3 Business Lessons from ACES 2019: Focus
I’m officially an ACES: The Society for Editing groupie — this year, I attended the annual conference for the fifth year in a row.
Many ACES members are freelancers, and there is an unofficial business track at the conference. Many of my main takeaways this year came from these sessions, and they apply to any professional, on staff or independent.
Focus on what’s most important
We live in a distracting world. A little bit of strategy can help you focus on what’s most important in your business and in your day.
Start your day right
In the session “Maximize Your Time: Growth and Balance for Your Freelance Editorial Biz,” Melanie Padgett Powers had two points that particularly stuck with me: have a “time to work” song and write a “today” list.
Time to work
Humans are creatures of habit, and even the most spontaneous of us can benefit from some routine. Melanie noticed that when she picked a song to start off her day, it helped snap her into a working mindset. She picked something upbeat that she won’t normally hear during the day (so that top 40 hit that you’re currently jamming to might not be your best choice).
I asked my social media channels for recommendations of pump-up songs, and the suggestion by @Jenny_K_90 became my song: “Level Up” by Vienna Teng. I’ve found a “time to work” song helpful because I work from home, so I don’t have a commute to help designate the time between work and not.
You can use a specific song to get you into the right mindset for a task that takes a lot of mental work or to get you remotivated, perhaps after lunch or a long meeting.
Focus on today
I’m already a fan of to-do lists — I like recording what I need to do so that it’s no longer swirling around in my head, plus it’s satisfying to cross things off. I’d already noticed that I tend to be more productive when I have a to-do list at the beginning of the day.
But sometimes the list gets long, and it’s discouraging to see how much still needs to be done and difficult to decide where to begin. So, Melanie also suggested writing a “today” list.
This “today” list doesn’t replace the to-do list, but it forces you to prioritize the most important tasks that must get done today. I’ve started writing two “today” lists — one that’s personal and one that’s professional.
Think small: No more than three things, large or small. Just like the strategy of breaking down larger goals into smaller actionable steps, picking three must-do tasks helps me accomplish more because the work isn’t as overwhelming.
Work during your most productive hours
Melanie certainly wasn’t the first person to give this advice, but it’s for a good reason: We do our best work when we’re at our best.
Knowing your most productive time takes some self-evaluation. I think sometimes we get stuck in the mindset of “I’m an early bird” or “I’m a night owl,” so stay open-minded about your true productive time. Just like tracking time, it’s valuable to track how productive you are during different hours of the day.
If you can, structure your day so that you’re working on the hardest or most involved tasks when you’re at your most productive, leaving your low energy for the tasks that don’t require as much energy. Or schedule breaks when you’re at your low points so that you can recharge. If you truly have a flexible schedule, this doesn’t have to be in a single block of work time; it’s okay to have some work time in the morning, a break in the afternoon, and then more work time in the evening if that fits your schedule and productivity. Or talk to your supervisor about the possibility of shifting your work hours to 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
However, this is the real world, and we don’t always control our schedule. For example, when I was in an office, I noticed I’d hit a slump in the mid-afternoon but then around 5 p.m. — especially as everyone else started going home and the office got quiet — I’d get a second wind and suddenly get a lot accomplished in an hour or two. But then I had kids, and my second-wind time became day-care pick-up time, dinnertime, and bedtime. Or maybe your work dictates you need to be in the office during certain hours or you have an assigned shift.
You can still look at your day, however, and find your peaks and valleys of productivity during your shift. Arrange tasks to match that schedule as much as you can. For example, if you schedule meetings, pick a time when the team isn’t at their peak productivity so that they can dedicate that energy to getting their work done.
Do what you love and outsource the rest
First, a disclaimer: There’s an element of privilege to this point of outsourcing. We all have limited dollars, and we need to be thoughtful in how we spend them.
That said, time is limited, and outsourcing is a powerful tool for taking control of that time.
Once you are mindful of the tasks you don’t want to do but take up your time, think about how you can either get someone else to do them for you or ignore them.
If you get rid of the tasks that you dislike or don’t do well, you can use that time instead to earn money for your business, especially if you can bring in more than the outsourcing costs in the same amount of time. Consider outsourcing an investment in your business, career, or even sanity.
There are tools that make tasks easier (for example, I use Buffer to schedule my social media posts and QuickBooks as accounting software), but those tools don’t eliminate the task completely. A lot of small business owners have a bookkeeper or an accountant. Companies may hire freelancer writers or a design firm.
Sometimes the tasks we want to eliminate are personal. I’ve been using Parents magazine’s “Supper is Solved” column to meal plan (it comes with a grocery list!) and someday I may convince myself to have groceries delivered. We already hire housecleaning help.
Delegation means finding someone else to do it without paying extra. If you have other people living at home with you, for example, and there’s a task you hate, see if someone else would prefer to do it.
My toddler is starting to have responsibilities around the house; these are simple things, such as feeding the cat, that can get done while, for example, I prep my baby’s bottles for day care (a task I definitely wouldn’t delegate to the toddler).
At work, delegating could mean tag-teaming with a colleague or coworker on a project, dividing the tasks that play to each of your strengths and interests.
I have the hardest time with this one, but some tasks aren’t worth doing, especially if you’re only doing them out of obligation.
If there’s a task that you don’t want to do, don’t want to do as much as you want to do something else, or don’t want to spend the money to hire someone to do, and no one else wants to do it either … maybe it’s okay to choose not to do it.
Don’t get me wrong: Some things must get done. You can’t just ignore laundry or filing taxes.
A good example of ignoring is social media. You can’t be on every platform and do it justice. Pick a few and ignore the rest. I see benefits to being on Twitter and LinkedIn professionally and on Facebook personally, but I’m not a video person, and a YouTube channel is not for me, no matter how many think pieces I read extolling the virtues of video and how much everyone has to use it.
If your organization is looking into outsourcing editorial tasks, including copy editing, proofreading, or writing, contact me. I’d love to help your organization focus more on the important tasks.