Setting work priorities

In my previous post on working effectively, I mentioned the need to set your work priorities and to focus on those, instead of scattering your energy frantically trying to do all of the ten million things you could be doing.

I didn’t spend much time discussing how to set those priorities, and naturally someone has asked for more information on that. So here goes.

Priorities come from your goals, and not goals in the sense of “I will earn six figures as a freelance editor this year or die trying!” But rather, what do you want your work to look like? What do you want your life to be? What do you want to spend your time doing, and what is less important to you?

Nine or ten years ago I started teaching developmental editing, and I loved it. Years ago, I began my career teaching literature at a university and loved that, but because of life challenges couldn’t pursue it. Getting involved in professional development for editors felt like coming full circle in my career, back to what I wanted to do at the start of it all: talk about books.

Nine or ten years ago, it did not seem to me that I could make a living teaching developmental editing so I didn’t just drop everything and decide to make it my life’s work. But I knew I wanted to do more of it. So my goals were always about doing more teaching and less actual editing. I made my decisions and set my priorities based on that. If there was a choice between creating a new class or taking on an editing project, I would create the new class.

Sometimes for practical reasons (such as the rent needing to be paid) I would take on an edit instead of working on a class, but my overall goal was always to prioritize teaching. At this point, contrary to what I had always done in my career, I didn’t cultivate long-term editing clients because I didn’t want long-term editing clients. I took one-off edits if I needed the cash but I tried to make sure that these edits contributed something else to my overall goal (not just cold hard cash), such as giving me experience in a genre I didn’t have a lot of experience in, or trying out a new approach to editing that I wanted to test.

This is how Club Ed was born, and teaching developmental editing is how I make the majority of my income now.

I don’t mean to make this sound overly simplified; it’s not. There are always trade-offs. I could have built Club Ed faster if I hadn’t also wanted to work on my own creative projects. But writing fiction is important to me and I wanted to make sure it received a fair amount of time, too—and it does. I set aside a two-hour block every day for creative work. Obviously I could use those two hours to work on Club Ed marketing or course development, but I choose not to.

Similarly, I have a personal life that affects my decision-making: a daughter I want to spend time with and travel I want to undertake. These get room on my priority list because they are all part of making up the life I want to live. I could build Club Ed faster if I stopped traveling and restricted my time with my daughter, but “build Club Ed faster” is not my goal; living a good life with strong relationships and plenty of adventurous travel is.

Once you have figured out what matters most, the rest is just about getting the work done.

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