When Work Takes Over – How To Prioritise Your Workload


I’m working like a mad thing.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s great. It’ll help pay the bills, but it’s come at a time when I really needed to slow down a bit and give the new puppies lots of attention (they’re fine by the way, full of fun and up to mischief and certainly not being ignored).

Minnie and Daisy asleep

I’ve decided that it’s Sod’s Law. Just when you need to say no to work it comes in droves. And normally I would say no, but the jobs that have come my way over the last month have been too interesting to pass up.

So here I am, furiously tapping away at my laptop the night before this post is due to go live.

computer keyboard

To give you an idea of how manic it is, this is currently my workload:

My OU Design Thinking course,

a very large family history book,

a memoir (just finished this morning),

an academic paper,

a FutureLearn GDPR course (OK, not exactly work, but it’s important for my business and my role as secretary for our local theatre … it’s CPD which is vital but very, very boring),

a guidebook editorial redesign that’s in the very early stages,

some pro bono work for last year’s creative writing course (we’re creating an anthology),

and my own biographical research (that has, understandably, had to take a back seat).

Add to this house training two 15-week-old puppies and all the usual everyday stuff like shopping, cooking and driving, and you can see why I’m knackered. Thank God I’m not doing panto this year. I am helping out front of house for a couple of nights though so, although I get none of the stress and the full-on six weeks of alternating fun and hell, I do get some of the fun.

cluttered freelance editor desk

The one thing I am managing to do through all this chaos is to keep myself grounded and keep my work consistent and high quality. It’s not easy, but prioritising my workload is more important than ever. As a freelancer I know that overwhelming yourself is counter-productive.

Here’s how I prioritise my workload, and it could work for you too:

  • I remember to take regular breaks – when you have a shed-load of work to get through, not taking breaks can be a bit stupid. Really. I pop on a pot of coffee first thing (after running around the garden and the local streets with two enthusiastic early-morning-loving puppies), then for the rest of the day I drink huge amounts of strong tea, taking breaks at semi-regular intervals when work reaches a natural pause. I take the pups out for a walk at lunchtime and take a proper hour for lunch. I also take an extra break if I feel that my concentration is waning.
  • I tackle the real brain-work during the morning. With coffee in-hand I know my brain works better before lunch so this is the time I set aside for all the editing that requires complete concentration.
  • I work on the more mechanical side of editing on an afternoon, or do the quicker tasks that can be completed in less time. This isn’t to say my brain isn’t working, it just works better on certain types of things during the afternoon. For example I’ll work on the full-on family history, which includes tracking historical figures, timescales and name changes, in the morning, but I’ll work on the memoir or the guidebook in the afternoon. If I did it the other way around I know I’d get bogged down and restless by 3pm. But if I’m doing research I actually work better after dinner (or tea if you’re like me and Northern). For some reason my research brain is fired up on an evening, and I have been known to work well into the night following leads down multiple rabbit holes.
  • When work is taking over more than I’d like I schedule my coursework, and non-paying work, for the weekend. This way I know that I have a full two days to settle down and get stuff done. Sometimes it’s not possible, and I have to do this on an evening, but the weekends are generally kept free of paid work.
  • I also remind myself that this too will pass. Being freelance it’s often feast or famine, so I knuckle down and get the work done, organised in the most productive way I can.
  • I do not beat myself up for taking time out. I’ve been freelancing since 2001, so I’m pretty good at reading the signs of when I need to step away from the computer. I know that if I need to take a day off it’s better to take that day and return to work fully refreshed, rather than persevere and put in sub-standard work. Stress, either from trying to work too hard or from beating yourself up, is no good for productivity. This is another reason why my working day tends to be no more than 4–5 hours a day of billable work. The human brain just can’t concentrate that long.
  • Finally I simplify whatever I can. When I have a lot of work to do I try to focus on one job at a time, and use lists to make sure I’m getting through the tasks needed in an ordered fashion. There’s no panic, just a methodical list-ticking kind of working day.

    (c) S Donaldson / NorthernEditorial.co.uk 2017 Brain3a

So, what I’m really saying is that work is slightly manic at the moment, so I cope by:

  1. Taking regular breaks
  2. Prioritising my work in a way that works for me (full-on concentration on a morning and less strenuous brainwork on an afternoon)
  3. Scheduling my voluntary work and coursework on a weekend or evening
  4. Reminding myself that this is temporary
  5. Allowing myself time off to recharge my batteries when needed
  6. Simplifying things as much as I can

I’ve leave you with a rather fabulous little TED talk I found which helped me realise that I’m doing things right. It’s 20 minutes long, but I’d recommend grabbing a coffee and watching. Marvin Chun explains why we can lack focus and gives us three tips on how to be more productive – simplify, relax and unitask.

 What Makes Some Brains More Focused Than Others? | Marvin Chun | TEDxKFAS






Brilliant Blogs

brilliant blogs for editors, proofreaders and freelancers

When you’re an independent consultant, freelancer, sole trader or lone wolf business person it’s very easy to get stuck in your ways. It’s also very easy to get bogged down with work, or the search for work, and forget that there’s a whole world out there that’s moving forward (or backwards if you watch the news).

You can keep up-to-date with courses and the like, but blogs and podcasts are a brilliant way to keep up with what’s going on in your business sector, without taking time out to attend a course every week.

As I’m insanely busy at the moment, so I thought I’d share my favourites with you.

Blogs for editors, proofreaders and writers:

SfEP Blog. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders is my ‘go to’ professional society, and not only does it have an informative and helpful website, it also has a blog too. It’s not just about editing and proofreading, all things publishing, freelancing and language are tackled in a friendly, inclusive way.    http://blog.sfep.org.uk/

fountain pen, writing

The next four are probably going to sound like an SfEP advert, but honestly, I love these blogs.

John Espirian is a technical writer, editor and copywriter, and one of the directors of the SfEP (he’s the SfEP internet guy).  His blog gives brilliant advice and tips. Everything from the perfect size for your social media banners to taking the long-term approach to business is covered in bite-sized pieces and long-form articles.  https://espirian.co.uk/blog/

Liz Jones is a predominately non-fiction editor, and also a member of the SfEP. Her blog covers editing, freelancing and writing, all with an honest outlook and a sense of humour. I often find myself nodding and going ‘yup, uh-huh, totally …’ when I read her blog. https://eatsleepeditrepeat.wordpress.com/

Denise Cowle is one of the Scottish SfEP posse. There’s lots of loveliness here. I especially like her latest blog on the difference between a dash and a hyphen, perhaps it should be paired with my damned apostrophe article – like a fine wine and crackers. Her worry-free writing is a great series of articles, but you’ll also get a peek into an editor’s life. It’s definitely worth stopping by her blog. http://www.denisecowleeditorial.com/blog

Louise Harnby has her Proofreader’s Parlour – a blog for editors, proofreaders and writers. If you want amazing advice and fabulous freebies this is one for you. She has Q&A pieces, observational articles and long-form pieces on all things writerly. Her latest article is a very good look at narrative point of view by guest Sophie Playle. https://www.louiseharnbyproofreader.com/blog

blog in scrabble tiles

Blogs for business:

The next bunch of blogs I regularly visit are less editor/writer oriented, and are more businessy but never boring (I just don’t do boring).

Andrew and Pete are a couple of amazing content marketers. They look at a traditionally less-than-interesting business area and deliver it in a fun, modern way. If you want to know about content marketing head their way, you won’t regret it (but you may lose a few hours in their content). https://www.andrewandpete.com/blog

The ProCopywriters blog is one I found when I joined the network. Aimed at copywriters (the hint is in the name) it covers all things needed by professional copywriters, but writers and business owners in general can learn a lot from it. There’s a great community vibe too. https://www.procopywriters.co.uk/the-professional-copywriters-blog/

One Hack Away From Wonder Woman by Lorrie Hartshorn is  the only podcast I have ever manage to listen to regularly. Twenty-one episodes of loveliness, wrapped up as baddass, no nonsense advice. I go back to these every now and then to remind myself of what’s important in business. It’s aimed at ‘freelance writers and creatives who want to cut the crap and win better work, better clients’.  https://onehackawayfromwonderwoman.podbean.com/


Blogs from outside the UK:

Grammar Girl is the blog of Mignon Fogarty that deals with everything grammar. If you want quick and easy tips on grammar this is the website you need to bookmark. It’s American based, but don’t let that stop you if you’re based elsewhere, the articles included are invaluable. http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-girl

An American Editor is packet full of observations from Rich and his contributing writers. Although, this has an American slant (again, the hint is in the name), this blog is great for all editors, especially newbies. He puts a no-nonsense approach to the business on his blog, and reminds us all that we ARE running a business and need to remember that. https://americaneditor.wordpress.com/

Erin Brenner and Laura Poole have put together copyediting.com with quick lessons, information and observations on all things copyediting. Again more US based this is useful for UK editors too. https://www.copyediting.com/category/blog/

Blogs for your time out:

Finally two blogs that I try not to miss, that have nothing to do with work. We all need a little time out, and these are my favourite.

Claudia and Sue of Campari and Sofa have a lovely blog. Their tagline is ‘Life after fifty, one cocktail at a time’, but don’t let that put you off if you are not female, under 50 or don’t like cocktails. To be totally honest I can’t remember how I fell upon their blog so many years ago, but they are just wonderful. It’s a lifestyle blog that isn’t stupid or frivolous or patronising. They both lead interesting, honest lives and it comes through in their writing. If you love good food, check out their food and entertaining section. http://campariandsofa.com

And finally there’s Heide. If you want history, photography and nature, lose yourself for a while in her writing. Her photography is amazing, and like me she seems to have a love for interesting doors (don’t tell me you don’t notice the amazing architecture and doors in your neighbourhood?). Her latest ‘Louise Dillery: Eyewitness to history’ is a must-read. Honest, insightful and sometimes painfully raw, her blog is one everyone should subscribe to. https://heideblog.com

I’ll be taking a break for a couple of weeks now – conference calls. While I’m away tell me your favourite blogs and leave a comment below.

Do you need to like your editor or proofreader?



You’ve finished your book, completed your marketing material or are looking for some help with your PhD thesis. Now you’ve got to find an editor / proofreader / wordy wordsmith.

How to find an editor or proofreader

It’s a tough decision. First you have to find them. You can find an editor (let’s just call them editors so I don’t have to repeat myself all the time) in a variety of ways. You can find them through:

 word of mouth

 places like writers’ groups

social media

or you can actually go straight to society directories (such as the SfEP directory).

I’m sure there are other ways to find an editor. If you use a different way be sure to let me know in the comments below.

Finding an editor can be equally tough if you are not sure exactly what you want. Let’s face it, unless you’re an expert at something, you rarely know exactly what you want and will rely on expert guidance. Do you really know if you need an edit or a proofread? (Hint: unless you have your material completely finished and ready to go, it won’t be a proofread you’re after).


thinking businessman

click here to find out whether you need an editor or proofreader


How do you choose which editor to work with?

So, let’s imagine you’ve trawled through the available resources and have decided that there are one or two (or more) editors who fit your profile – they are qualified, knowledgeable in your area and fit your budget. (Hint: cheapest is rarely best).

How on earth do you choose which one to work with?

Do you choose the most qualified?

The cheapest?

The one nearest to where you live?

See? It’s a tough decision. One editor may offer incentives (price plans, bundles and packages, discounts), another may just offer one or two services, whereas another may be so highly qualified you think you’ll never be able to afford them or fit into their schedule. If you are a business, budget may be less of a problem but timescale may be – do you choose the one who can deal with you straight away or wait until the one you really think you could work with has an opening in their schedule?

Here’s a thought – how about also finding one you enjoy working with?

woman with computer

Do your homework and talk to editors

When it comes down to it, once you have your shortlist you could procrastinate until it’s too late to book any of your preferred choices. Remember, good editors usually get booked up pretty quickly and may only be able to fit you in at short notice if they have a project timeline slide.

You will have chosen your shortlist to criteria of some sort, but now is the time to see if you can actually work with them.

How many people actually do their homework when choosing who to work with? You could find that someone who fits your profile academically is a nightmare to work with. Come on, we’ve all had that brilliant colleague who has the personality of a robot, or the colleague who seems mediocre on paper but is a delight to work with.

is your colleague a robot

While qualifications are important, you also need to be able to feel comfortable with your editor.

This is why it is so important to start a dialogue with the editors you choose.

Talk to them.

Ok, email them. Whatever, but do talk to them.

Right at the outset, when you send that first enquiry, you need to talk about what you think you need, ask for their advice and see where you fit into their schedule.

How do you feel when you talk to them?  Gut instinct can work here, but do you feel comfortable with the conversation.

How will they work on your writing? Do your ideas and theirs mix well?

Do they seem to know what they’re talking about? They should, but do they communicate it well too?

Are they too technical? Would they mind explaining things or do you think they are used to working with more technical clients.


This may be a teensy bit controversial … but …

If you don’t feel comfortable with the level of communication you probably won’t feel comfortable with the editing process.

comfortable at home

So do you have to like your editor or proofreader?

You don’t have to LIKE your editor, but you do need to be COMFORTABLE working with them.

Some people prefer a more formal editor/client relationship.

Some people like a more informal set-up.

Now, don’t get me wrong, most professionals can work either way, becoming more formal when the occasion demands, or more conversational when it’s preferred. Hell, even I can scrub up and do the formal thing when needed.

Faberge: Imperial Jeweler to the Tsars exhibit

(c) etee, Flikr

But the working relationship, no matter what that might be, needs to be something you can live with. Sometimes hiring an editor is a one-off, but for many writers or businesses it becomes an ongoing relationship that can last a long time. Talking to your editor shouldn’t be a thing of dread, you should look forward to working with them and allowing them to help you hone your writing.

Will you both enjoy working together?

Here are three ways you can figure out if you’ll get on:

  1. Look at their websites.

Some editors have swanky websites, some don’t, but you should be able to get a bit of personality and information from their sites. It’s not the be-all and end-all of a working relationship, but it’s common sense to check them out.

You may gauge something of their working agendas, their specialities and affiliations. If someone highlights their academic work, they may not readily take on your work of high fiction.

You may also get a shock and find out your editor has green hair, and you have to ask yourself if you could work with such a non-conformist.

Sara Donaldson | copywriter | copyeditor | proofreader

Honestly, most of the time I forget it’s green

  1. Talk to your editorial choices.

Before making a firm decision ask them questions about how they’ll work with you, what level of editing they think you need, where you can fit into their schedule and timescale. You should, through conversation, be able to figure out whether you’ll be able to work together.

  1. Have a look at their work

Does their work seem to tie in with yours, or if not are they interested in your type of writing? Going by someone’s past work isn’t always an indicator of their future work. There may be good reasons that there’s little information on their website about the type of work they have done in the past. For example I have a portfolio, but it by no means shows all my past work – working with individuals and companies rather than traditional publishers can mean work won’t appear in a portfolio because of confidentiality issues.

confidential and confidentiality

If you can’t find any examples of their work online, bring it into the conversation. Ask if they’ve worked on your type of material, and if they haven’t ask if they are qualified to work on it. You may find that your editor hasn’t made it public knowledge, but they are dying to work on your type of project. And don’t be afraid to ask about qualifications, your editor won’t be offended.

So, do you need to like them?

In short, go with whatever feels the most comfortable.

You don’t need to LIKE your editor, but you need to take into account:

Are they qualified to do the job?

Do they work in a way that you’re comfortable with?

Can you talk to them properly?

Can you afford them?

Are your timeframes compatible?

If you can actually like your editor too it will make the whole process so much more enjoyable and you’ll look forward to working together.



If you think you could work with this green-haired editorial consultant, why not take a peek at my SfEP directory entry? Contact me and we can talk through your project.