An American Editor

August 23, 2019

Measuring and Managing for Greater Productivity and Profit

By Jack Lyon

The famous management consultant W. Edwards Deming is often quoted as saying “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Here’s what he actually said: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it — a costly myth.” (The New Economics, 35.)

An example of something that can’t always be measured (but can be managed) is the quality of copyediting on a particular manuscript. Two different editors might not always see the same problems or fix them in the same way. So how do you manage your effectiveness as an editor? Is it based on your consistency in styling citations? Does it depend on your knowledge of a manuscript’s subject matter? Could it have to do with the comprehensiveness of your reference library? Copyediting depends on a number of factors that can only be described as subjective.

But unless you’re editing only as a hobby, there is one thing you should definitely be measuring and managing: your income — to be specific, your effective hourly rate. American Editor Rich Adin has written about this at some length (see, for example, “Thinking About Money: What Freelancers Need to Understand” and “Business of Editing: What to Charge”), and you should definitely read and heed his advice about this. You’re probably someone who works mostly with words, so don’t be put off by the math in these articles! It’s really important to understand what Rich is saying.

I know editors who make just enough money to stay above the poverty line; I also know editors who consistently make an income of six figures (yes, really). Would you like to know what makes the difference?

Those in the first group charge by the hour.

Those in the second group charge by the project (or the page, or the word, or even the character).

If you charge $50 an hour for your editing services, the most you can ever make is $50 an hour. But if you charge $5 a page, your hourly income depends on how many pages you can edit during that hour. If you can edit 10 pages, you’ll still make $50 an hour. But if you can edit 20 pages, you’ll make $100 an hour. To do that, you’ll have to be more productive (while still maintaining your usual quality), which means you’ll need the Microsoft Word add-ins I provide at the Editorium, particularly Editor’s ToolKit Plus.

Daniel Heuman’s PerfectIt will add even more to your productivity by automatically ensuring the consistency of your work.

Rich Adin’s EditTools provides a wealth of features created especially for the working editor. I particularly like Never Spell Word and Toggle Word.

To manage your effective hourly rate, though, there’s one thing you really need to measure: how many hours you spend on every project you edit. Now, if only someone would invent some software specifically for editors to track those hours. Well, that’s exactly what Rich Adin has done in his latest version of EditTools.

Rich calls this new feature Time Tracker, and you’ll find it on the left side of the EditTools ribbon:

Time Tracker on EditTools Ribbon

Time Tracker on EditTools Ribbon

Time Tracker alone is well worth the price of admission, even if you never use any of the other features in EditTools (although you will). I won’t go into all the specifics about how to use Time Tracker, because Rich has already done so in an impressive series of articles at An American Editor called “It’s All About the Benjamins” (the complete 55-page Time Tracker Help file in PDF format is also available for download). And by “Benjamins,” Rich means money — which you should have more of, if you follow his advice and use this new tool.

By keeping careful track of the amount of time you spend and the amount of money you make on each project, you’ll soon be able take advantage of the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycle, made popular by our old friend W. Edwards Deming. The Deming Institute defines this cycle as “a systematic process for gaining valuable learning and knowledge for the continual improvement of a product, process, or service.” Making money, for example.

If you keep track of your effective hourly rate (EHR), you’ll be able to answer questions like these:

  • What kinds of jobs bring in the most money?
  • Which clients actually pay the best overall?
  • When during the day am I at my most productive?

Then, using the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycle, you can do things like this:

  • Focus on the kinds of jobs that bring in the most money, and turn down those that don’t.
  • Solicit more work from clients that pay the best, and drop those that don’t.
  • Work when you’re at your most productive, and do something else when you’re not.

As you continue to use this cycle of improvement, you should see dramatic improvements over time in your overall income. Others have done it, and you can, too. It’s simply a matter of measuring and managing, using the right tools to improve your productivity and efficiency, and collecting and analyzing the data.

Jack Lyon (editor@editorium.com) owns and operates the Editorium, which provides macros and information to help editors and publishers do mundane tasks quickly and efficiently. He is the author of Microsoft Word for Publishing Professionals, Wildcard Cookbook for Microsoft Word, and of Macro Cookbook for Microsoft Word. Both books will help you learn more about macros and how to use them.

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