient Editing webinars in 2021). There’s a whole forum for CIEP members on macros too. Proofreaders can use stamps to add BSI symbols to PDFs (Louise Harnby’s blog – and the accompanying stamps – is a good place to start).

There’s plenty of stuff ‘out there’ on this topic, so that’s enough about that.

All the other stuff

There are huge potential gains to be made from making small changes to the ways we manage our work. In this category, productivity tools can be separated out into four elements:

  • increased focus
  • distraction reduction
  • time monitoring and management
  • work management.

(The latter two will be covered in Part 2 – coming soon.)

There are so many apps and tools that you could use to cover these four elements, some free, some with a small one-off cost, others with an annual subscription. There is of course some cross-over between these four elements, so you may decide to use something to track your time and find that it’s also a good way to keep on top of your to-do list. The tools and apps that I mention here are ones that either I’ve used myself or have been recommended by other editorial professionals – there are of course many more out there, and if you’ve got a gem that you think others may like to try, do let me know in the comments.

It’s very easy to procrastinate by searching for the ‘right’ tool to stop you from procrastinating …

The Pomodoro Technique

I’m singling out the Pomodoro Technique because it can help with distraction reduction, increased focus, time monitoring and management, and work management if you take the time to learn the whole technique. Pomodoro is well known for its tomato timer, but there’s also a book to help you master using Pomodoros (25-minute sessions) to manage your daily schedule and predict the time that future projects will take. There are printable sheets to track what you’re doing, what you’re going to do and to log any distracting ‘oh, I need to do that’ thoughts that pop up while you’re in a Pomodoro. And the tomato timer looks cool.

Increased focus

The ticking of a timer (whether it’s a Pomodoro one or any simple kitchen one) can really focus the mind. And its buzzing can really startle you out of your zone!

Several CIEP forum discussions have mentioned apps or websites that provide sounds or music that focus the mind. You can adjust the sounds in Noisli to get your ideal combination of trees rustling in the wind, rain, waves or coffee shop background burble (free and paid plans available). [email protected] offers ‘personalized focus music to help you get stuff done’ (free trial, then paid plans). Spotify divides its playlists into genres and moods: Focus, Chill and Wellness are good places to start (free and paid plans available).

Sometimes what you need to get your focus back is to take a break. WorkRave monitors your keyboard and mouse usage, and gets you to take breaks – and it can enforce a daily computer time limit too (free). The Pomodoro Technique encourages a short break after every Pomodoro, and a longer break after every four Pomodoros. My fitness tracker watch likes me to take 250 steps every hour, and it’ll buzz at ten minutes to each hour if I haven’t managed that (I can tell I’m focused when I think about making up the steps and it’s already 20 past the next hour …) Or just drink a lot of water while you’re working to encourage ‘natural’ breaks.

Distraction reduction

Is this blog post distracting you from that thing that you said you absolutely must get done today? Sorry about that. Work out what drags your attention away from what you should be focused on. Is it social media, the news, your furry companion, the notifications on your phone? Once you know what your distractors are, you can find ways to get rid of, or at least lessen, them. Pretty much all the distraction-stopping apps ask you to list distracting websites that they will block or limit your time on.

StayFocusd is a Google Chrome add-in that blocks certain websites – add a site to your ‘blocked’ list, decide how long you’re allowed on those blocked sites each day, and get on with what you should be doing. It also has a Nuclear Option so if you absolutely must not look at anything at all on the internet for an hour (or three), hit that button and get focused (free).

If you fancy growing some trees (virtual AND real) while you work, try Forest. Tell Forest how long you want to focus for, and which tree you’d like to grow, and then it won’t let you touch your phone or browse certain websites (if you opt for the Google Chrome extension) for that time. If you try, it’ll give you a good telling-off and make you feel guilty about withering a tree (free and paid plans available).

Freedom is a mobile and desktop app – list distracting websites, set times when you don’t want to use those websites, and watch Freedom’s butterfly tell you that you are free to do other things (I like this positive emphasis). It also has ‘Focus sounds’ – a London coffee shop, a busy Californian office, a beach haven and many other soundscapes can fill your IRL working space (free trial, then paid-for plans).


Keep an eye out for Part 2, which will look at time and work management tools.


Abi Saffrey is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She’ll try any productivity gimmick or gadget but really didn’t get on with bullet journaling. A member of the CIEP’s information team, she coordinates this blog and edits Editorial Excellence, the Institute’s external newsletter.

 


Photo credits: You got this by sydney Rae on Unsplash; Pomodoro Technique timer by Abi Saffrey.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.