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Online teachers need increased energy for focused and effective work. They often end up working all the time because it’s so easy to access the classroom anywhere and anytime. In this episode, APU professor Dr. Bethanie Hansen encourages educators to think about managing their energy, instead of focusing just on managing their time. Learn about ways to renew four critical areas of energy: physical, emotional, spiritual and mental energy. Focusing on these areas can help online educators increase productivity, strengthen their work-life balance, and feel more fulfilled in their teaching.
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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.
Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. Thank you for joining me today. We spend a lot of time on this podcast talking about strategies for best practices teaching online. We also approach how to reach our students in the best ways possible.
Another area we cover is professional development for you as the online faculty member or online instructor. We also talk about multimedia, video creation, online live teaching, office hours and the like.
And then there’s this whole other area and that’s about who we really are, how we show up to the online classroom. You bring your whole self to work, not just part of you. And there’s all that other stuff that impacts your life as an online educator. It’s the quality of sleep you get, the way you take care of yourself so that you can make it through the day, and, of course, the way you manage your time.
Anyone who has taught online can tell you that teaching online can easily spread into your entire life. It can take over your free time, your weekends, your evenings. You might even find yourself taking your computer with you to the bowling alley with friends, hoping to just get one more email read or post in one more forum.
It’s not that online teaching is really that out of control. It’s that it’s easy to do it anytime anywhere, because it is online. And so there’s this sense we get that we should do it anytime and anywhere.
Manage Online Teaching Responsibilities By Managing Your Energy, Not Your Time
Today I’m going to talk with you about the real way you should manage your time when you’re teaching online. It actually comes from a Harvard Business Review article by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy, and this article is called Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time. This is such a revolutionary concept: to think about all of the different places where we get energy. In fact, I love the definition that the authors propose here. I’m going to quote them from page two of this article:
“The core problem with working longer hours is that time is finite as a resource. Energy is a different story. Defined in physics as the capacity to work, energy comes from four main wellsprings in human beings: the body, emotions, mind, and spirit.
In each, energy can be systematically expanded and regularly renewed by establishing specific rituals, behaviors that are intentionally practiced and precisely scheduled with the goal of making them unconscious and automatic as quickly as possible.”
The main idea here is, we’ll take one little thing, one piece at a time, and establish some new habits. These new habits will be rejuvenating, refreshing, and help you to manage the energy that you need to do the work that you are doing and not just let it take all the time that you have. The concept is to focus on the energy you need to do the work and not the time it takes to do the work.
After you focus on these things, I’ll be interested to know how it has impacted your life. Has your teaching improved in quality? The results shared in this article are that people who’ve followed these practices actually had greater productivity in less time and more powerful results in terms of return on investment in the business world. And in our online teaching, that would be something like better success reaching our students, increased engagement from our students, and more retention of students throughout the course. Those things are great metrics. We don’t always see them as online educators, but we can observe our students and notice how they respond to the ways we show up.
Certainly when we have our energy drained and depleted, we cannot show up as well as we’d like. When we have enough energy to show up our best, we’re able to fully engage in the best ways possible.
Some of the things that come from this article are very insightful and really yield a lot of benefit for online educators. The four areas the authors highlight are your physical energy, emotional energy, mental energy, and spiritual energy. They also have some suggestions about how you might set up your workplace for the maximum success.
Remember, the goal here is to work smarter, not harder. And of course, just like any corporation or business, in online education the more we want to improve, the more we want to engage students, we want to get better retention, provide more feedback, and all of those things, the more time we tend to spend doing it. And it easily really drains us and exhausts us. And pretty soon we can’t put in any more long hours. There’s just no time left in the day. It’s going to exhaust us, disengage us, and make us sick.
We want a healthy environment for our online teaching and we also want healthy approaches to reaching our students online. So I urge you to try some of these energy preservation tactics so that you can generate the kind of energy you’d really like to have as an online educator for your work and also for your life. Because when we adopt great habits that help us out in the workplace, those can, of course, also touch every area of our life and have great benefit all across the spectrum.
Ways to Improve Your Physical Energy
Let’s talk first about physical energy. Schwartz and McCarthy here are recommending that you renew your physical energy by enhancing your sleep. This means to go to bed a little bit earlier and also reducing alcohol consumption.
Go to Bed Earlier
Studies show that alcohol consumption can actually interrupt your sleep later in the night when you’re already asleep. And also if you go to bed a little earlier, you’ll wake up earlier refreshed and ready to start the day. There’s something about that going to bed earlier that is really healthy for you and also generates a lot more energy. You’re less likely to cheat yourself of important hours of sleep, and you’re more likely to get a full night’s rest if you go to bed a little earlier.
Get Exercise, Especially Cardiovascular
Also in the physical energy category, we have reducing stress by engaging in exercise like cardiovascular activity at least three times a week and also doing strength training at least once a week. Now, if you are a person who does not regularly exercise, like I have been much of my adult life, it’s easy to start very small, and I’ll just make two suggestions here. You can creatively come up with your own.
One is for cardiovascular activity. You can do a brisk walk around the house if you have some space. If you have any stairs, you could walk up and down the stairs four or five times. You could also go outside to get the mail and walk around the street a little bit before you go back inside your house. There are very small and simple ways we can get cardiovascular activity and we can sort of integrate these into our routine by taking little breaks to do it.
Engage in Strength Training
Then the strength training can start small as well. You don’t have to lift a lot of weights. You could take something like a one or two pound weights, something very light, and just start doing small repetitions of those strength training exercises. If you really want to get into this, there are a lot of online places you can go now where you can do a group exercise class and engage with them as they’re doing those exercises.
Eat Small Meals Regularly to Keep Energy Levels High
Another suggestion to generate physical energy for you is to eat small meals and light snacks every three hours. Now this might vary by person how often you need to eat to maintain your energy, but some of us don’t notice when we’re actually hungry or when our energy is low and would better fueled by eating something.
I personally have to schedule that time so that I don’t miss lunch or miss breakfast because I’ll get into the flow of what I’m doing, and even if I take a break to walk out, take the dog out, or get the mail, I will still forget that it’s time to eat something. So if you’re like me and you don’t think about that automatically, definitely schedule it and plan a break around it so that you can do it.
Also, learn to notice the signs of eminent, energy flagging, including restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating. There are a lot of these little signs that our body gives us to tell us that it’s time for a break or maybe it’s time for rest, perhaps we even need a short nap. Whatever they are, learn to notice what they are for you and for your body and start responding whenever you notice those things with some healthy way to address them to preserve your physical energy.
Take Regular Breaks to Renew Energy
And lastly in this category, take brief but regular breaks away from your desk at 90 or 120 minute intervals throughout the day. You can of course take more frequent breaks every half hour to hour, if you need to, but regular breaks are going to give your mind a clean break from whatever you’re doing and help you come back fresh and ready to go at the next session that you’re going to work.
Improve Your Emotional Energy
The second area suggested by Schwartz and McCarthy in this article is emotional energy. The first area of emotional energy is about negative emotions. They suggest diffusing these emotions such as irritability, impatience, anxiety, and insecurity.
How to Diffuse Negative Emotions
Some ways that you can diffuse those negative emotions are from brief physical activity, short journal exercises, listening to energetic music. You can also do deep abdominal breathing. Emotions come from chemicals that go throughout our body, and when those chemicals are charging up our body with the emotion, our body needs to do something to help process that as well as our brain thinking through what’s going on. That’s why I suggest a short movement of some kind to help you process the emotional energy.
Fuel Positive Emotions
The second type of emotional energy suggestion is to fuel positive emotions in yourself and others by regularly expressing appreciation to others in detailed specific terms throughout notes, emails, calls, or conversations.
I’m not sure if you’ve had this experience, but I have noticed that as the pandemic has continued onward, at the time of this recording we are still experiencing the pandemic, many negative things are easy to say. A lot of negative energy seems to be pooling around us and it’s easy to start pointing out all of the things that we’re missing or the things that are not going right. You can feel those positive emotions by regularly expressing appreciation. It’s easy to do. All we need to do is take a second to notice what’s going right instead of what’s going wrong and to mention it.
Reframe Setbacks with Alternate Perspectives
And lastly, in the emotional energy category, look at upsetting situations through new lenses. You can actually take someone else’s perspective or you can say, what would an objective observer think? And that can help to reframe something. But another way would be when we see something that is lacking or is negative, to look at what is going right about that thing.
For example, if a person were to wake up a little bit late in the morning by oversleeping accidentally, maybe the alarm got turned off and the person slept a little bit too long, it might be tempting to say, “Today’s going to be a horrible day. It’s starting off badly because I overslept. I’m really getting started poorly.”
But we could flip that and say, “Today’s going to be a fantastic day because I got a little bit extra sleep, so I know I’m ready to go.” It’s easy to just turn that around and find another way of looking at the exact same problem and find the positive instead of dwelling on what went wrong.
Manage Your Mental Energy
The third area to focus on to help preserve your energy so you can work less and work smarter is the area of mental energy. In this area there are three tips. The first is to reduce interruptions by performing high concentration tasks away from phones and email.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried the focus assist tool on the computer, but it’s there. Somewhere in the lower right-hand corner of my screen I see it. Focus assist will quiet all the notifications so they don’t pop up on your computer while you’re working, and, of course, you could take a cell phone and just place it in the other room and then close the door and it’s easy to just ignore it for a few minutes, maybe half an hour, to an hour while you’re working in a really focused session.
Respond Only During Designated Times of the Day
The second suggestion for your mental energy is to respond to voice mails and emails at designated times during the day. I know a lot of people who check their email first thing, make a list out of that email and then move on with their scheduled tasks and address those other items as they come up, check it again at lunchtime, and check it quickly before leaving at the end of the day. If we avoid checking it compulsively throughout the day, we’re going to be able to be a little more focused about the work, as well as the email responses, and everyone’s going to benefit from that.
Identify Priorities for Tomorrow and Tackle First Thing
Lastly, in the evenings, identify the most important challenge you’re going to face the next day and make it your first priority when you get to work in the morning. Definitely if there’s something hard, a human nature type of tendency is to push it off so that it waits until the easier things have been done or the faster things have been done. If there’s something first, everything else in the day will definitely seem easier because you’ve already accomplished the hardest thing on your plate.
Enhance Your Spiritual Energy
The last area to help you preserve your energy so you’re focused on your energy and not time management so much is your spiritual energy. Now spiritual areas we don’t always talk about enough. These are areas that bring purpose and meaning and perspective in life.
The first tip here is to identify your “sweet spot” activities. Those that give you the feelings of effectiveness, like you’re effortlessly absorbed in flow. You’re really swept away by the activity, enjoying it so much, and you’re really fulfilled by it. What kinds of things when you’re teaching online actually create this kind of experience for you?
Believe it or not, the same things that sweep us up into flow can also be those things we really despise about our online job if we start to allow ourselves to become a little bit overwhelmed. To get behind on things, and to have a high-pressure feeling.
So if we get this under control and we start to sort out when we’re going to do different tasks, we can find that sweet spot again and identify the things that we really, truly do enjoy in our online teaching.
One of my areas that I really enjoy is engaging in forum discussions with my students. I love to respond to what they’ve said, share some insights, some experiences I’ve had. And come up with creative questions to help them think more fully about the topic, but also to connect to it personally.
And the more they respond back to me, the more excited I get about it. I never thought I would enjoy forum discussions, and when I first started teaching online, I wasn’t even sure how to engage in a forum discussion. And now that I’ve done it for many years, it is my favorite part.
So identify yours and you will find a lot more fulfillment by finding more ways to weave them into your day and ensure that you can do them often.
Can You Hire Someone to Help You?
Now, if there are things you really don’t like, they’re the opposite of your sweet spot, they are the worst things that you can do, if they are things that can be delegated, consider doing that. And maybe it’s not part of your teaching, maybe it’s part of the household management. Some people hire housekeepers to clean up the house while they’re doing their online work or caretakers to help assist with children that are home so they can get the online work done during parts of the day.
And you might consider who can you hire or delegate to. Or ask for assistance with those things that you really don’t like and that someone else might enjoy better.
Dedicate Time to the Most Important Things in Your Life
Another way to refresh your spiritual energy is to give time and energy to what you consider the most important things. For example, they suggest spending the last 20 minutes of your evening commute if you drive home relaxing so that you can connect with your family once you’re home.
Now, of course, if you’re working from home and everybody’s at home, and often online educators are at home, you might consider building in some kind of 20-minute buffer to transition from your online work to your home.
Maybe you have a walk you’re going to take where you put on some headphones and listen to music or some enjoyable novel that you’re listening to. Whatever it is, find a way to get a clean break from the mental state that you’re in when you’re teaching online so you can actually enjoy the time with your family and be at home with a fresh perspective.
Find Ways to Support Your Core Values
And lastly, live your core values. One example of this is that if kindness and consideration are important to you but you end up being late to meetings all the time, you could focus on intentionally showing up five minutes early for all of the meetings to live the value of kindness and consideration in a way that suits you best. It can also help you to think about the values others might hold so you can understand them better and give them space as well.
Now, some suggestions given here about your environment, in closing, to support your energy habits could be to have a designated space in your office or in your home where you can go to relax and to unwind or refuel.
Consider gym equipment or exercise equipment or a gym membership if one’s available to you, where you can go and really get involved in a regular habit there and be with other people. Or you could think about getting together with other people, even virtually for a mid-day workout.
And lastly, consider not checking your emails during a meeting and especially not during a live class session. We all worry that a student is trying to reach us, or our manager is trying to reach us, but we can schedule those checks, and check them at planned times and reduce our stress from that.
Focusing on Your Energy Can Help You Do Your Best Work
In short, I just want to wrap this up by saying, I hope that you will think about these four areas of your energy—your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual areas—and the tendency we have as online educators to work harder, longer days and put in more and more hours.
It’s going to backfire on us and it can lead to burnout and also low job and life satisfaction. The more we focus on renewing our energy so we can work at our best, the more we can keep our work and focus, and also the boundaries of the workday we’d like to have.
In the end, we’re going to be a lot more satisfied, happier, set limits around the work and have a lot more space to have a fulfilling life outside of the teaching as well.
I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week, and thank you for joining me for the podcast. This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge Podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.