How Many Hours a Day Does an Editor Work?

Sophie Playle

If you’re a freelance editor, have you ever asked yourself how many hours a day you should spend editing?

You might wonder how your productivity stacks up against other editors. Hey, it’s natural to be curious about how we compare to other editorial business professionals.

When you have no boss to tell you you’re on the right track, comparing our businesses can give us an indication of how we’re doing. But a word of warning: take comparisons with a big pinch of salt.

Direct comparisons are only useful when our situations are exactly the same. But they never are. Inevitably, we’re all different and our businesses are all different.

Saying that, considering how many hours you spending editing is useful for several reasons.

  • When setting your rates, you need to know how much paid work you can fit into your day, your week, your month and your year so that you can aim to earn the salary you need.
  • When working out your schedule, you need to know how many hours you can work in a day so you can work out how many days a job will take. This is useful when planning your own schedule, but also crucial when a client needs work completed to a deadline – how feasible is what they’re asking?
  • When deciding how to balance your time, you need to know when it’s okay to stop working and quiet that voice in the back of your head that says ‘Why aren’t you working? You need to be working! The bills aren’t going to pay themselves, you know!’ (Damn, I hate that voice so much.)

At the end of the day, work out what works best for you and your business. To help you do so, let’s talk about the kinds of work you need to do as an editorial business owner, how much concentration your work needs, and what you want your workday to look like.

Working in your business vs working on your business

Working in your business means doing the client-paid work – conducting the skilled service that directly brings in the money. Working on your business means doing the tasks that help maintain and grow your business – marketing, replying to emails, quoting for work, keeping on top of your accounts, continuing professional development, and doing general admin tasks.

Obviously, every business requires you to do both kinds of work. And you need to consider both types of work when setting your rates and deciding your schedules.

It seems many editors don’t spend more than five hours a day editing.

In a recent thread in the Society for Editors and Proofreaders’ Forum, most editors who chimed into the discussion said if they edit for more than five hours, they lose concentration and the quality of their work suffers.

Some people said they manage to edit for six or seven hours a day. They help maintain their concentration by taking long breaks. Several people suggested that to keep up a rate of editing seven, eight or more hours a day for any more than a couple of days inevitably leads to burnout.

Editing is deep work

Deep work is a concept I came across in Cal Newport’s book of the same name. In it, he describes deep work as ‘professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.’ Sounds like editing to me.

Maintaining the kind of focus needed to edit well is hard. Newport suggests we live in an age that’s rife with distraction. (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you about the pull of I’ll just check Facebook …)

He suggests three to four hours of deep work a day can produce a lot of valuable output, but for most people this level of maintained concentration is a rare achievement. The good news is we can train our brains to focus better and for longer with practice.

The more often we focus on our editing, the better we become at focusing on our editing.

And that means we’re able to produce better work and more work – which helps us make the most of every hour of editing we do in a day. For any professional whose work requires a lot of thinking, a deep work practice is a good thing to develop.

A typical eight-hour workday … no thanks?

Regardless of the amount and quality of the editing you get done in a day, let’s say you still aim for five hours. Along with two hours of business management and a lunch break, this equates to a typical eight-hour workday. Sometimes you’ll spend fewer hours editing and more hours working on your business, depending on your personal concentration levels and what your business needs are at the time.

But hey, I didn’t get into this gig to replicate a normal nine-to-five job. Flexibility and the freedom to create my ideal working day is one of the main perks of running my own business.

So I don’t like to think about my work in this way. Instead, I ask myself: What do I need to do for my business? What do I need to do for myself? How can I make both work for me this week? This, my friends, is what we call work-life balance. I’m not saying I get it right all the time, by the way – I’m just saying this is how I approach my time.

If an eight-hour workday works for you, then go for it.

But if it doesn’t, don’t beat yourself up about it. I personally don’t spend five hours a day editing. My limit is around four, and my average is around three. And I’m okay with that. I also don’t edit every single workday. I often spend whole days working on my business rather than in it. That works for me.

In the end, we’re so darn lucky to be able to build workdays that works best for us. (And by extension, our clients – since a rested and happy editor is a good editor!) Don’t feel as though you should be working or editing a certain number of hours a day. Do what works best for you and your business.

If you want to learn more about running your own editing business, take a look at my online courses. 

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

Sign up to Liminal Letters

Insights into the world of fiction, from the desk of an editor

Editorial considerations, creative revelations and the occasional existential lamentation – sharing my experiences and personal recommendations exclusively with you.