As if working from home wasn’t distracting enough … A short guide to proofreading effectively AND being good to yourself

After a sunny Sunday spent proofreading on-screen, it occurred to me (not for the first time) how resisting distractions in our line of work is made all the more challenging in a heady world of social media, texts and saturated news and sports coverage. As freelance proofreaders and editors, we are already aware that part and parcel of the job is self-disciplining ourselves to manage whatever workload we have to a professional standard. We hold the stick, and we must hit ourselves on the head with it. Now, with the explosion of digital entertainment and information bombarding our senses, and adding to the lengthy list of distractions screaming for our instant attention, I thought it would be a good time for us to get back to good old basics and remind ourselves how taking simple steps can optimise our productivity when proofing.

–       Just get it read. When sitting down to start a job, don’t spend forever getting comfy – that’s exactly what our brain wants; anything to put off the inevitable as long as possible. Resist the resistance, and don’t open Facebook, don’t check Twitter – leave playing that song that gets you buzzing. All this is clutter that we don’t need. Start reading before your brain realises you are doing work – you’ll be surprised how easy it can be, and how little you need that pre-job routine.

–       Sit in good light and a comfortable chair. Yes, these things should really come before ‘Just get it read’, but I wanted to emphasise the latter. Of course the correct lighting and chair are important. If you can, sit by a window – plenty of daylight will boost your spirits and this in turn will have a positive effect on your work. The less spectacular the view from the window, the better. However, as lovely as the sunshine is, don’t put up with it being in your eyes or making the screen too bright if you are working on-screen (on Sunday I improvised with a Liverpool FC banner as I was working in my brother’s flat). Yes, a good supportive chair is obvious too, but in our line of work we often spend much longer than we think at our desks, the dedicated beavers that we are.

–       Pace yourself. Setting yourself a number of pages/words to read before taking a break is fine, but remember to break this rule if your body is telling you to. Don’t stubbornly plough on in the face of tiredness – you’ll make mistakes/miss things, and find your mind wandering off. You might be up against a deadline, but you don’t want to be up against yourself as well. Also, at certain stages throughout the job you have started, monitor how much time you have taken, in order to predict at what time you should be finished (factoring in regular breaks) – your confidence will increase in your self-management, and you will stay motivated from having the allure of a set finishing time in sight.

–       Get away from the computer on your breaks. If working on-screen, during your breaks do anything but look at a computer screen (or any kind of screen, come to that) – go outside for a walk, stretch your legs (and back, and neck) around your house if it’s raining, put your favourite music on, and most of all, rest those eyes.

–       Keep caffeine as a friend, not a hindrance. Surely caffeine and editorial work go hand in hand? As I hate coffee (sorry), I come armed to my jobs with energy drinks. Happily, I find I don’t need Mr Lucozade or Mr V as much as I think, as natural adrenaline usually takes over once I start reading (and start it must, asap – see ‘Just get it read’). Caffeine drinks can be a nice helping hand because our work is a mentally draining profession. Don’t overdo it though, as a sugar/stimulant crash usually comes at the worst possible time, like when you realise your client has totally messed up the innumerable cross-references, adding a good extra half-hour of checking to your already ‘pushing it’ schedule.

And there you have it. Proofreading from home – piece of cake. Now someone PLEASE tell me how Andy Murray got on …?

Alan O'Brien, proofreader, AOB Proofreading

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