Confessions of a Red Pen: I work too quickly


It’s almost 9am and I’m procrastinating.  I’ve set for myself this new rule: Work between 9am and noon.  For those of you who are not writers, who get up in the morning and go to work, you’re probably wondering why I’m such a lazy jerk, but I know for a fact that some of you are reading blogs on the company dime, that you’re surfing Facebook and scouring Reddit.  So, how much work do you actually do every day?

At this point in writing, I have gotten distracted by the Four Hour Workweek and Tim Ferriss’ blog.  In case anyone is not aware, the Four Hour Workweek advocates outsourcing as much as humanly possible, thus leaving your time free of annoying tasks and you more productive.  As a writer and editor, I have mixed feelings about outsourcing.  Every day on Elance, I see hundreds of job postings that are exactly that: jobs posted by individuals who want work done, but not necessarily done the best it could be.  All of the jobs for 200 word articles paid at $1 each, but offering as many article topics as you can handle, all of these are aimed at the outsourced.  They are aimed at the same sort of people who can actually make a living by mining for gold on World of Warcraft for twelve hours a day.  Cost of living must be very low for someone who will do a job for $1.

On the other hand, the Four Hour Workweek is also advocating simply stripping out the useless.  When I say I plan to work for three hours per day, what I mean is that I plan to do only work-related tasks (preferably writing) for three hours, straight.  Today, I’m counting this blog, which is cheating, but it is also writing.  Either I need to make stricter rules for myself or live with the fact that I will always find ways around them.  Doing only useful tasks is more difficult than it sounds, and the results, as Tim Ferriss suggests, can be staggering.

Personally, I feel prepared for this task by the fact that I work too quickly, anyway.

Working quickly counts as one of those things that I can use as my best and worst quality in job interviews.  It’s the best because if my boss comes over and says, “You know, we should think about creating a new system for boosting morale,” I will, by the end of the day, have established a team, written three pages on teamwork from this book I read at lunch, and posted a notice of some sort of morale-boosting game in the break room.  I’m not kidding.  This is a real-life story.  But it’s also bad because sometimes simply getting things done overshadows my perfectionism.  I’ll leave out major steps.  In high school math classes, I always finished tests first, but would always miss points because I simply forgot that I was supposed to add instead of subtract, etc.  Clearly, this working quickly thing works against the personality traits that make me a good editor.

Giving myself a three hour window of time in which to complete all my work does a couple of things.  First of all, it gives me a deadline, which keeps me from procrastinating until 10pm, when things are past due.  Secondly, it allows me to rush through my projects and still have time left in the day to, you know, edit.

At times, I worry that I work too quickly.  I worry that I’m not charging enough money because I am so good and so fast, or that I am charging too much because I clearly don’t take pride in what I do.  I worry that someone will ask me to “look at this”, and 20 minutes later, I’ve rewritten 8 pages, clearing up grammar mistakes and rewording whole paragraphs for the sake of “flow”.  I worry what my clients think of that.

What I have to remind myself in times of doubt is that I am simply well-suited to the life of a freelancer.  I can do the jobs that others cannot (or find too tedious and time-consuming), and I can do them quickly.  When people are willing to pay for this service, I can also make money at it.  And for those people who are looking to outsource certain parts of their life (the writing of their website, or their blog, the editing of their manuscript), I am there to do it incredibly quickly.

Speaking of which, it’s 9:35am.  I should start that 5-page project I promised someone today.


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