An American Editor

August 25, 2010

Time Goes By and is Lost

A common discussion topic among self-employed editors is “What can I do to increase my income?” As with everything in life, one has to begin by examining one’s current situation in detail. Only by understanding where I am can I determine how and where to go. Freelance editors often neglect the most fundamental aspects of running a successful business, of which time management is the most fundamental fundamental. Learning how you spend your time during the workday can be revelatory.

How much time do you spend each day on various activities? Do you really know how much time you spend working? Surfing the Internet? Answering questions at LinkedIn? On the telephone? Twittering? Perusing and updating Facebook? Actually editing? Few of us really do know and fewer still apply time management techniques to our workday.

Yet time management is fundamental to maintaining or improving our income or gaining more free time for the pleasurable things in life that aren’t work related. There are lots of time-tracking software programs available, ranging in price from free to very expensive. I personally use, and have used for 10+ years, Timeless Time & Expense from MAG Softwrx (TT&E). It’s expensive these days ($79), but I haven’t found a less-expensive program that tracks time as this program does. TT&E has a lot of features that I don’t use, such as billing, but I like the way it keeps track of how I spend my day.

Whatever program you use, it should be easy to start and stop timing activities; it should be capable of tracking multiple activities simultaneously; it should cumulate the time; and it should be very easy to switch between activities. For me, TT&E fits the bill, but I am interested in learning of other programs that work similarly but cost less.

Anyway, to move back to the topic at hand, knowing how you spend your workday is important. You should track your time over a minimum of 2 weeks before drawing any conclusions so that you can see a pattern. If every day but 1 day you spent 3 hours surfing the Internet and on that 1 day you spent only 1 hour, your pattern is to spend 3 hours, not 1 hour. If the amount of time varies each day, figure out the average and use that number in your evaluation.

You also need to track how many new projects or clients — or even inquiries — were generated by the time you spent on various activities. If you average 3 hours a day surfing and socializing on the Internet but got no work or inquiries, perhaps 3 hours a day is too much time to devote to the Internet. Yes, I know that sometimes one doesn’t see results from one’s efforts for months, which is why I wouldn’t suggest stopping surfing altogether. But the fact that I might win the lottery some day doesn’t justify continuing to spend large sums of money on lottery tickets; perhaps a nominal sum, but not a large sum, and the same rationale applies to time spent on activities that are tenuously related to work.

The key is to associate activities during your workday with work and productivity. It doesn’t mean no water-cooler time; it means managing water-cooler time. Managing time means allocating a limited resource to the most productive endeavors; not abandoning those endeavors that we like as distractions, just limiting them. It’s the same concept as that which lies behind the use of macros when editing. I use EditTools — and spent the money and time to develop EditTools — because cold, hard analysis demonstrated the clear financial benefit to me of using these macros in my daily editing work. Similar analysis commanded the purchase and use of Editorium macros and PerfectIt (see the earlier articles on The 3 Stages of Copyediting for a discussion of Editorium, EditTools, and PerfectIt macros). Every second of my workday is precious because I can’t ever retrieve past time and reuse it.

To repeat: The first step for a freelance editor in figuring out how to improve her income is to discover how she spends time during the workday. Once the editor has that information, the editor can begin to figure out what changes need to be made and work on how to make her work time more efficient and productive. Every editor can reach their income goals by applying sound business practices to their business.

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