Atena Juszko, ELT Editor | Writer | Project Manager

A day in the life …

Inspired by Katherine Bilsborough’s post of the same title, I’ve decided to write my own day in the life post … as my day is slightly different. This is partly because I have small kids and only part-time childcare and partly because writing constitutes only around 40% of my work and the rest is content development and project management. I’m also based in Canada and work with publishers in the UK, so the time difference plays a big part in how I structure my working day. Actually, no two days are the same for me, so here’s what happened yesterday.

5.30 am

I usually wake up at 5.30 am in the spring and summer months and 6.00 am in the autumn and winter. My kids are awake at around 7.00/7.30, so I like to have that hour or so to deal with work stuff before the craziness starts.

The first thing I do after getting up, is check my emails. Clients in the UK are still in the office, so if there are any urgent questions that I need to answer or files that I might have to request, I can do that while they’re still at work. Usually, after 9.00 am my time, there’s no chance of getting a reply until midnight (which is 8.00 am the next day UK time).

6.30 am

Twice or three times a week I have Skype meetings with clients and other freelancers (editors and writers) in Europe. Again, this is so early because of the time difference. But I hate meetings, so it’s good to get them out of the way as soon as possible.

Today, I have a meeting with the team working on a new international course at Oxford University Press (OUP). There’s about six people in this meeting (the managing editor of the course, and other content editors working on the various components), and we all brief each other on where we are with our components, what’s coming up next and discuss any other business connected with the course.

7.30 am

Meeting’s over and it’s time to get my son ready for daycare and my daughter for school. This means putting together their lunches (I prepare the cold items the night before, and then just add the hot items in the morning), washing and filling up their water bottles, and helping them get dressed. My youngest one (4.5 years old) gets walked to daycare by his dad at around 7.50 am. My older one (6 years old) goes to elementary school and I walk her there at 8.40 am each day.

9.20 am

ELT editor writer work freelance day in the life

Back home from the school run, I make a bulletproof coffee (blended coffee with coconut milk and butter) and sit down at my desk.

To keep myself focused and to ensure that I take regular breaks, I use the Pomodoro Technique. In brief, this means working in ‘sprints’ which last 25 minutes. After each sprint (or ‘Pomodoro’), you take a 5-minute break. After four ‘Pomodoros’, you take a longer (15–30 minutes) break.

Back at my desk, so many emails have suddenly cropped up in my inbox since 7.30 am when I last checked my messages. I try to sort them according to my own ‘Inbox zero’ policy (which I’ll probably write about in another post). I reply to the messages that I can, file some of the other messages and just ignore the rest. I usually get around 200 emails per day if I’m project managing a course, around 50 if I’m working on one level and around 20–30 if I’m working on one component.

Today, I also have an email about taking on some writing work in March, but I’m fully booked until mid-2021, so I reply suggesting some people that I worked with in the past. I really hate turning down work, especially interesting projects like this one, but I also like booking long-term projects, like the one I’m currently working on (more on this below), and any other shorter projects well in advance.

10.00 am

Time for some ‘proper’ work. Just like Katherine, I work on several projects at a time. I always have a ‘big’ long-term project and a few smaller ones that I squeeze in here and there. The longer projects usually last 1.5–2 years and give me the financial security and stability that you’d get if you had a permanent, full-time job. These projects usually take up around 30 hrs per week, so they let me plan my finances, holidays, training, etc. I also take on ‘smaller’ projects in addition to my ‘big’ projects. I choose these smaller projects based on my interests, career goals (e.g. personal development), establishing or nurturing contacts, and of course, time.

Today, I need to content edit some secondary material for Pearson (newish client that I want to keep happy, plus an interesting project and a wonderful team to work with), prepare a mapping doc of some tests that can be reused in a new course for OUP (commissioned by someone I feel close to, plus a personal interest in the project), prepare a Polish bilingual matura exam paper for handover to design for OUP (another personal interest project) and plan a unit for a new international course (this is my current ‘long term’ project).

I’ve decided to start with the last item on my ‘to-do list’ as I love this creative aspect of my job. I’m putting together ideas for a unit in a new international course. This entails coming up with topics (including links to any resources) for every lesson in the unit, the grammar, vocabulary sets, skills, any strategies, task types, writing genres, and so on. This might sound easy, but it means covering items from core curricula in various countries and satisfying all of their needs, which isn’t always straightforward. I’m planning the whole level, so I also need to ensure that all the units flow well together, there’s good progression in terms of level and that we’re not duplicating anything between units and the other levels in the course.

I tend to save any interesting articles that I come across in my Pocket account, so whenever I need ideas for a particular topic, I can just go there. This is what I’m doing today, although, I haven’t got enough ideas for every lesson, so I’m googling quite a bit too. My past experiences working on schoolbooks help too, as they make it easier for me to align grammar with particular skills, strategies, pronunciation and so on.

I’ll send my plan to the author, who will add her ideas. We’ll then discuss all of this and come up with the final plan which she’ll use to write the unit. I’ll then content edit all of the units and then pass them on to a copy editor who will prepare the manuscript for handover to design.

12.15 pm

Time for a short break. My partner comes home for lunch, so we eat together and fill each other in on our mornings. However, this will soon change as we’re moving and his work is going to be too far for him to come back home for lunch.

12.45 pm

Back at my desk, I decide to tackle the bilingual matura test. I’ve been working on this with the author for the last couple of months. I briefed and content edited the test, and now it’s time to prepare it for handover to design. This mainly entails some copy editing (styling, standardizing the rubrics, correcting any spelling and grammar mistakes, and typos). Copy editing isn’t something that I do on a daily basis, but I like to hand over a ‘tidy’ manuscript, so that’s why I’m doing this today. I also prepare the art work brief, audio script for the recording and the answer key.

2.30 pm

I go to pick up my daughter from school. Taking my daughter to school and back, and then picking up my son allows me to hit around 15k steps per day. Not bad for someone with a sedentary job! Unfortunately, once we move, their school is going to be much closer, so I’ll need to find another way to get my steps in!

3.10 pm

Back home, I continue working on the bilingual matura test.

4 pm

I go pick up my son from daycare.

After returning home at 4.20 pm, I make dinner; the kids eat, then we play together, read, write, etc. This is when I usually prepare their school lunches for the next day. Then bath and bedtime at 6 pm (yes, my kids go to bed that early). After that I have some time with my partner, we have dinner together, chat, watch TV, etc. Then it’s ‘me’ time.

7.30 pm

Time to relax a bit. I either go down to the gym or pool (we’re lucky enough to live in a building that has both, but this will soon change when we move) or I do some yoga at home. I love yoga with Adriene.

ELt writing editing author yoga

Depending on my workload, I either spend the evening with my partner, read a book, or … go back to work. Today, it’s back to work day.

8 pm

I return to my desk to prepare the mapping doc for the reuse tests. After about an hour, I decide to change tasks as I’m not really feeling inspired. I start content editing the Pearson manuscript. Content editing means checking that the exercises work (are doable), any grammar explanations are correct, the content flows well, the level is correct, everything makes sense, facts are correct, topics are interesting, and if necessary, the content matches any curriculum or exam requirements, etc. This doesn’t entail checking for spelling mistakes, typos or errors due to lack of consistency (this is something that a copy editor usually does). However, if I see any typos or other mistakes, I do flag them. This task is going a bit better than the previous one. The author has written some really interesting texts, the material flows well, the tasks are interesting. I continue working on this until I can work no more, which is usually around 11.00 pm. Today’s no different.

11.30 pm

I’m in bed. I used to read articles on my iPad and save the more interesting ones to my Pocket account to use later in coursebooks, but these days, I either read books for pleasure or watch TV series (A million little things, You, This is Us, Grey’s Anatomy). I fall asleep while watching TV on my iPad…


* Billable hours today: around 9/10

In this industry, every day is different, so I’ll try to post about my day on a regular basis.


1 thought on “A day in the life …”

  1. Dorota Cieślik

    Not many things in life are better than to find a strong, independent and talented woman who successfully combines work, family and self-development. It isn’t easy to be motivated and disciplined in a freelancer’s job. And at the same time, to be a wonderful mummy who bakes birthday cakes and goes into wildlife with her children. I especially admire a sporty side of you. It is really inspiring. Thank you!

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