I recently started and finished a tiresome editing project that had been hanging over my head for about two months. In my defense, I can say the delay was the result of some holidays and also some excruciating back pain. But, if I was honest, I'd also have to admit I was, well, procrastinating.
I finally got the job done with reasonable dispatch by working for a total of nine hours -- three hours per day over a weekend plus the Monday. As I diligently put in my time, I noticed that editing is a bit like trying to lose weight. So with apologies to Oprah, Bob Green and Dr. Atkins, here are three dieting tips that also work for editing:
1) Have a clear goal that is both measurable and realistic. Not very many people succeed when they vaguely set out to "lose some weight." You need a number -- is it 10 lobs. or is it 50? -- and you need a plan. In the case of my project, I figured out the magic number by editing a sample page and then multiplying that by the total number of pages. The verdict? Nine hours. Now nine hours isn't insurmountable, but I knew myself well enough to recognize that I couldn't possibly do the job in one longish day. I have the ability to concentrate intensely, but only for bursts of several hours. Also, even though I'm terrible at math, I couldn't help but notice that nine divides rather nicely by three. When I saw a three-day space of time coming up I thought: Bingo! There's my window. I also knew that three hours a day was quite doable and wouldn't make me feel like a martyr.
2) Minimize anything that will interfere with your goal. If you want to lose weight, you get the cookies and potato chips out of the cupboard and you stock up with low-fat yogurt and lots of apples. If you want to edit, it helps to get other distractions out of the way. That means turning off email and forgetting about surfing the web. In my case, I even went so far as to eliminate "worthy" distractions. For example, I typically do my own writing every morning, but for those three days, I took a break. I also turned a blind eye to the vacuuming (okay, nothing unusual there) and, even though I love to cook, gratefully accepted my brother-in-law's offer of preparing dinner Sunday night. Disclaimer: I don't advise clearing your schedule for writing, a task that can be done in 10- or 30-minute chunks of time. But editing is another matter.
3) Make yourself answerable to someone else. Exercise gurus are united in their belief that the best motivation for getting to the gym is going with a friend. Similarly, they'll often suggest announcing your weight-loss plans to someone else. It's called accountability. I went public with my editing goal quite by accident. A few days before my work-a-thon, I was at a business meeting with an acquaintance. "What are you doing for the weekend?" she asked. So I told her. And in voicing the plan, I suddenly realized that I had to do it. She was a person I liked and respected, and also someone quite likely to ask, "how did it go?" But she wasn't a close enough friend to have been mindlessly supportive if I failed. In short, I would have lost face if I hadn't done it. And there was no way I was going to allow that to happen.
The result? Job complete and I feel great. Now about those 10 pounds I could stand to lose...