Writing Advice

Managing Your Time When Working from Home

Home based careers have a lot to offer those who want more freedom in their daily lives. This independence presents its own problems, but the challenges can be met by following a few simple guidelines for effective time management while working from home.

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As I write this article, it’s one o’clock Saturday morning. The deadline for submission is hours away and now I’m wishing that I had a regular nine to five job in the city. I’d be in bed right now. I shouldn’t have to spend my weekends this way, but this is all my fault. I chose to work from home under my own schedule.

I take heart by the hope that if the weather is good on Monday morning, while everyone else is commuting, I can jump on the bike and ride to the beach. Later, I can enjoy a leisurely coffee at the bistro mulling over the direction of my next article. When and how I work is entirely up to me.

Today’s technology makes home-based work an attractive possibility for many. It is efficient, flexible, and fulfilling. But it also has its pitfalls, such as loneliness, tunnel vision, lack of accountability and domestic distractions. Perhaps the biggest challenge to working from home is time management, whether you tend to be lazy or are inclined to overwork. Here are some suggestions to make the most of your time in a home office.

Set Family Boundaries

Being close at hand to family members while at work means that you are making yourself available to them at a moment’s notice should they want your attention. It also makes them accessible to you for even the slightest reason (or excuse!). Presumably this is one reason why you chose to work at home, but it can become your worst time thief unless everyone has a clear understanding of what issues merit intentional interruption.

To guard against unintentional interruptions or distractions, the “open space concept” is not a good idea. Unless you live alone, you must have a separate work space that can be dedicated exclusively to the job while you are “on duty.” Make it clear that you are not being rude if the door is closed; you simply have left for work.

Log Your Time

For the workaholic, a home based career can be the fastest route to burnout. Extending your work hours is as easy as walking a few steps down the hall. Checking email before your morning shower, reading a report over lunch, making a phone call during a commercial break on TV, or scheduling tomorrow’s tasks before bed – all of these add up to overtime without the extra pay.

As an experiment, try keeping a work diary of every hour you spend working for a week. Make sure to log even the 15 minutes you stole right after supper. Chances are when you review your record you will have far exceeded a 40 hour work week. What is more, you will likely discover that you worked more than five days in seven.

Does the time spent in various activities reflect their importance? Are you spending more time on favorite parts of the job than on the onerous ones? What tasks regularly fall through the cracks or typically get deferred until the last possible moment? Are you being realistic as you forecast completion dates?

Design A Schedule 

Once you have an idea of how you are spending your time, draft a schedule that is realistic and reflects the priorities of your profession. Because your workplace is also your home, your schedule needs to be fully integrated to strike a healthy balance for your mind, body and spirit. Everybody needs time out for rest and recreation. Be intentional about protecting your down time as much as your “billable hours.”

Be Flexible

For many people, the main reason to work from the home is the flexibility it allows. So, to suggest clear boundaries and a comprehensive schedule may seem contradictory. However, the more you plan, the better you can adapt when unexpected circumstances arise. Because you are working from home, you potentially have twenty-four hours in every day to allocate instead of eight. This makes last minute changes much easier to accommodate.

Top 9 Books Aspiring Writers Should Read

As I look back over the list I compiled, I can’t help but think, this is an odd list! But these writers inspired me through their books in many different ways to bring me along as a writer.

1. Dune by Frank Herbert

I learned a few lessons about the type of writer I did not want to be by reading Dune. It was much too complicated and verbose for me at that stage of life.

Dune

2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Some readers equally find Faulkner’s Fury complicated in another way: the stream of consciousness of the “idiot” family member. But I found it fascinating, more like a puzzle needing to be solved. Faulkner had me reeled in to figure this out.

The Sound and the Fury

3. A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

This is the only book on this list that I have read several times for the pure joy of it. O’Connor had my emotions at her disposal. I laughed, ridiculed, laughed some more, and then was shocked. In the end I identify too much with the words of the Misfit, “She would have been a good woman had someone been there to shoot her every day of her life.” I too lament those moments of clarity that only occur when bad things happen. Oh for those moments of clarity all the time!

a-good-man-is-hard-to-find1

4. All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren

Never have I been so drawn in by introspection over identity, but I read Warren’s words as I searched for my own identity and realized how fractured I really am. I especially identified with Jack’s musings about the picnic where he invites all the different versions of himself together at the same time. Would my different identities even recognize each other? he muses. That quote hangs with me to this day.

all-the-kings-men1

5. The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

My 12th grade English teacher pulled me aside and told me, “I want you to read these books.” And they consumed me. I could not put them down. I lived and breathed them and wondered how I could have lived 17 years on planet Earth without reading them. They were adventure to me as I lived through Frodo and Bilbo.

The Lord of the Rings

6. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

If The Hobbit was an inspiration of adventure, Narnia’s tales were pure magic. I used to dream of being taken away to Narnia. I used to remember stepping between floor-to-ceiling supports in our basement and imagined them as a gateway to Narnia. No, imagined is not strong enough. I longed to go to Narnia like Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy.

chronicles-of-narnia-boxed-set

7. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Heinlein was not just adventure; it was danger. I had a fascination with science fiction and the young hero in Heinlein’s story.

Starship Troopers

8. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Never have I read so much with such anticipation and still wanted to read more when all seven volumes were complete. I longed to write my own imaginative story that created a world not too distant from our own.

jk rowling harry potter

9. The Firm by John Grisham

Never have I read a book so quickly. I still think of it as the page turner that I truly picked up and didn’t put down until I was finished.

john grisham the firm

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Increasing Your Attention Span

By Dr. Kevin

Attention spans are shrinking in today’s information rich technology of sensory overload. In response, the market has introduced pills, drinks, and powders that claim to increase your powers of concentration. But there are also lifestyle and work habit changes you can make to increase your attention span naturally. 

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Actor Robert Redford once said of a colleague, “He has the attention span of a lightning bolt.” I winced at that observation, thinking he could have easily been describing me. I’m lucky if I can write a single sentence before fighting the urge to starting another game of solitaire.

Behavioural scientists have known for decades that the upper range of the average adult attention span is 20 minutes when listening to a speaker. But, in recent years we have been conditioned to have an even shorter focus. Television programming works with eight-minute spans. Multi-media options and lightening fast access to information on the computer force internet searches to narrow their window of opportunity to about 30 seconds. How can we condition our minds to follow through on a train of thought to reach its conclusion?

Some people turn to stimulants or dietary supplements to boost the power of concentration. But there are simple changes in lifestyle and work habits we can make that can increase our attention span naturally. In addition to sleeping well, eating healthy, and getting enough exercise, here are some specific strategies for improving attention span.

Feed Your Focus

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can occur when otherwise healthy individuals neglect to eat, can slow the speed at which people process information and shorten their attention span. After the overnight fast and lack of glucose in the body, it is important to eat a breakfast rich in both carbohydrates and proteins. The sugars can quickly make your mind sharp, and the complex carbohydrates and proteins will sustain energy to think for extended periods.

The health effects of synthetic food additives on certain people were documented 30 years ago by the late Dr. Benjamin Feingold in his book Why Your Child is Hyperactive. Since then, researchers have consistently corroborated that food additives exacerbate the symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many with the disorder who switch to a diet free from artificial colorings, sweeteners, and preservatives can experience major improvements in attention.

In addition, ensure that your diet includes enough vitamins and minerals. Deficiency of magnesium, for example, can lead to fidgeting, anxious restlessness, and learning difficulties. As well, the B-complex vitamins (including folic acid and choline), omega 3 fatty acids, and zinc are all linked to the maintenance of a healthy attention span.

 

Practice Meditation

Studies have shown that meditation is even more effective than sleep in improving attention span. For example, in a 2005 study, Bruce O’Hara, associate professor of biology at the University of Kentucky had college students either meditate, sleep or watch TV. The form of meditation was deceptively simple: it involved focusing on an image or sound or on one’s breathing.

O’Hara then tested all the students for what psychologists call psychomotor vigilance, asking them to hit a button when a light flashed on a screen. Those who had been taught to meditate performed 10% better—”a huge jump, statistically speaking,” says O’Hara. Those who snoozed did significantly worse. “What it means,” O’Hara theorizes, “is that meditation may restore synapses, much like sleep but without the initial grogginess.”

 

Control Your TV Watching

Between the constant commercial interruptions and the ever-present remote control that allows constant channel surfing, television breeds an appetite for distraction. When you want to watch, consider pre-recording episodes or renting movies so that you can enjoy the program without breaks.

 

Read Books

Reading definitely increases your attention span. Have you ever noticed that if you find an interesting novel to read, you may turn the pages for five or six hours regardless of the activity around you? These marathon reading sessions increase the stamina of your attention span for other tasks that require extended focus.

 

Exercise Your Observation Skills

Exercising your memory and your observation skills is a great way to build your attention span. Try this “picture game”- study a picture for about a minute. Then, look away and recall as much of the picture as you can. Try to visualize and place objects in the image of your mind. As you practice this regularly, your attention span and power of recall in daily events will grow.

 

Limit Internet Use

You may have heard the quip, “The attention span of a computer is as long as its electrical cord.” Actually, you don’t have to unplug the machine to break a train of thought. All it takes is an impulsive click of the mouse. This is not good news for those of us who go on-line to inform and shape our thinking.

To avoid having the attention span of a computer, consider saving articles of significance and logging off the Internet to read them. You may even find it helpful to print important documents and leave your workstation to digest their content. This reduces the temptation to jump between websites competing for your interest.

These lifestyle and work habits can all help increase attention span. Of course, your powers of concentration will have ebbs and flows at the best of times. When this happens, don’t be afraid to take a complete break. It will refresh your mind in a way that simply switching to another task cannot.

Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation

Peer-reviewed research article vs. dissertation: How to write a great paper for publication

You’re writing your dissertation and want to publish your first research article. What is the difference between your dissertation and a publishable article? Working at a peer-reviewed journal, I have seen manuscripts of all types including those that look like they were copied and pasted from a dissertation. Research articles are concise summaries of your work directed at readers who are experienced in your area of research. Dissertations serve as a platform for an evaluation of your expertise and work. If you keep this in mind, then you will have a much better chance of having your work published.

How to write a great paper for publication

First, let’s review four sections of any research paper: introduction, results, discussion, and methods. I have not included the abstract, as this requires an entire blog on its own. Second, I will give you a strategy to develop your paper that will put you on a path for success.

Introductory section

Roles of a dissertation include demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of your field, assessing your ability to define a problem, creating a hypothesis, and designing an appropriate tool to test it. When you are writing a paper for publication, all of these are already assumed. The readers are experts and not on your committee. Your introduction should include a few points to orient the reader as to what is known, what you are aiming to determine, and how. The last sentence of your introduction should state that the objective of this research is to determine whatever you are interested in by using your selected tool.

Results section

The results that are discussed in your research paper need to be restricted to those that are relevant to answering your objective. No matter how interesting a particular experiment may have been, if it isn’t directly related to your research question/objective, it will detract and ultimately sabotage your efforts to have your work published. It will prompt reviewers to question the structure of the research plan and lose focus on the objective. They may even envisage a different paper centered on a new objective. Keep it simple.

Discussion section

The discussion section must not repeat the results. If you repeat the results, then you have consumed your word count unnecessarily and bored your readers. The discussion is the opportunity to address your objective. The discussion should take in account your data, as well as data from supporting studies. It must elevate the work so it can be applied by other researchers. A discussion should include the most relevant limitations of your work and provide an intelligent conclusion.

Materials and methods section

The methods section must include the sufficient detail for someone experienced in your area to replicate your study. It must be concise and should reference previous work, so you don’t have to repeat details. The steps for performing a routine experiment don’t need to repeated, it is adequate to say what was done in a general way with any unusual details expressed explicitly.

Choose your journal and manuscript type carefully

An author must know the audience. In the case of writing a research paper, you must know where the article will be submitted before you start writing. It is imperative that you go to the website of your selected journal and read the instructions to authors. Ideally, templates will be provided so your document will be correctly formatted. Be sure to correctly select the type of manuscript you are intending to write (e.g., original research, review, etc) and verify the word count. These two factors will have a tremendous impact on your manuscript and need to be carefully considered. You may want to switch journals at this point, if it isn’t what you were expecting. I have returned manuscripts to authors without review, because the author failed to submit the article in the correct format or has exceeded the word count. If an article does proceed in the wrong format or with an elevated word count, then it may fail at a later stage simply because the senior editors and reviewers are distracted by the flaws in the manuscript preparation. If you didn’t care to format it properly, then the reviewers are wondering what else is missing.

A practical strategy

With the correct journal, article type, and word count in mind, you should start by writing the results section. Considering the study objective, prepare tables or figures and/or write the results in a concise manner to support the objective, and in parallel, write the methods. Only include the necessary experiments and details. This preparation will logically lead you to write a discussion of the results (not a repeat of the results), limitations, and enlightening conclusion. After reviewing what you have written (results, methods, and discussion), you will see that there are a few sentences required to orient the reader (i.e., someone with expertise in your area) in the introduction. Write the introduction, which will end with your objective statement(s).

Edit for grammar and style

Now that you have prepared first research paper, have it properly edited for grammar and style. Send the instructions to authors with your manuscript when having it edited. When a paper is written poorly, the editors and reviewers are distracted from the content. A good research paper can be rejected, because its message is lost in cumbersome language.

Why Grammar Matters on Personal Blogs

Personal blogs — why grammar matters!

For those of us who have a personal blog, we know there is a much satisfaction in sharing our ideas. We spend time planning and writing our blog and we look forward to receiving likes and comments. Some of our blogs may be focused on a “cause” while others may just be a means of sharing life events with many people.

How much time do you spend editing your blog for proper grammar? Does it matter if you write things like “well” when you actually mean “good?” Will it impact your blog or readership if you interchange the words “there,” “they’re,” or “their?” It might surprise you how these grammatical errors might just impact your life.

Here are three ways that poor grammar might be impacting your world.

  1. Many jobseekers and career climbers are unaware that poor grammar is holding back their careers. Numerous online resources are reminding people that companies may not hire people who use poor grammar. Employers will take the time to look beyond your resume and cover letter. They now look at your online history and if your blog presents poor grammar or spelling issues this might be a deciding factor as to why you do not get the job. An employer might call into question your perfectly crafted resume and cover letter if they find other written documents with poor grammar – they will wonder which person they might hire. (Impact of poor grammar – Not Hired)
  2. Likewise, if you are competing for a promotion, your personal blog might be reviewed and quietly used as a reason to not promote you. Promotions often come with a need for increased verbal and written communication and these are skills that most employers do not have time to teach. If you present poor grammar outside of work, employers may worry that you will slip into bad habits while at work. (Impact of poor grammar – Not Promoted)
  3. Documents and blogs that you write in defense of a cause need to be properly edited and formatted. Poorly edited or formatted letters sent in support of your cause will receive less attention. Those who read these documents do not want to decipher what you are trying to say. (Impact of poor grammar – Your impassioned plea for your “Cause” is ignored)

So take a few minutes on that personal blog to make sure the grammar is correct. In the business world, it is very important to have a strong command of English grammar rules and be able to express your thoughts and ideas clearly using the written word. Maybe have one of your blog posts edited by someone who knows the difference between the proper use of “your” and “you’re.”

Grammar does matter, and people do notice.