Tag Archives: productivity

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.

 

Relative density: kids and coping in the time of COVID-19

By Cathy Tingle

It’s Tuesday. I was supposed to write this blog yesterday. According to our COVID-19 routine, on Mondays my husband runs ‘school’ for my two children, aged 7 and 9. But yesterday the kids were particularly restless. They didn’t want to do the tasks set by their teachers. The younger one kept interrupting me in my ‘office’ (bedroom). There was a lot of shrieking as they chased each other around the house. Add to that the summons to buy our possessions back at their ‘shop’ (I couldn’t miss that: there was an iPad going for 45p), a surprise Zoom meeting for my husband, and some complicated new logging-on process for online school followed by my son sending his friends excited greetings (which had to be typed, finger by finger, on my laptop), and my day was pretty much shot to pieces as far as writing was concerned.

Hello again, old routines

We parents are used to the feeling that our best-laid work plans are precarious. You might be halfway through editing a chapter and the school phones to say your daughter has a tummy ache and can she be collected. You could plan an evening of proofreading but your son decides now is the time to find getting to sleep difficult. It goes with the territory.

But this prolonged uncertainty about when we can work is new for most. Or, rather, it’s a revisiting of something many of us experienced when our kids were tiny. In a recent CIEP forum thread about parenting, members described a common pattern. As a newish parent, to find time to work you rely on nap times, evenings and weekends (the last if there’s a partner or other co-carer to share the load). A little way along the line you can then add the hours that playgroups and nurseries might give you (sometimes only a couple of mornings a week, but it’s something). CIEP members reported having to take laptops or study books on family holidays.

The long and winding quest for productivity

Then, one blessed day, they get to school. Once you’ve got over the surprise that a day at primary school isn’t actually as long as you thought, and realised your most productive times of the day are not during those six hours (one of our editors only really hits her stride at 2.30pm – she has to leave the house to fetch the kids at 3pm), you get the high school years. The kids can at least find their way to school and back, but transporting them to extracurricular activities might take time. And at home? ‘The younger one [14] does seem to feel the need to talk to me about random things when I’m trying to work’, one of our editors reported. Another, whose children have now left home, comments: ‘What I learnt was that a 5-second question requiring only yes or no would cost me 10 to 15 minutes’ work. That was how long it took before I had everything back in my head.’ Bear this in mind when you’re thinking, during these lockdown days, ‘My teenagers don’t require a lot of attention. Why on earth aren’t I more productive?’

So, while we’re required to use ‘school’ hours to educate our children ourselves, many of us are grabbing evening work, weekend work, first-thing-in-the-morning work, as we did in the early years, and as many of us still do in the school holidays. One CIEP member with three children starts working at 5.30am; another uses the hour before the family stirs to answer emails and prioritise her day’s work to avoid stress later. Sometimes there is a tag-team within the parent unit, with one parent covering mornings, the other afternoons, or, if the other parent lives somewhere else, with children going away for a couple of days or more each week. If all else fails, we’re sitting with everyone else with our laptops, snatching ten minutes here and there.

No answers, just a few tips

Many people choose to become freelance precisely because of the flexibility it offers when you have a family. But many editing and proofreading parents are finding lockdown difficult, and it’s not the bare fact of spending more time with our children that’s making us feel like this – of course not. We love them. It’s the pressure of balancing working and caring that’s the problem. If we get paid by the project and don’t have time to complete projects, or we’re paid by the hour and our hours are vastly reduced, how’s that going to work out? It’s worrying, and we don’t have any clear answers, apart from to investigate any government support for self-employed people during this crisis. But here are a few tips for negotiating work and life right now.

  • If you have work, make sure your clients know your situation. Many of them will be in the same boat and will understand, but at the very least it removes the terrifying feeling that you have absolutely no wiggle room on your projects. You might not need to ask for extra time, but knowing you could in an emergency helps everyone.
  • This isn’t the time to be aiming high, so don’t put pressure on yourself to be marketing or rebuilding your website. Don’t listen to those people who talk about achieving great things in lockdown. The achievement level you should be aiming for is ‘coping’.
  • Easier said than done, but if you can, separate work and caring for your children. We often feel we do neither very well, but trying to do them concurrently just confirms this feeling.
  • If you do get a quiet few moments while they’re doing their maths worksheet or drawing a flower, tackle those mundane tasks that might help your business. Personally, I’m deleting old emails. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for forever and it will be useful once we’re all up and running again not to have (cough) 45,958 unread messages in my inbox.
  • Screens aren’t the enemy. From the BBC Bitesize educational programmes to the fantastic Horrible Histories and Operation Ouch!, telly can educate, entertain and buy you some valuable time, and there are a wealth of online museum tours, story readings, science demonstrations and language tutorials too. It doesn’t need to be highbrow – kids will find educational opportunities in most things. When I sought reassurance that there were educational benefits to the Captain Underpants Movie, another CIEP member testified that her son had gained three things from it: an enthusiasm for writing comic books; an introduction to classical music; and an ability to execute armpit farts. All of which will be invaluable when filling in his UCAS form, I’m sure you’ll agree.
  • Take that #StetWalk, as we say in the editing world. Get out for your daily exercise with your child(ren), whether you feel like it or not. It will do everyone good, and the break from work may mean you’re more productive this evening when things are quieter.
  • When you do try to work, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t concentrate very well. This is a completely natural reaction to everything going on in the world, and something that was reported by a number of CIEP members.
  • It might be that we can accomplish more together than apart right now. Reach out to others you could team up with. One member says that one of the lessons she has learned over many years is that ‘some of the most valuable things I do in my business are not done alone; they’re shared’.
  • Sneak off now and then. Not out of your front gate: to the kitchen, or the garden, or into your own choice of fiction, or a podcast. Too often I find myself retreating to Twitter, and that ends up being far from a moment of peace. Find other ways to escape, if you can.
  • As you’ll all be living under the same roof in these conditions for some time yet, try to focus on what matters. As one member says: ‘being extra kind is more important than ever, and remembering that it really, really doesn’t matter whether they learn their grammar or long division is helpful’. Another says: ‘Every single night that your little one goes to bed fed, warm, well, and loved is not failing, whatever else might be going on. Be kinder to yourself.’
  • Get them involved in what you’re doing, if you think it will interest them. My kids have helped me find the pictures for this blog, and for the first time ever they’re helping me lay the table for meals. They even seem to enjoy it.
  • Sometimes you’ve got to throw your plans up in the air and take the opportunities life presents. And if life is presenting you with a child who wants to sing ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ with you, cuddle up in front of a movie or have a chat about Instagram (or whatever young people talk about these days), just enjoy the moment and the chance to spend some time with them.

More than one of our members reported that home schooling had been their way of life even before COVID-19 struck. They’d been down a similar path to the one many of us are now treading, and had realised that, in one editor’s words, ‘what I’d feared would be strange and isolating and terrible turned out to be none of those things. My child has blossomed, found their own path, and taught me that there are many ways to live a life, to be a parent, to educate’. Some situations might not look ideal at first glance, but they end up being rewarding in ways we never anticipated.

And so, working-from-home parent, in the words of one CIEP member addressing the other parents on the forum, ‘hugs and solidarity vibes’ to you. We’ll get there, even if it’s by a different route to the one we were expecting.

Many thanks to the contributors to the CIEP forums, who so generously shared their experiences and their child-squeezed time.

Cathy Tingle is a CIEP Advanced Professional Member based in Edinburgh who specialises in copyediting. After trying and failing to work ‘alongside’ her children, she’s offering a reduced service until they go back to school. She’s terrible at baking.

 

 


The CIEP’s forums are a great place for members to connect with and support each other.

CIEP members shared their pandemic concerns and experiences with Liz Jones in April.


Photo credits: family with tablet by Alexander Dummer; child with heart by Anna Kolosyuk, both on Unsplash.

Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

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

Wise owls: 2019


Multi-coloured metal owl sculpture
It’s 2019! The SfEP’s wise owls are hatching plans for the year ahead.

Nik ProwseNik Prowse

I aim to grow and develop my business every year, to be able to look back a year on and identify what’s different – and better – than it was 12 months previously. I don’t always know what direction that change will take me at the outset, as it may be based on chance encounters. But I am open-minded about change, and make it work for me and my business when opportunities arise.

This year my focus is on developmental editing. It’s a challenging task, and every job is different. The recent SfEP Education Publishing Update in London sparked this notion. Of note was a talk on the changing nature of relationships in publishing, including packager clients. And Astrid deRidder’s closing session was empowering in the way it told us to make all our skills known to clients, because they’re often crying out for them (who’d have thought syllabus mapping was such a sought-after skill?).

On a personal note my eldest is going to university this year, so there will be big changes at home, and in June I shall be seeing Metallica live for the fifth time (and the first in 20 years), no doubt reminiscing about when I first saw them as a spotty teenager in a field in Derbyshire in 1990…

Sue LittlefordSue Littleford

I’m hoping 2019 will mean finishing off all those things I started in 2018 – primarily training, but also uncovering my desk. The PTC Adobe tools for editors course, Hilary Cadman’s PerfectIt duo and a MOOC on humanism all languish either just started or not-started-but-still-paid-for. The latter part of 2018 kinda got away from me, so my resolution this year is to catch up! If I can get into the routine of scheduling (and sticking to) time to spend on training courses that require self-starting rather than leaving the house and showing up (which is much easier to prioritise – at home, there’s always paid work that gets preferential treatment, or lazing around doing nothing, dressed up as R&R), I’m hoping to continue with some of the newest PTC online courses – Copyright Essentials, Editing Illustrations and the Copy-Editor’s Guide to Working with Typesetters all look juicy. (I really feel I should point out that I’ve already done all the SfEP courses that are relevant to me!) Looks like I’ll need to get the garbage off my desk soon. Of course, there are other things I want to achieve in 2019. I’m toying with the idea of rebranding, for one (something else carried over from last year). And I want to get a proper disaster recovery plan implemented and maintained. Too much head-in-the-sandiness and mindless optimism could bite back, there, so that really needs to be tackled.

Mike FaulknerMichael Faulkner

2018 was challenging, so for the first time in years I made some New Year’s resolutions aimed at finding a more sensible work–life balance:

  1. Introduce some predictability into regular work, ha ha. Much of my bread and butter work is copyediting and proofing law books, which I enjoy – but these projects come randomly and often with tight deadlines, so I’m asking clients to book further ahead. Also exploring the idea of a retainer for one or two publisher clients, which I know works for some colleagues. It would be lovely to put some structure into 2019!
  2. Put Pomodoro to work. I have been trying to take five minutes away from the desk every forty-five minutes, and it really does help with productivity, but when the pressure is on I ignore my little pop-up reminder. This must stop – the regime is even more important when the pressure is on!
  3. Exercise every day, twenty minutes minimum.
  4. Make time to write. My last (non-fiction) book was published in December 2013 and I resolved then to write a novel; five years on, NY’s resolution #4 is to … write a novel.
  5. Try to carry New Year’s resolutions into February and beyond. So far so good, at least with nos 1–3.

Wishing everyone a productive and enjoyable 2019!

Liz JonesLiz Jones

2018 was quite a challenging year for me personally, so work had to take something of a back seat. I’ve learned a lot about working through a crisis, and people have been incredibly understanding. I needed to continue to support myself and my family, so carried on working throughout at more or less my usual rate, but I had to withdraw somewhat from ‘extra-curricular activities’ such as online networking, and I also scaled back my regular marketing activities and took more time off than usual. Work ticked over, with regular clients keeping me supplied with things to do, which was a huge relief. Now, however, I’m planning to get proactive again, and return to the editorial fray with a vengeance in 2019 – getting stuck in online, seeking out new work opportunities, investigating ways I can push my business forward and also exploring collaborative work with a group of editor friends. I’m also continuing the work I began last year on the SfEP’s outward-facing newsletter, Editorial Excellence. I’m excited to see what this year brings!

Hazel BirdHazel Bird

It’s a cliché but I never like the feeling of standing still in my business. In some cases I’ve been working with the same clients on the same kind of work for many years, but I always like to feel I’m moving forward – whether I’m finding better ways to work in sync with my clients’ needs, seeking new efficiencies to improve my hourly rate or simply finding more things to enjoy about what I do.

I’ve always kept a lot of data about my projects and how long individual tasks take, but one of my goals for this year is to put that data to better use. It’s all very well knowing approximately how long a project will take based on my experience of similar work in the past. However, it can be difficult to accurately assess whether I’ll have time for all the myriad individual stages of that project when it’s spread over a year or more and interwoven with many other jobs. By making my time planning much more granular, I hope to minimise the workload lumps and bumps that can disrupt work–life balance.

 

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

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