Like any good craftsperson, an editor has tools for the trade: computer, editing software (or a trusty red pen), dictionary, style guide, and go-to sources for fact-checking. But what’s missing is a critical asset that can bail us out like no other tool in our kit: mindfulness.
When overthinking or distractions interfere with our work, we need to acknowledge the problem and edit our reaction to it. Cue mindfulness, the ability to acknowledge what’s going on in our mind at any given moment without letting it carry us away. The editor can use this invisible yet immensely valuable tool to improve focus, manage anxiety, and increase productivity.
Picture this: You’re under a tight deadline for an editing project. It needs restructuring and contains numerous errors and style inconsistencies. You’re struggling to make edits because your head is swirling with worries about finishing on time and helping the author get the right message across without completely overhauling the work. The job is for an important new client, so you want it to be perfect. Your reputation and your livelihood depend on it. (Wow, that spiraled quickly!)
Our thoughts and fears can cause us to doubt our abilities, adding yet another layer of anxiety. In these moments, our attention is everywhere but where it needs to be—on our work. By learning to be mindful of our thoughts and impulses (like multi-tasking or checking our phones), we can recognize what doesn’t serve us and let it go. The goal is to take our minds off autopilot—our default mode of being—and return to the present moment, where we’re in control and better able to stay on task. If we can thwart our distractions from flooding our focus, we create space for clarity and productivity to thrive.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but here are some simple techniques to start:
Stop what you’re doing and sit still. Notice how your body feels in its position—your legs, your arms, your feet, your back—as you sit here in this moment. Notice your breathing. Take a slow, deep breath in, and then softly exhale. Repeat this breath sequence a few times and notice how it helps you relax. You can do this brief exercise at any time throughout the day, as often as you like. It only takes a few moments to give your mind a rest and refocus.
Commit to being fully attentive when performing daily tasks like washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, or taking a shower. Approach them with a “beginner’s mind”—like you’ve never done them before. Notice the sensations: the sound of the water, the feeling of the water, the smell of the soap. Engage your awareness from start to finish. Your mind will likely wander, but when it does, just bring it back to the action. This informal practice helps condition us to become more aware of the present moment (and it’s pretty enjoyable, too).
If meditation sounds intimidating, drop your inhibitions and try it. It’s an approachable practice, and anyone can do it. (If you can breathe, you can meditate.) Meditation helps us turn inward, deep below our thoughts and worries and preconceptions about who we are in the world, and expands our mind beyond the bounds we place on it. Through meditation, we recognize that our thoughts are fleeting, but we’re grounded. Anchoring to our breath or to our senses allows us to detach from our thoughts and release the ones that hold us back. (How’s that for fostering clarity and confidence?) There are various types of meditations, so you can explore and see what works best for you. Many are only a few minutes long, so they easily fit into a busy schedule.
Like any tool, mindfulness continuously needs honing. It takes practice to cut through the clutter and time to establish a routine. Don’t judge yourself. There’s no right, wrong, pass, or fail in mindfulness. Simply setting an intention to be mindful throughout the day can help you implement these techniques and enhance your awareness, giving your mind the break it needs to approach an editing project with fresh attention and a calm disposition. The more you practice, the more proficient you’ll become at using this handy new tool.