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Anita Jenkins

Do Freelance Editors Know How to Work at Home?

Illustration of person with headphones, their back to us, working at a desk with a desktop computer. There's an arc floor lamp to their right and a potted plant on the ground to their left.
Illustration of person with headphones, their back to us, working at a desk with a desktop computer. There's an arc floor lamp to their right and a potted plant on the ground to their left.
Aleksandra Sabelskaia © 123RF.com

Many thousands of office employees who were forced to work from home because of COVID-19 will continue to do so. Only 36 per cent of Canadians anticipate returning to their “place of work” when the pandemic subsides, according to an Angus Reid study. Freelance editors have been working from home for years and, by and large, loving it.

Freelance editors know how to maintain a routine, how to avoid spending the whole day wearing pyjamas and not combing their hair, how to cope with feeling isolated. And how to achieve a work-life balance — or do they?

Work-life balance

That last one, work-life balance, is an especially huge challenge, as many are discovering. Forbes.com recently posted an article about the 168-hour workweek — that is, being on the job 24/7 because you are never really away from the office.

Isn’t this the case for freelancers? I remember working to a tight deadline for about a week, and at the same time trying to keep five or six other clients in abeyance. I barely ate or slept, and of course I didn’t make it into the shower all that often. Another time, I edited a book all during the May long weekend. These were not regular occurrences, but they did happen.

Lucy Payette, the new editor of this blog, says, “In my short stints freelancing, I struggled with the illusion of flexibility and ended up working many more hours for less to meet deadlines (or for my own unrealistic attempts at perfection perhaps), and I sense that others do as well.”

Words of wisdom

Lucy suggested that I, as a retired and self-described “born-again home office worker,” could offer some words of wisdom. Well, I can. But knowing what to do and doing it are of course two very different things.

Freelance editors know these rules, and sometimes they succeed in following them:

  • Set boundaries with the people (and pets) in your life. “Between this hour and this hour, I’m working.” The videos of kids and cats invading an on-screen meeting are funny. But not that funny.
  • Remember that if you were in a business office, you would take breaks. Sometimes far more and longer breaks than the freelance editor who charges by the hour might do. So, include that in your schedule.
  • Instead of missing the direction and decision-making that you receive from your “supervisor,” enjoy your freedom and autonomy. You might just find, as many freelancers do, that you love this aspect of the work.

More work-from-home tips

There are many more tips available online (see FeistyFreelancer.com). In Season 4, Episode 5 of The Editing Podcast, for example, Louise Harnby and Denise Cowle discuss issues freelance editors and proofreaders endure such as dealing with burnout, procrastination and that feeling of being “stuck in a hamster wheel.”

“You have to be realistic about the hours that are available to you, and I think you get better at doing that,” says Denise Cowle in the episode “How to run and grow an editing and proofreading business.”

As we celebrate Labour Day this weekend and contemplate working conditions in a fluid work environment, we freelance editors can take some credit. We should add “knowing how to work from home” to our resumés, alongside “encyclopedic knowledge of The Chicago Manual of Style.” Some of us might even become working-from-home consultants if the pandemic lasts for a couple of years.

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Previous post from Anita Jenkins: Iva Cheung: Winner of the 2019 Karen Virag Award

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Anita Jenkins

Anita Jenkins is a writer and editor in Edmonton, recently retired.

11 Comments on “Do Freelance Editors Know How to Work at Home?”

  • I have always worked from home and agree that setting boundaries — both for myself and other family members — has been the hardest issue to negotiate. My tendency is to work all the time; my family’s tendency is to interrupt whenever they need me. None of us have changed much over the years but somehow I meet my deadlines, the dog gets walked, the food gets cooked, and children and (now retired and home all the time) husband get adequate attention. I do feel that had said husband been the one working at home he would not have been interrupted as often, however. Domestic expectations still weigh more heavily on women – at least in this household.

  • Lynn Carter

    says:

    Soon there will be no need for office towers or commercisl realtors.

  • Wonderful wise words from a pro! Thanks so much, Anita. I take «breaks,» but they tend to involve unloading the dishwasher or putting laundry in the dryer. I should be going out for 10 minutes of fresh air! And I agree 100% with everything Susan said as well.

    • Carol Shetler

      says:

      Hi, Dawn, i get a lot of laundry done while i am editing, too. The washer and dryer are about six steps away from my basement home office. Sometimes the laundry rather than the project provides the incentive to get up and at it…

  • Naomi Pauls

    says:

    I like the consultant idea, Anita. But wait — am still in my pyjamas! With graduate son now moved back home, bathroom time must also be scheduled. ? At least he is working, so I take advantage of quiet time.

  • Frances Peck

    says:

    My entire freelance career, I’ve been lucky (or is it privileged?) to have a separate room for my office. Even in my 20s, when I was single and barely covering rent and other bills, I sprang for a two-bedroom apartment so I could have a dedicated office. Having a defined physical space for work, one that I can leave when I’m not working, has been central to managing work-life balance for me.

    Even if your office space is an alcove in your bedroom, or one end of the kitchen table, try to close it off during non-work hours. Put a screen in front of it if you have to. The point is: when your work day is over, your office is closed, just as surely as the grocery store is locked outside its posted hours. If you’re tempted to reopen after closing time to tackle one more task, ask yourself if it can wait until the next day. Nine times out of ten, it can.

    • Anita Jenkins

      says:

      You are so smart, Frances. But what about deadlines? You must have been very good at managing clients.

  • Frances Peck

    says:

    I’ve had punishing deadlines, same as everyone else. There are times when my office doesn’t close until late at night, or when it opens before dawn, or when it operates during the weekend. But I think that when you put in longer hours than usual, it’s even more important to protect your tiny slices of time out of the office. It’s so easy to allow a certain amount of creep, if you let yourself check email outside office hours, for instance, or if you glance at a document you’re working on. That way lies burnout, at least in my experience. There’s something to be said for being as disciplined about your time off as you are about your time on.

    • Anita Jenkins

      says:

      Yes, as noted in the article, too many people are doing the «168-hour workweek.» We are going back to the early days of the factories in the Industrial Revolution.

  • Rosemary Shipton

    says:

    I’ve always found that going out for a brisk walk is the best way to get exercise and clear my head. No matter the weather, that’s what I do, usually just after lunch. After 40 or 60 minutes, I return refreshed – and ready for a full afternoon’s work. Ideally, I also stand up every hour or so and do stretching exercises. As we all know now, sitting is the new smoking …

  • Carol Shetler

    says:

    Hi, Dawn, i get a lot of laundry done while i am editing, too. The washer and dryer are about six steps away from my basement home office. Sometimes the laundry rather than the project provides the incentive to get up and at it…

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