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Teach Online With Confidence

Helping Educators Engage More Online Students with Less Stress through Simple Strategies

Dr. Bethanie Hansen 

Teaching Excellence Strategist

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

#66: Increasing Your Productivity as an Online Educator [Podcast]

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com

Maintaining a high level of productivity can be challenging for online educators. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen provides strategies on how to improve your physical and mental energy to increase productivity. Learn tips about how to manage your never-ending “to do” list, why it’s important to unclog your mind, and the value of giving yourself time to work on your personal “heart projects.”

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. It may seem a little odd to you today that we’re going to talk about increasing your productivity as an online educator, but I firmly believe that habits and strategies are what help us get through our teaching job and our teaching career. Many of us enter this profession because we want to make a difference or distill ideas upon others, or perhaps mentor people into our profession or the area that we love the most. Maybe we even want to make a big difference in the world.

Regardless of the reason why you came into this profession, the fact remains that being an educator is hard work. There is a lot to do. There’s a lot of feedback to give others. We must be organized to make that happen. We have announcements, we have content in the classroom itself, when we’re working online. We have follow-ups, personalized outreach efforts we need to do when students are falling behind. Guidance of all kinds. And as I mentioned before, feedback.

Among these many different types of activities, time gets away from us, sometimes. Have you ever said to yourself that you would get back to a task later in the evening? That’s a great sign that productivity tips can help you a lot in your online educator role.

Today, we’re going to talk about some special tips that come from a wonderful book called “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance. It’s “50 Simple Hacks to Organize Your Tasks, Overcome Procrastination, Increase Efficiency, and Work Smarter to Become a Top Performer.”

Not everyone approaches their educator job as if it is a performer productivity type of role. However, we know that unless we keep up with the day-to-day tasks, the endless minutiae of being an administrator of the classroom, we will not be able to have the kind of impact we would like to have.

These tips today are intended to help you. I want to help you really enjoy what you do and make a difference, as you want to do. So let’s jump in and talk about productivity habits. I will share just a few today to get you started. And after this podcast, I do hope you will check out this book, “Supercharge Productivity Habits” by John R. Torrance.

Increasing Your Physical and Mental Energy

The first habit I’d like to share with you today is in the area of increasing your physical and mental energy. You’ve probably heard that athletes are always thinking about increasing their energy and bringing protein into the body, drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest. It makes a lot of sense that a person who’s out there competing physically would need to do that, right?

Of course, the mind is also one of the greatest tools that we have at our disposal. We can’t have energy, like confidence or focus, motivation, or any kind of productivity at all, if our mind is wandering or not feeling healthy. In fact, there is a lot that has to do with our physical and mental energy that impacts our productivity and our overall effectiveness as educators.

Think about it, if you were really approaching your job as if you have to be in tiptop, physical and mental condition to be an educator, what would you do to reach that goal? I’ve thought about this a little bit, and in the time that I’ve worked at American Public University, I’ve been very fortunate to have the influence of the Wellness Team. Not sure if that’s their title, but early on several years ago, there used to be this little challenge in the employee portal. It was private, no one else could see it. But you had to record your weight at the start of each year. And you had to do some exercises along the way, partially some kind of incentive to have one kind of health insurance over another.

And I’m expecting that it probably had to do with the cost out of my paycheck. And that’s what motivated me. I don’t recall exactly what the situation was, but I do remember that I had to write down how much I weighed and then I had to engage in certain health-related activities like walking, or counting steps, or something like that.

Now, when you think about it, even just becoming aware of your own physical activity level, your physical fitness, your overall health, and your bodyweight does something to you. It was a few years of doing that, and pretty soon I realized I needed to make major changes. In my own situation, I did lose 95 pounds and I have successfully maintained that for the past four to five years. And it all started with that awareness every year that was part of the health insurance plan of just working at American Public University.

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*About this image: My professional faculty photo, taken by American Public University Systems (2015, on left) and an informal photo taken at home (2020, on right)

If I took it further and thought about it every year and recorded my efforts to become a mental athlete as an educator, I would take it a lot further and increase my goals in physical and mental wellness. Over time, I want to become more confident, more focused, more productive, and more happy with myself in my role and in the work that I do with my students.

In essence, it is the everyday habit that one puts into their physical and mental abilities that come together to summatively create the performance and productivity we have in the online classroom.

There are some high-powered physical and mental energy hacks that Torrance shares in his book. And I’d like to share these with you here.

Tackle What You Dread First

First, he talks about tackling what you dread the most. It’s going to give you energy to deal with the less critical things or the less enjoyable things throughout the day because you’ve done the most difficult one.

Visualize Before You Go to Bed

Second, you’re going to visualize before you go to bed, and the thoughts that you take to bed matter. So your mind is going to get in a mood for sleep. And you’re also going to think about or visualize the type of things you’re going to be doing when you’re waking up that are pleasurable to you. So you’re actually predicting a positive day for the next day and thinking about the energy you need to begin the day.

Now that second hack there, thinking about it before you go to bed, I personally do that a lot. That’s one of my own habits. I’ll make a to-do list about the things I want to do the next day. And I’ll think about how I need to wake up.

Then in the next morning, when I wake up, I’m actually laying in bed sometimes feeling very tired and not at all interested in getting out of bed. And I’ll remember what I’m going to do first thing in the morning. And then I’ll purposely choose to jump out of bed and give myself some energy so I can get moving.

Sometimes it’s really hard. And other times it’s very easy because the motivating task is so interesting to me. Whatever you do, visualizing before bed can set the tone for the next day, but make sure it’s something positive you’re visualizing, and you’re seeing action and the motivation that you’re going to need.

Unclog Your Mind

Third, unclog your mind. So Torrance suggests that we all have a never-ending to-do list. I don’t know if you have one, but I know I do. And it can sometimes make me feel like I never really finish things. There’s always another list tomorrow and sometimes one list can go through a week or two without completely getting wiped out.

If you can unclog that list by writing it all down, setting it aside, turning off technology, and letting go of emails and all those things, at some point you’re going to have a little bit of space to think more clearly, be more mentally alert, and be able to set limits around your time.

Unclogging your mind is also going to help you think about what you can take off of your list. If you do write it down and realize it’s been there a while, maybe it doesn’t even need to get done at all, or maybe it could be delegated. There’s possibly another solution if you find that something is on your to-do list for a very long time.

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

The fourth productivity hack is getting the right amount of sleep. Believe it or not, the amount of sleep you get every day actually impacts your mental and physical functioning. Over time you can actually have long-term health effects that are negative if you’re constantly cheating yourself on the sleep.

Now, if you have dragged your work out throughout the day, especially when you’re only working online, if all of your energy is put into that, it can feel like you can never really let go and never really get enough sleep.

Think about what kind of environment you need. What kind of bedding will be most comfortable for you? Is the pillow nice and cool or warm, however, you prefer it? Would there be something you could do before bed to relax you, like a warm bath or some people even drink warm milk, or cocoa, or something like that? Is it helpful for you to read a book before you go to bed? One thing that I’ve heard a lot is no caffeine and no alcohol in the later hours of the day because both of those tend to impact the quality of your sleep throughout the night.

And then, of course, avoid screen time, two hours before bedtime. You can wear these blue-light-blocking glasses that will help you to actually reduce the impact of the screen on your eyes. And you can also buy a light therapy lamp on Amazon that’s going to help you have an experience with bright light, first thing in the morning to really set your time clock and your circadian rhythm.

These are good things to think about if you’re still having problems getting high-quality sleep, but getting enough sleep is definitely essential to give your brain the energy it needs and your body, the energy as well to get through the day.

Pursue Your “Heart Project”

Next, spend a good day chunk of your day pursuing your heart project. A heart project is something you really care about. It’s in your own goal area. It might be what Torrance calls your ultimate passion. When you focus on these things you care most about at some point during a day, this is going to give you a lot of joy, it will refresh you, and help you feel totally revitalized and energized.

So if you have a lot of grading to do, and you’re not a big fan of grading, do the grading, but be sure to give yourself time for this passion project, or heart project. You need reasons to get out of bed in the morning. And if this is it, give yourself the time after you’ve done some of the more difficult tasks of your online teaching job.

Some of the other tips mentioned here in the body and mind category are to have a sense of gratitude and to have a positive outlook on life generally. You also want to think about eating the right foods. Believe it or not, the things you put into your body impact your energy level and your mental functioning.

There’s a thing called inflammation. If you’re not familiar with this, certain foods can actually cause your body to react in a way that inflames your cells and parts of your body. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates and sugar, some people react very poorly to that. You might have puffy eyes or a puffy face and mentally feel quite sluggish and tired. This will make it more difficult to be productive as an online educator, or in any other field.

Think about how healthy food makes you feel. And even if it is less enjoyable than some of those more high carb, or high sugar foods you might crave, think about how you might be able to incorporate these healthy foods to enhance your mental alertness.

Eating more calories early in the day instead of at night can also give you more energy. And then, of course, more fiber, fruit and vegetables, and protein and minerals and vitamins. These things can all add to your energy level and clear up your mind so you can think clearly and be more productive along the way.

Be Active and Find a Physical Exercise You Enjoy

And then lastly, be active, enjoy what you’re doing physically. You might be inspired through exercise, which will help you sleep better and relieve stress as well as boosting your brain. But you might also find a new habit that you could enjoy, like going for a run, short walk, working out with someone else, biking, or even dancing.

My personal favorite is putting on my noise-canceling headphones, some really peppy upbeat music, and walking on my treadmill for 30 minutes or more sometime in the middle of the day. Whatever it is that helps you to physically get active. When we’re working online, we’re sitting a lot and we’re much more prone to want to sit a little bit longer so that we can just get through what we’re trying to do that day.

If you break it up instead, you’ll find that you have more energy and you can even be more productive. So take breaks. Think about the food you eat and the exercise you do as ways to fuel the mind as well as the body.

There are many other productivity hacks and habits in this book by John Torrance. I hope you’ll check it out and try those that I’ve shared with you today, as we all work towards being more productive online educators. And I wish you all the best in your online teaching this coming week.

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.

#59: Tips to Skillfully Cope with Life’s Inevitable Stressors

#59: Tips to Skillfully Cope with Life’s Inevitable Stressors

This content initially appeared at APUEdge.com. 

We all have an endless “to do” list that we can’t keep up with. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all our responsibilities and tasks, but that cumulative stress is incredibly harmful to our physical and mental wellbeing. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks to APU Chaplain Kyle Sorys about his role in offering emotional and spiritual support to students and faculty. Learn ways to skillfully cope with life’s inevitable stressors like dedicating a day each week “no work” where you just enjoy life, establishing “no screen time” each day, getting more sleep, eating better, and meditating. Also reduce stress by learning how to extend self-compassion and self-kindness to yourself in conscious acknowledgement that you’re doing the best you can. All these tips can improve your overall wellbeing and help you live a fuller, less stressful, life.

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Read the Transcript:

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.

Hello, everyone. And welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We are so excited to have you today, because we have a special guest, Chaplain Kyle Sorys. He is going to share a lot of expertise with us today. And as you know, our podcast is geared toward online educators. So you’re living and working online and you have a lot on your plate, and we hope today you’ll find something that makes working online just a little bit easier to manage.

Your life online is something we have covered quite a bit in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ve talked about sleeping more, getting some better exercise and some activity going, there. And we’ve also talked about eating healthy and managing your time. So today we’re going to meet Chaplain Kyle Sorys and I’m really excited to have him here today. So, Kyle, welcome.

Kyle Sorys: Thank you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Thanks for being here. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your path to becoming an online chaplain at APU and AMU?

Kyle Sorys: To me it’s like two questions. It’s like, how did you get here? Where we all can resonate with, since we all work for this organization. And also, what was the path to becoming a chaplain?

And so I’ll just say the chaplaincy, the profession of chaplaincy, I stumbled into it. And I wonder how true that is for most people in their professions versus seeking it out? The truth is when I was in college, when I graduated undergrad and I was looking at master’s programs, I just wanted to take all the classes. I really wanted to be a professional student. I wish they paid me, instead of me paying the school.

But yeah, all the classes, I’m like, “Oh, yeah. I want to take that one. I want to take that one.” And it’s like, “This is training you to be a chaplain.” I’m like, “Okay.” I had no idea what a chaplain was, but I’m like, “Okay. I just want to take the classes. If these classes train me to become a chaplain, then I’ll be a chaplain.”

So yeah, graduate. And then learn what chaplaincy really is. And here’s a learning curve that first year when you’re new to something. So I cut my teeth in the hospital for a while. After that, I did church ministry, youth ministry, specifically. That’s where I met Chaplain Cynthia, who is our full-time primary chaplain at APUS.

[Read an article by Chaplain Cynthia: Embracing Change in This Era of Mass Confusion and Fear]

So it’s interesting how our paths course correct or flow. Just interesting to me. Like the whole purpose of that one year at the church, because I never saw myself working at a church, was I think just to meet Cynthia, just to connect with her.

And so after that, I still do it, too. Not as much because of the pandemic, but a hospice chaplaincy. And Cynthia asked to me to help her out and come on online university chaplaincy. There’s such things as university chaplains like on site, but I’m wondering if APUS, Cynthia, myself, and we have another one, Audrey, if we’re the only online university chaplains in the world, which boggles my mind.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wow. That is interesting to think about. And I’m wondering what might be different, just to expand that a little bit, about being a chaplain online versus in the live space? What’s the change?

Kyle Sorys: So in hospice, I call it ministry of presence. Being one-on-one with another person, having the physical energy of another person. That gets removed on the online environment. Hence why I really, when I’m working with students or with staff or faculty, mainly it’s students I work with, I really try to talk with them over the phone, at least get the voice. That way I can have a feeling or an understanding. Get that body language, but in the voice. I don’t know how to describe that. It’s like voice language, but under the language, does that make sense?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yeah. It sounds like tone and inflection and mood.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah, exactly. Because I learned, a lot of emails, right? A lot of emails in the online university profession. The written word, it makes it a little challenging to try to really feel what the person’s going through. Really hear what they’re trying to say. And I find myself, well, I hear this in the writing. It’s like, well, I hear it in the word, but I don’t literally hear it in my ear. So that makes it challenging.

But the freedom it gives too, that you can be anywhere in the world and we can connect this whole now Zoom revolution in a way. Everyone’s on a screen. There’s a lot more flexibility versus, “Oh. You have to meet me in my office, or I have to come meet you. And how far, and where are you?” And more localized as well. I can’t go physically visit someone in the East coast when I’m living right in the middle of the country. So pros and cons.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes. And just before we jump into some of the things we might want to talk about today, can you give just a brief, “What is a chaplain?” for any of our listeners who are really just not familiar with that role?

Kyle Sorys: I’m still trying to figure it out myself. It’s funny. Was it last week or a couple of weeks ago? Quarterly, we do “Meet the Chaplains,” and that’s where I explain the profession of chaplaincy a little bit. And traditionally, it is clergy members, but in a secular environment, like a hospital, the military, prisons, fire departments, police departments, so secular organizations bring a traditionally religious person in, has a religious background. I think that’s evolving and changing that ritual religious ritual ministry is important, but that’s not the emphasis here on the online university. Maybe that’s one to five percent. I think I’ve prayed once or twice. I don’t know how many students I’ve worked with in the past year that really requested prayer. Most of it is emotional support. And underlying that is spiritual support.

So in brief, chaplaincy is offering spiritual and emotional support. Hence the importance of that ministry of presence, of just being with someone in their struggles and just listening to their story. So another definition I could say as me as a chaplain is someone who hears stories and just appreciates hearing stories.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. It sounds like a really engaging profession and also one with a lot of variety.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: On the idea of the emotional and the spiritual support, it seems that online faculty in particular are very heavily loaded nowadays. They’re doing a lot. It takes a lot of time. As you mentioned, a lot of emails. They experience that too. What would you like to share with listeners about stress management?

Kyle Sorys: First, it really is about an acceptance that stress exists. You can’t escape it. So there’s no need to resist the stress. Because stress can mean a whole lot of things to different people too. So when I contemplate, like what is stress? And for me, stress is whatever disturbs the mind, whatever disturbs the heart. It’s those winds and storms of life.

And sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most often we’re the ones creating that wind and those storms and those disturbances of the mind.

There’s an analogy that you could get hit with a dart or shot with a dart, a really sharp dart. It hurts. And what do you do with it? Well, most often what happens is we take more darts and stab ourselves, instead of just pulling that dart out and going about our life. So stress happens and what do we do? What is our reaction to the stress?

And so to manage stress, there’s skillful coping and unskillful coping. And it’s really cultivating these skillful coping mechanisms where we just pull that first dart out, instead of adding a second dart or a third dart or fourth dart and so on. And then adding more darts because we’re adding darts.

So that’s definitely where I’d say, start with stress management. Just accept and open to the fact that it is unavoidable.

And then investigating, what are we adding onto it? Is it in our benefit or is it making things worse? Because most often stress happens, we react and we don’t even realize how we’re reacting. It’s just so much habit patterns and conditioning. So really learning what’s under that and managing that, then the stress itself. Stress, you can think of it as more as a symptom of an underlying condition going on.

The stress is not personal. I have that, that sometimes we like to think it’s about us. It’s against us. That it’s a personal attack or life’s out to get us, like we did something wrong. All that we add on to it. No, stress is just stress. It’s not personal.

I think if we can really connect with that, at least for me, if I connect with that, that it’s just nature arising, nature unfolding, just stress happening. It’s not personal. There’s a letting go in that. There’s a release and that which helps the stress.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: As you’re describing this, I’m getting this idea. There’s this concept that thoughts just exist and they might float through your mind and float out of your mind. And if you have a negative thought, you could just imagine that and let it go in the same way. Your analogy to the darts makes me think of that same idea, passing through.

Kyle Sorys: Exactly. There’s two common analogies of the mind. One is the sky. Sometimes you get the nice, beautiful fluffy white clouds just slowly rolling by. Other times, there’s dark, stormy clouds filled with water, ready to burst. Sometimes there’s lightning and sometimes there’s tornadoes. But it’s just weather patterns of the mind. It all comes and goes. And exactly, do you want to get involved with the clouds? Are you even able to get involved with the clouds and the storm? Or you just watch it? Yeah, exactly, just take a step back and just watch the clouds pass by.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Beautiful. Thank you, Kyle. So what strategies might our listeners want to try to deal with their stress or manage it?

Kyle Sorys: This is a hard question to answer, honestly, because it’s so individual. Strategies that work for me may not work for another person and vice versa. But when we were talking before, when you invited me and we talked about what this podcast would entail, I remember mentioning a story that popped up called “what’s done is finished.” So for this question, I’m going to read that story. It’s really short, but I just want to share that to hopefully plant this seed. You can come to keep in mind the importance of this phrase, “what’s done is finished.” And this comes out of my probably favorite book, “Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Sounds great.

Kyle Sorys: Oh, it’s awesome. Yes. So what’s done is finished.

“The monsoon in Thailand is from July to October. During this period, the monastics stopped traveling, put aside all work projects and devote themselves to study and meditation. The period is called the Vassa, the rain’s retreat.

“In the South of Thailand some years ago, a famous abbot was building a new hall for his forest monastery. When the rains retreat came, he stopped all work and sent the builders home. This was the time for quiet in his monastery.

“A few days later, a visitor came, saw the half-constructed building and asked the abbot when his hall would be finished? Without hesitation, the old monk said, ‘The hall is finished.’

“‘What do you mean the hall is finished?’ the visitor replied, taken aback. ‘It hasn’t got a roof. There are no doors or windows. There are pieces of wood and cement bags all over the place. Are you going to leave it like this? Are you mad? What do you mean, the hall is finished?’

The old abbot smiled and gently replied, ‘What’s done is finished.’ And then he went away to meditate.” That is the only way to have a retreat or take a break. Otherwise, our work is never finished.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: What a way to frame that idea.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah. That to-do list. We all have a to-do list. It’s just part of our adult life and it never ends. I know I get stuck on what’s left. Oh, it just keeps accumulating and I can’t keep up. Versus just set it down and looking at it. Nope. I checked that box off. I checked that box off and having it, it’s good enough. What’s done is finished. And there is a letting go in that.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Kyle, thank you for sharing that story and the great example of how to re-conceptualize or view it differently when we’re feeling like the tasks just never stop. They never go away. And in our online teaching world, it does often feel that way, because we might have classes overlapping. There might be an endless pile of forum discussions to reply to, or essays to grade and more to do. So very nice concept to think about just being finished. I like that.

Kyle Sorys: There’s another philosophy I personally stick to, and I understand I don’t have family. I don’t have children. So it’s really easy for me to implement this into my life. But one day a week, I truly commit to no work-related tasks. Even thoughts about work. I’m like, “Nope. Setting those aside. Today’s not the day.” One day a week to live life as I feel it’s meant to be lived, whatever nourishes me spiritually, emotionally. Because come to this understanding that I guess it’s a bigger view. Again when I was in college, it was in Boulder and we called it the Boulder bubble.

Around Boulder, there’s just these majestic mountains and all this natural, just uncivilized greatness and wonderfulness. But you get so bogged down in the Boulder bubble, the assignments due, the busy-ness of traffic, this where to go, those daily tasks of life that we forget the big picture that these mountains exist. And then the big picture of space and time. When we really contemplate our lifespan in the grand scheme of things, a space in time. We’re a blip, or a blip of a blip. And life is precious.

Our time is precious. And in hospice work, I joke, but I’m serious when I say this, that I have heard nobody, not one person on their death bed ever say, “I wish I worked more.” So what’s really important in life? So at least commit one day to embracing that, what life is really about for you.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful guidance. Thank you for that piece as well, Kyle. Now I hear you are a bit of a connoisseur of meditation.

Kyle Sorys: Yes.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Maybe have some strategies you could suggest for a beginner. How might we try meditation?

Kyle Sorys: You start where you are. That’s first. You just start where you are. It’s funny. Because the instruction to meditate is really simple. But in actual practice, it can be quite challenging. And that’s why we call it practice. But if anyone is interested in meditation I might say, “If you’re really serious, call me, contact me, email me, and I’d love to talk one-on-one more about it.” That way it can be more of a personal and individualized approach, because not everyone is at the same starting point.

No one has the same causes and conditions happening in their life. So that helps. But basically, really you just commit to a practice, and you start very small, and the practice is stopping and resting. You just sit and be. And breathe.

The image that was given is it’s like sitting on a park bench. What do you do? You just sit. You just be, when you sit on a park bench, and you just take in the sensory experience, be it the birds singing or the people around, or if there’s children playing or the firmness of the bench seat. The warmth of the sun, you’re just in that moment. Whatever’s happening, arising, you’re just being with it. Again, another joke, but serious, we’re called human beings, but we’re conditioned as human doings. So really it’s tapping in what does that mean to be a human being? To just be, to learn to set things down? That’s meditation, the essence.

What really helps is when you do sit, you’ll see that the mind just carries these bags of past and future. And if you’ve ever carried heavy luggage, maybe that’s a thing of the past, because everything’s on wheels now. But if you carry these heavy bags, how wonderful it feels to let them go and set them down, right?

So that’s what we’re doing is just not giving into the lure of the nostalgia of the past, or reminiscing about the past. Or planning and worrying and creating an anxiety about the future, which is uncertain. Whatever you think is going to happen, probably rarely ever happens that way.

So, that’s the practice, just at least five minutes a day. Start small. Going to stop. This five minutes in the morning and this five minutes in the afternoon or this five minutes in the evening, this is my time to just stop. Put a force field around me that keeps everything out. Just for these five minutes, I’m taking a mini-vacation and relax to the max.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Oh, I liked the sound of that. In fact, as you were describing it, I was starting to think about the birds chirping and just getting really present in the now, and not worried about the next hour or the next day or when those assignments are coming due and all the grading we’re going to be facing, needing to manage that time. But just thinking about the moment you’re in and letting go of anxiety. Really appreciate you sharing that suggestion and a little bit of a process with us as well. Thank you, Kyle.

Kyle Sorys: You’re welcome.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: What else, if anything, might you suggest or share with us that could really help online educators with their stress management or maybe anything else that has to do with their overall wellbeing? What do you think?

Kyle Sorys: You mentioned it in the beginning. You I guess talked about it in the past. That the body and the mind are not separate. So to take care of the mind, as in meditation, you also need to take care of the body. Meditation is rest, but rest is also physical rest. So we are a very sleep-deprived society.

And I had one student. She was going mad. She was really stressing out and that was the one question like, “How’s your sleep?” That’s all I asked and she said, “I don’t sleep. I kind of this and this.” And I checked in with her and she just asked like, “Did you get sleep last night?” And she goes, “Oh.” Like her mind was just reset and how everything just smoothed out for her, just because she got one good night of sleep. I think we forget that. Maybe we forget that because that to-do list, right? Like, “Oh. I got to wake up. I got to do this.”

Move the body. Working with elderly people, that’s their advice. I ask them like, “What’s your nugget of wisdom?” And some of them will say, “Make sure you move that body every day.” Be it stretching, walking. Because just reflect what’s the percentage of your daily time committed to sitting or lying down? It’s too much for me. I’ll admit that’s way too much. And to be conscious of standing more, just even standing and walking, moving, and stretching and being mindful when I’m bending over. And I guess this body communicates that to me. It’s like, “Take care of me. If you don’t, I’m going to make you.”

And then, yeah, the nutrition also. I guess you’ve talked about that in the past. What fuel are you putting in the body? That affects the mind as well. Other well-being tips… Like committing to not having work, but having periods in the day where, “This time, no screens allowed,” because we are definitely becoming a civilization of screens and can get really caught in the screens. And I just know it tires my eyes. It tires my mind just looking at the light. I don’t know. It does funny things to me. Maybe that’s just me, but I have a sense others might experience that as well. But be aware to take time out from the screen. I actually had a friend, that’s a slogan. He goes, “Put yourself in timeout at least once a day.”

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: And someone said to me, “Be your own parent.” It sounds a lot like that.

Kyle Sorys: It’s hard. Right?

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Exactly.

Kyle Sorys: As adults, we struggle the most feeding ourselves and putting ourselves to bed.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: It’s true.

Kyle Sorys: Yeah. I think of, with stress, another way to think of stress, I like this. That the mind is like a garden. And so everything in life that we consider good or bad, it really is neither. It just is. But it can all be used as fertilizer for the mind. And so when we step in the crap of life, our reaction is to get away from it, to scrape it off the shoe, to be repulsed and disgusted by it. It’s so nasty. But we could just leave it on our shoe and take it home and then scrape it off in our garden and it’ll grow some beautiful flowers.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: That is a great, great visualization there.

Kyle Sorys: And the importance of self-kindness and self-compassion. “You are doing the best you can. You have to remember that.” Pretty much everybody is doing the best they can. And if you’re not, if you ask yourself, “Am I doing the best I can?” You say, “No,” then you know like, “Oh, okay. I need to be striving a little bit.”

Most often, you’re going to say, and “Yes, of course I am.” And just, well, have some kindness there. Have some gentleness there. Another slogan or motto that I use often is, “You make peace. You be kind and you be gentle. To yourself, to others, to this moment. Just make peace, be kind and be gentle.”

And I think that can go a long way in helping with the stress and wellbeing. Cultivating lightheartedness, having a sense of humor, the importance of humor and playfulness. This adult mind forgets that skill and its so vital to childhood development. But I do believe it’s still that aspect of play and humor is vital to our adult development as well. And to just cope with the inevitable stressors of life.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Wonderful. Kyle, thank you for all that you’ve shared today. I can tell that you draw on your expertise from your various background experiences you shared with us earlier. And also, even though this is just online, you and I are looking at each other on video while we’re recording this. And I really feel like I have a sense for your presence. I don’t think that virtual totally prevents that from coming through. It’s just nice to be here with you, and thanks again for all you’ve shared with our listeners today.

Kyle Sorys: Likewise, Bethanie. Thank you very much.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: Yes. So as we wrap it up, this is the Online Teaching Lounge podcast and we’ve been here with Chaplain Kyle Sorys and talking about your wellbeing as an online educator. We wish you all the best this coming week in being the best version of you in your online teaching.

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.

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

#54: Work Life Balance (Part 1 of 3): Engaging With Students First

This content initially appeared on APUEDGE.COM.

Teaching online can be overwhelming and cause a significant amount of work-related stress. In the first part of this three-part series, Dr. Bethanie Hansen discusses teaching strategies to help online educators prioritize their time by engaging students first. Learn about using a Community of Inquiry framework, keeping written notes about students and your interaction with them, and the benefits of using backwards mapping to ensure you’re meeting objectives and connecting regularly with students.

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Read the Transcript:

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 episode today for the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re in year two of this podcast, and it is very exciting to support you in your online teaching efforts. You’re not alone here. You might feel alone teaching online as it can be very isolating to do that, but we’re here for you and hopefully you’ll get some tools and strategies and encouragement by listening to this podcast today.

We’re at the beginning of a three-part mini-series. Today is part one. We’ll talk about work-life balance and how you can set priorities for your very top priority as an online educator. This will be about engaging with students first.

Next episode, we will talk about work-life balance in setting priorities to produce assets that can guide your students to manage themselves.

And lastly, also in work-life balance, we will talk about setting priorities to use time management strategies effectively, managing your workload.

These three areas are going to support you a lot in your work-life balance. As online educators, we know that we can teach any time anywhere, and it’s very easy for us to have the online classroom follow us to all places that we go and kind of pop into all places in our lives.

There’s been a lot of research done in online teaching, and even though it offers attractive flexibility for you as the instructor, all kinds of instructors out there report high teaching workloads, feeling isolated, having high stress levels, and having generally poor life-work balance.

There’s a lot of assumptions about online learners out there we can use to our advantage, especially when we’re working with adult learners, and those come from andragogy theory. There are also some frameworks that help us as online educators and we’re going to look at the community of inquiry framework to give us some practical application as we’re taking this tour in our three-part mini-series.

We can also look at some areas outside of online education, like the work-life balance theories. There’s been some research done in that area. And then lastly, we can think about the kinds of boundaries that would support your work and simultaneously allow you to focus on your student success as a priority. I personally believe that when you set boundaries in the online classroom and in your online teaching generally by prioritizing what matters most, developing assets to help your students guide themselves, and managing your time efficiently and carefully, you can have better definition to your work. And you can also focus your efforts, which means you’re going to do a better job as an online educator and you might even enjoy it a lot more. So here we go with part one, engaging with students first.

When we think about engaging with students first, there are some things about work-life balance for online employees that also apply to our online educators here. In some of the research done about working online, there was a little collection of strategies people were using to have good work-life balance.

Of course, there were some that were provided by the employers, but those were pretty few. The most successful strategies came from the employees themselves. These are called employee originated solutions. Now, employee originating solutions means that you have the locus of control. You’re the boss of what you do for these solutions, how much you use them and how you manage them. And the most popular employee originating solutions for online workers that were effective, were mindfulness strategies, self-reflection, and meditation. And these could be either prompted by the employer or just come up with by the employee themselves.

These are going to increase your mental and emotional presence in the online classroom and just working online generally. It’ll also increase your mental and emotional presence in your personal life and reduce the interference of work-related stress.

Now, when I say there’s interference from work-related stress, I mean we might be thinking about our online work when we’re not actually doing it. We might have emails pop up that stress us out because we think, “Oh, we have to go online right now.”

Chances are this has happened to you if you’ve worked online very long. It’s pervasive and we think because we can read those messages anytime, we should do it to keep our workload under control. But we don’t realize that when we’re doing those things, the stress is creeping in and we’re feeling all that stress all day long in our personal life too. Before you know it, we think we need to be working all the time throughout the day just to keep the workload manageable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Really there are a lot of ways we can reduce that stress and create less pressure in our work life.

So thinking about this, we’re going to talk about connecting with our students first. This is going to be the top priority for us as online educators. And I’m going to share just a few tips with you today. Then I encourage you to come back next week for episode 55 when we will talk about producing assets that guide your students to manage themselves.

Understanding the Community of Inquiry Framework

Now let’s look at the framework that is really common or popular in online education, the Community of Inquiry framework. This framework gives us a practical model that we can use to design how we involve ourselves in the classroom. How we engage with our students.

The Community of Inquiry framework focuses on teaching, social, and cognitive presence as priorities. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. If you’re in higher education, it’s very likely that you have. Each of these presences within the COI model, the teaching, social, and cognitive presences, work together in an interrelated way. So they work together in ways where we often are meeting two or three presences all at once through our activities. And we’re going to support our students in their learning experiences by focusing in these areas even more precisely.

Social Presence

Social presence is about the way your learners can engage in a comfortable learning environment and feel supported and trust you as the educator and feel like they can collaborate with others in that environment.

Teaching Presence

Teaching presence is about your ability as the educator to design and facilitate the online class. So what you run and put announcements out there and guide them in their assignments and all of those things is part of your teaching presence.

Cognitive Presence

And lastly, cognitive presence is the way learners can construct new meaning through the process of learning. So that means they’re doing some things that draw the points together, connecting the dots, making even more connections to the subject matter. And you can promote that as an educator in a lot of different ways.

When you are designing and facilitating a course online and you’re thoughtful about connectedness to what the learners need and what they already know, you can use the CoI framework to plan what you’re going to do thinking about your social, teaching, and cognitive presence. This is going to give you a lot of space to prioritize what’s really important and make the best of your time spent in the online classroom.

Now, if you take a thoughtful approach like using a framework such as the CoI I’ve mentioned here, you can plan your activities around those key areas. If you don’t do that, it’s very easy to resort to a to-do list. Maybe we’ve got a to-do list of things to grade, things to post, comments to write, announcements to post.

And when we have that to-do list that’s just a checkbox approach, it’s really easy for us to lose track of the bigger picture, what we’re really trying to accomplish as the educator. The framework helps us to ground ourselves in the goal of connecting with our students, promoting the cognitive aspects of what we’re doing and also helping them get to know us as faculty or as instructors. So our first priority is to engage with the students first.

Engaging with Students First

There are some strategies that will help you engage with your students first. Some of these could be posting and replying early each day in the discussion. Of course reading messages and emails that your students send you early in the day will also help you to address any serious concerns that your students have. This is going to build trust. If you make weekly notes about your students and add some things that you’re figuring out about them, it will help you get to know them better.

You can also use a strategy called backwards mapping and use it to plan your workload. The workload’s pretty high when you’re teaching online. There’s a lot to read and write and grade and a lot of time to spend because when you’re not meeting face to face, you’re going to replace that with a lot of written work and other types of online interactivity. So there’s more to grade, more to do, more to read.

Because of this kind of workload, you want to decide where to start in your teaching tasks. This will help you avoid being overwhelmed and quickly burning out. When you engage with students first as your top priority, this is going to help you establish your teaching presence and your social presence. If you don’t have those two areas when you’re creating your course, when you’re engaging with students, it’s very difficult to bump things up to that next level of cognitive presence to help students adopt critical thinking and really be engaged in the underlying aim of all those educational activities that you’ve planned.

Consider Posting to the Classroom Every Morning

So you might consider starting the day with a post in the discussion forum for each class you’re teaching and responding to all the messages and emails. If you post early in any class you teach every work day, this means you’ve been responsive, you’ve got a presence that is regular, and you’re not going to forget to engage with your students. After all, the more you engage, the more you build relationships and you guide them by teaching them in that subject area.

Most of the institutions with online learning have some kind of expectations of you as the instructor. Maybe they want you to be in the classroom a certain number of days or in the discussion area a certain number of days. There might be some kind of guideline to that where you’re working now or where you’re teaching now.

In my own work, I’ve noticed that if students haven’t participated in the weekly discussion yet, I go in there and post an initial thread with some kind of encouragement to get started in the discussion. Maybe a current event that ties to the topic or something else of interest. This helps my students to just start getting into that discussion and readily engage in the dialogue. So we’ve got the academic community and it’s growing because I’ve created the starter and I’ve also helped them to see me and feel like I’m there helping them out.

This is true when my post asks them to reflect or apply the topic or connect to some kind of current event. These all satisfy andragogy theory and meet the needs of adult learners, and also they build cognitive presence.

Maintain Collection of “Starter” Threads and Written Notes about Students

Now, if you’re teaching the course repeatedly, you teach that same topic over and over again each time you teach this class, you might want to maintain a collection of well-developed starter threads that you can use every time students don’t appear to be engaged. So when you need to start a thread for the week, it’s nice when you’ve already researched one and you can kind of further tailor it for the class at hand and meet the needs of those students, but you’ve got something to start with.

Another tip to engage with your students first is to keep anecdotal records. When you post early each day and you build that priority of instructor presence and connecting with your students, you get to know your students as a priority. You’re applying andragogy throughout your teaching. And when you record notes, typically called anecdotal records, about your students, this will help you keep track of who they are. Especially if you’re teaching a lot of sections with a lot of students, it’s difficult to do this.

Some of them may not have a photo online and it’s difficult to get to know them or associate their name with their work. Keeping a written record of your students and things that you’re learning about them and also who you’ve replied to each week can help you to manage the touch that you want to have with each student effectively.

Your notes might include something like where the students are living, their backgrounds and interests, maybe their academic major, whether they’re in the military or working, whether they’re new parents, and any other pertinent details that you noticed that you care about.

If you write those details down, you can be sensitive in your responses. And when they reach out for extra help, you also have some level of context around who they are and what their situation in life is. Knowing their backgrounds can help you also remember that you’re working with real human beings, not just some names that show up online. This can help you to understand their problems and also their challenges when they reach out to you for special help. They are real. They do care about learning from you and knowing them a little bit better will help you to approach them in a way that lets them know you care about them.

When you connect students’ experiences and backgrounds to what you say in the class, this helps even more to establish your social presence because it helps the students feel known and it also gives you that human element as you communicate with them.

Your weekly student contacts are a best practice because these give you the space to identify any students you haven’t connected with recently or touched in the online class, and you can also determine who has become inactive in the course. You can follow up and reach out to help students re-engage in the class.

Anecdotal records of your contacts with students will help you to vary who you reach out to, who you look for, and who you follow up with, and eventually you’re going to touch everyone and remember the students you’ve taught long after the class has ended.

You might even benefit from using a notepad like EndNote Online or maybe an Excel document where you kind of use a spreadsheet approach. You could put these notations about your students there to keep track of them and even begin with week one when they give you their introduction so you’re just getting to know them.

Whatever process you use, the main goal is to really establish a relationship and keep yourself focused. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I used to go to a dentist who would remember things about me when I hadn’t seen him in six months. I would sit down in that dentist chair, I believe I was 16 or 17 at the time, and he would ask me all about how school was going and different activities I was engaging in. At the time, I thought that man was a genius. Now that I’m older and I understand how those things are maintained, I realized that he was keeping anecdotal records so that he could follow up with me and build rapport. It’s difficult to work on someone’s teeth, as a dentist, if they’re afraid of you. But when you build rapport, trust is created and fear can reduce. That’s my estimation of what happened at the dentist, but it also happens in online education.

The more you convey that you know the student and you’re relating to them, and the more you connect socially by sharing your expertise and your thoughts about what’s going on as well, the more students build trust for you. They’re more than likely to reach out to you when they do have concerns instead of just dropping the class or disappearing and disengaging.

Backwards Mapping Techniques

The last area I want to share with you in this priority of connecting or engaging with your students first is to practice backwards mapping. Now, you might’ve heard this term before. Backwards mapping is something that Wiggins and McTighe came up with in a curriculum design process. The goal is that you’re going to look at what you want to achieve at the end of a class, you create this big picture view of the goals, and then you break them down into smaller tasks that need to be planned ahead of time to reach the goals.

Public school teachers use this strategy a lot when they’re choosing learning goals for their students. And of course, as I just mentioned, plan the desired date, the goals to be achieved, and move backwards to decide when to start the project, when to start the lesson, and when the bigger benchmark measurements need to happen.

Backwards mapping is a great strategy that can be used in planning your online teaching engagement productively. So not only is it a curricular tool, it is also a good planning tool for your involvement and your time management.

You can use backwards mapping to ensure that the requirements or goals you have for yourself professionally as an educator are met on time. For example, let’s just say you’re teaching a class of 50 students. That would be a pretty large class. And if you’re teaching a class of 50 students and you need to respond to everyone at least once during the week, if you’re online for five days of that week, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re connecting with 10 students per day. If that works for you to spread it out that way, then you could backwards map in that way and then on the last day of the week, check in and see if you have met your goal.

You can reply, you can grade this way by backwards mapping your approach to grading as well. You can also backwards map different things like posting announcements, logging in, and doing other follow-up pieces of your online teaching.

Backwards mapping assignments to be graded can really help you anticipate how many documents you’re going to evaluate and how many you would need to evaluate each day to return the graded work in a pretty timely manner and with the expected grading quality that you’re wanting to return to them. Take a look at backwards mapping. It’s a great strategy to help you reduce the overwhelm of the teaching load that you might have when you’re teaching online.

So, in summary, your priorities would be to post in discussions every day, early in the day, as your first priority to connect with your students. So engage with students first. Reply to messages, emails, and students questions before any other task.

Take anecdotal notes about your students from week one forums and throughout the course as things come up. Track the students you’ve responded to or touched each week and then follow up with missing or disengaged students. You can also use these strategies as you’re engaging with students first.

The first one is to set time management priorities. You might use a checklist to ensure that there are things that must be done and that they get done. Plan time for each commitment that you have on a schedule or in some kind of a planner, and then backwards map your engagement and your grading.

When you do these things by setting priorities and following strategies that work for you, you’ll be able to have work-life balance because the work is getting done in a focused manner and at a quality that helps you really connect with students and make a difference in your online teaching.

I appreciate you being here today. Thank you for listening to part one in our work-life balance three-part mini-series. Come back next week and we’ll talk about producing assets that guide your students in self-management. And I look forward to seeing you then. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching.

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.

#50: Regular Reflection can Improve Productivity

#50: Regular Reflection can Improve Productivity

Online educators can get so caught up in completing tasks and meeting deadlines that they often feel like they don’t have time for the big or important things. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the importance of reflection to assess one’s values and priorities. She also suggests an approach of reflecting on yesterday, evaluating how that time was spent, and then being intentional in how you are using your time in the present moment.

This content appeared first on APUEdge. 

Subscribe to Online Teaching Lounge
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Read the Transcript:

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. I’m so glad you’re here today. We are headed toward the end of our first year in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. With episode 50, we are anticipating about two more till we can call it a perfect year of 52 episodes. Thanks for being with us over the course of the past year.

We’ve covered a lot of topics on this podcast and hopefully something is always of value to you. There are specific pillars, or topics, that we cover on the Online Teaching Lounge:

  • Best practices in online education
  • How to reach your students better
  • Life as an online educator; and
  • Using multimedia tools.
  • Then there’s this fifth topic that keeps coming up, and that is your own growth and professional development as an online educator or an online professional.

Recently, I picked up a great book called “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman. It’s about finding your focus, mastering distraction, and getting the right things done. This episode is all about reflection. Although the book itself is about focusing in the future and making better use of your time, reflection is really about looking at the past, making meaning out of it, and taking something away that we can either do better, or cherish, or enjoy. In other words, there will be many things that we want to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing based on our reflection.

Have you ever thought, “Where did the day go?” Perhaps you got busy working, answering emails, doing a lot of things, making a phone call here and there and doing your various tasks. And all of the sudden, the day is over. Well, I certainly have. And Peter Bregman says that this actually has to do with the fact that we, as human beings, fall into habits. We start to do little behaviors that fill up the whole day. And pretty soon we’re unaware of those patterns.

From his book, I’m going to read just a little section that really inspired me today. He says:

Either we keep moving along a path that isn’t quite right, but we fail to knock ourselves off of it. Or we intentionally choose the right path, but keep getting knocked off of it. If we’re going to look back and feel good about what we’ve done over a year, a day, or even a moment, we need to break those patterns.

Today, we’re going to look back over the past year. We’re going to think about the previous day we’ve experienced. And we’re going to think about this present moment, right now. So buckle up and enjoy the journey that we’re going to take together today.

The Importance of Reflection

So let’s get started. Looking back in our reflection, what was the previous year about for you as an online educator and professional? What did you do over the course of that year to handle all of the things that came your way? What was your guiding focus or principle that led you to where you are right now, this moment, from one year ago today?

Identify What You Value

Everyone is guided by something. And most of us are very unaware of what we actually care about. We have things that we would call values that guide us. For example, you might value social connections, relationships, being with other people, talking to other people. If that’s one of your values, over the past year you notice that perhaps you didn’t have enough time to do that, or you weren’t able to do that because of things that stood in your way.

If your top value was actually moneymaking, you could look back and see were you able to stay employed? Did you make the money you wanted? Financial security is often a value in the top five that people do embrace for obvious reasons. We need to live. Not everyone has it as their top value. Often I find that it’s number four or number five in there for people who do really value that.

Then there’s time management. Do you value being productive and managing your time, or is that just some fluff about how to organize your life, but not really the substance of it? Think about what you value most, and over the past year, how aware did you become of your most important values?

In other words, what is your “why” behind what you’re doing? Did it come out to you? There were several distractions and interruptions to normal daily life that may have come up for you. And in those things, did you begin to see what actually mattered?

Many of us notice what we care about by looking at the negative side of it. Perhaps we’re noticing when we’re not able to spend enough time on that particular thing we care about, or when it’s being frustrated in some way.

For example, if we do value relationships most, we notice when we’re not able to connect with people. If we value solitude and thinking time most, we notice when we don’t get any of that either.

What Did You Bring?

As you look back over the past year, what became your personal theme? And what did you bring to your online teaching? Considering what you brought in the year that passed, you’re able to look ahead and think about what you’d like to bring in the future and what you would like to be your primary driver. What is it about online teaching that you really do love, even if you feel like you just can’t quite measure up in that area? Or you continually feel frustrated trying to reach a goal that you’re not quite able to hit?

When you settle down and think about what really matters to you, you may find that the reason you’re so frustrated is because you do care so much about a particular area. It’s not so much that you’re surrounded by lack and things that go poorly. It’s that you’re thinking, how could they go better, and how much more do you want to reach that particular goal?

When seen in this light, we can actually find our values much more clearly, and we can begin to live them in the coming year more clearly as well.

As we wrap up almost 52 episodes here of the Online Teaching Lounge, it’s a great time to be thinking about the year ahead. In the coming year, I value connection and relationships deeply as one of my top five values, and I’ll be bringing a lot of special guests to this podcast. You’ll be learning from others outside of me. I had one guest this past year, and we’re going to have several more that I think you’ll really enjoy.

I’m going to purposely bring my value of social connection into what I’m doing much more, and I hope you’ll enjoy that. So as you hit the year ahead, begin thinking about. What was the main theme of your past year and what would you like to take into the coming year?

How Did You Spend Yesterday?

The next step of your reflection is to think about the previous day. So if we just think about yesterday, whatever yesterday was. This podcast is typically published on Wednesdays. So if you’re listening to it near its publication date, possibly the previous day was a weekday for you.

What was yesterday all about for you? Were you teaching? Were you working online? What did you bring into that day that helped you to really feel fulfilled about your work? What is it in your personal value system or your driver as an online educator and online professional that you brought into your daily efforts?

When you look back at yesterday, did you get some of those right things done that you care most about? Was there something in your day thoughtfully included so that you ended your day with a high note, or was it just a big list of tasks to be done?

I talk to a lot of folks about their time management and how they spend their time, as online professionals and as online educators. Many times when we feel the most overwhelmed it’s because we lose track of the bigger picture we care most about, and we get lost in the minutia of the day-to-day tasks that are really pressing on us for time and completion.

If you look at yesterday and it was a big to-do list, never-ending, endless stream of emails and tasks to do, essays to be graded that are not finished yet, and a lot of really non-people connected tasks. If you see a lot of tasks and not a lot of connection, let’s think about tomorrow, what will that day be about? And how would you do it differently if you planned just one of what you might consider the “right things” to include in your day?

What kind of things would you include if you took the day on more intentionally? One person I know has the habit of listing the most one-important thing she wants to get done. And she does that thing first before opening her email or looking at any of the distractions.

In doing this, she’s able to live her why every single day. And she has actually become so productive that her eight hour Workday of tasks that used to bleed into nine, 10 or 11 hours of the day is actually taking her only five or six hours a day. That task focus left her completely.

And yes, she can still tend to the tasks that do need to be done as part of her role, but by living her why, completing that first most important thing, she’s able to have a productive day before the day even gets on. There’s no more getting lost in the minutia or distracted by a lot of things that need to be done all at once. And she just takes the time at the beginning of each day to think about what the one most important thing is that she needs to do.

Many people I’ve worked with in coaching have asked me how they can make more time for the big projects in their lives. Perhaps you have a big project, maybe there’s something you’re working on, it could be you’re designing a course or revising a course. Maybe you’re writing something professionally, or preparing to present at a conference. Or perhaps you have some other special project that matters to you and is important to you.

If you’re doing your to-do list all day, every day, chances are you’re never getting to that item. If you decide every single day is going to be about that one thing, and then you get to all the rest of your things, you’re going to find that you make incremental progress toward the most important things in your life regularly.

And you’re going to start feeling structure in your day. You’ll feel more satisfied, productive, and find that your work is measurable. You can see actual change and improvement. So as you reflect on yesterday, and what that day was all about, take away your patterns and habits and start one step towards just choosing one meaningful thing each day to complete first.

Living in the Present Moment

And then lastly, Peter Bregman talks about what this moment is about. It’s amazing how many of us are in the present moment, but thinking about something in the future. Perhaps we’re anxious about a meeting coming up, or a deadline that we have to complete a lot of work for. Maybe we have a lot of things to grade and they’re all due by Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Maybe there’s something in our personal lives coming up and we’re also anxious about that.

Or perhaps we’re thinking about the past. Maybe there was a situation with a student we were concerned about and wish had gone differently, and we’re worried about the past. Maybe we think about the past and we worry that we haven’t done enough for our family members, or for our own health.

Whatever it is we worry about from the past, or we get anxious about for the future, the present moment is none of that. The present moment is just right now. The future isn’t here yet. The past isn’t really here. And in this moment, if we let go of all those competing thoughts, we can focus on the here and now. And we can be much more clear in our thinking, and clear on what we care most about as well as what matters most to us.

In the present moment, some people have habits of slowing down, closing their eyes, breathing deeply, putting their hands on the sides of the chair, feeling that chair, thinking about what they’re experiencing right now in this moment. Putting feet on the floor, feeling the feet in the shoes fully, maybe wiggling their toes. And then taking a moment to just sense what is going on in this moment right now.

What sounds are being heard? What’s the temperature like in the room? How does everything seem in this present moment? And in doing that, a lot of things drift away from our mind, and we think much more clearly at times like that.

In each moment that we are working online, or teaching online, and in each moment that we’re living our lives, the more we can be present in that moment, the more we can let go of distractions and stay on the path that we really want to be on.

So, for example, back to those couple of reasons people go to work and things people think about. If you’re all about relationships and connection, and you slow down and get really present right now in this moment, you might suddenly be aware of people you’d like to connect to.

If you’re reflecting on teaching, you might be thinking about in this moment, a student or two who seems to need you right now. Maybe an idea comes to you about how you might reach out and connect to your students in a new way.

Or, if finance and wage earning is more important to you, you might think about right now how are your finances doing? If you just got paid and you are doing quite well, you have money in the bank, perhaps you feel pretty good. If you think about what you’re doing for employment, and you’re satisfied with the wage you’re earning, you might also feel very good.

And likewise, if you’re not satisfied with that, if you’re not pleased with your bottom line in the bank account, something might occur to you in the present moment that you’d like to try in the near future to change your income or move in a new direction, maybe take on another part-time role.

Whatever this present moment is all about for you, whatever your most important values are, drink it in. Really connect to that in the moment, let go of your anxiety and your worry, and you’ll find clarity where you can move forward right now.

In wrapping this up, we’ve just looked at reflecting in our online educator lives and roles, over the past year, over the past day, and in the present moment. And as we reflect, we are much more readily prepared to take steps forward where we’d like to go.

Whatever time of year this is for you, and whatever spot you’re in during a course or a semester, take the time to reflect. Decide if you’re pleased with your direction and how much of your values have been able to come out in what you’re doing. And after you’ve done that reflection consider what you would like to change in the year ahead to live your values much more fully.

If you’d like any suggestions on identifying your values and determining what your most important priorities are, there are some tools linked here in the podcast notes. So feel free to look at the transcript and try out some of those links, and that will help you move forward in that direction.

Again, we’re looking forward to the coming year in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ll be having a few special guests and some interesting and very helpful topics for you. I hope you’ll join us for year two of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast coming up in just a few weeks.

Thanks for being with me today to reflect and consider continuous learning as online educators and online professionals, and definitely check out Peter Bregman’s book “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, And Get The Right Things Done.” Here’s to being the best you in your online teaching this coming week.

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.

#49: Taking Care of Yourself as an Online Educator

#49: Taking Care of Yourself as an Online Educator

This content originally appeared at APUEdge.Com

Being an online educator means you can work anywhere, anytime. As a result, it often feels like the workday never ends, which can lead to exhaustion and burnout. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares strategies for intentionally creating a self-care plan. Learn the importance of maintaining a healthy morning routine, planning breaks throughout the day, and an end-of-day routine to ensure online teachers can relax and reflect on the workday.

Read the Transcript:

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.

Hello there, welcome to the podcast today. This is Bethanie Hansen, I’ve been an online educator since 2010. Wow, can’t believe it’s been that long already. And when I started out as an online educator, I was also a full-time public school music teacher. So, I was a part-time online educator, and then I became part-time at a second institution. And later, that became a full-time role. And I was part-time at my public school. Then I became a faculty director, where manage other faculty who teach online and I left my public school teaching career for the long haul.

Now, my experiences teaching online were a little bit disorganized at first because I was a part-time faculty member, juggling a lot of other things. If you listen to this podcast very regularly, you’re going to know that I have gone through my own set of struggles and wins with figuring out how to manage things, and also how to use best practices and effective strategies to live and work online.

Developing a Self-Care Plan

I want to encourage you today to take good care of yourself as an online educator. Are you able to take care of your own personal wellbeing while you’re working online? The important message today is to develop a self-care plan and to implement it. If you think about how we like to light the torch of other people through our teaching efforts and further their flame and their ability to contribute to the world beyond just the class we’re teaching, we can’t really light the flame of another person if ours has gone out.

That’s a big message. I mean, when you think about it and you think about kindling your own flame on a regular basis, what is it we do to do that? Is it to read books? Is it to connect with people? Or is there a lot more to this that is part of our self-care and our personal wellbeing?

The message I’d like to share with you today is that it’s okay to create a purposeful strategy to do this. It’s not selfish at all, in fact, it’s necessary. This is a method to take care of your flame, to keep it burning bright, and to be able to continue sharing it for years and years to come.

We’re going to talk about morning routines, options that you might choose there. Breaks that you can implement throughout the work day and a plan for ending your day.

Develop a Strong Morning Routine

So, let’s begin first with the morning routine. What do you do when you first wake up and you’re thinking about a day of online work and online teaching? Do you get up and get ready to go and go straight to your teaching? Do you have some other routines that you like to implement?

In my own work, I used to get ready for the work day and then launch right into my online teaching. And then I would do something else, probably drive to work and teach my full-time job. And then I would check into my online teaching at lunch, after that job was over in the afternoon before going home and then again in the evening. It followed me everywhere because part-time work tends to do that, especially if it’s virtual.

If you’re like me, it’s great to plan a set of routines so that you can get certain things done during your time very plan-fully, very intentionally, and also follow up on those unplanned things, like the many questions students have, or unexpected interruptions to your day.

Consider Exercising in the Morning

A morning routine might include things that you care most about. For example, if you care about getting exercise or eating healthy or taking care of your physical-self, those things could be part of your morning routine.

If you’re a person who likes to go for a walk or a jog in the morning, it’s a great idea to put on some inspiring music, something that’s going to give you energy, help you feel great about your day to come, and give you that mindset to start the day right.

Listen to Music or Read a Book to Start Your Day Off Right

If you don’t really prefer music in your walking or running or whatever routine you might have, perhaps you want to listen to an audio book. There are a wide variety of choices out there. You could always be entertained by fiction. You could listen to historical fiction or nonfiction, or even self-help and self-improvement. That happens to be my category of choice. I’m always choosing some kind of book about how to do something in a new, different, or better way. But that might not be your choice and that’s perfectly fine. Whatever you’d like to listen to in the morning as you’re getting ready for your online work of the day, that’s going to set you up for success and set the tone for the day ahead.

Eat Something Healthy in the Morning

If you are thinking about eating healthy as well, you can stop and take a little time for your meal and feed yourself something nutritious that’s going to give you the energy that you need, and plan what you’re going to have later in the day, like for your lunch break and for your different breaks throughout the day.

Whatever your morning routine is, you want to give yourself many options. Those could be in the physical, spiritual, emotional, social, and creative realms. You might think about what kinds of things get your day started well and how to get moving with some kind of intention.

Of course, the best thing about establishing some kind of repetitive morning routine that you can do in your online work is that your brain is going to latch onto this. Think about the idea of getting dressed for work and walking into the workplace. As you walk into an office, a classroom, or any place like that, your subconscious brain is noticing that you’re here physically, and it’s time to get started.

Just like you get yourself ready and you go to a workplace, when you’re working virtually or online, you need some kind of routine that signals to the brain: it’s starting time, it’s go time, we’re going to get to work now. And it helps you to really get focused and to get in the mood to start.

Set Breaks for Yourself Throughout the Day

The next idea of taking good care of yourself is about the breaks you take throughout the day. When you give yourself a break, it literally is a break state for your brain. It stops this constant churn of the thoughts that you’re having, whether they are about grading or teaching or interacting with students or following up on different projects. Whatever it is, when you take a solid break and you give your brain a break and really stop all of that thinking, you’re going to be able to get back to it with a fresh start.

Planning several breaks throughout your work day will help you to have a solid thinking break, change your state of mind, and come back. So, think about, will you get up and leave the room? Will you talk to someone on the phone? Will you turn on a television program for a short time, watch something on YouTube? Listen to some music? Take some exercise break? Do something creative?

Whatever it is, the best break is something that rejuvenates you, refreshes you, and is a totally different kind of task than what you’re doing. If you give your subconscious brain a break and your conscious brain as well, by really focusing on a totally different type of activity, you’re going to really be able to let go of the stress, as well as whatever you’re stuck on.

Breaks throughout the day should include some kind of water, nutrition. If you bring something in and you help yourself have the energy you need to just keep going physically, you’re going to also be able to endure your online routine all the more.

What’s Your End of Day Routine?

Lastly, think about your end of day routines. What do you want to do to signal to yourself that it’s time to stop working? We all know that working online is an any time, anywhere sport. We can literally do our online teaching on the weekend, every single day of the week, early morning, late at night, it doesn’t really matter.

And because of this, it’s easy to never feel like it’s really ended for the day. Think about what kind of routine would actually signal for yourself that you are closed for business, you’re no longer teaching for that day, and you’re fresh and ready to go for something else.

Consider Visual Input Signaling the End of the Work Day

Think about what visual input you’re going to need to have an end of day routine. What do you need to see? Is it shutting your computer down fully and closing it, and putting it aside? Is it changing to a different room? Is it that you get up and visually put on a different set of clothing, maybe take off the work clothes and put on the casual clothes, even if you’re still at home? Whatever it is, a visual component can be really powerful to help give yourself that signal that, “Yes, my work day is over.”

Reflect on the Day

You can also think about what things you’re going to say to yourself. Maybe you take a moment to reflect on what went well from your online teaching and your online work for the day, and what could be improved.

When you think about what went well, it’s even more effective when you take stock of why it went well, especially your role in it. The more you can find different things that you did that had a positive effect in your work, the better. You’re going to be able to feel that it has more meaning for you, and you’re going to start noticing your impact, both on the work you’re trying to accomplish and on the people who you are teaching and interacting with. So, think about what went well and why it went well, in terms of what you say to yourself at the end of the day, as part of your end-of-day routine.

Also, think about writing something down as a written reflection. Even if you just list the one, two, or three major things that you got done that day, when you write them down, over time you start to notice that you’re making major strides and you’re really accomplishing a lot. If you get a note from a student or a positive comment, you can even consider writing that down in your end of day reflection.

Kinesthetic Cues to Help End the Day

So, we’re thinking about the visual cues, and we’re also thinking about the auditory or written cues, and then the other thing will be the kinesthetic cues. What would you like to feel? Whether it’s physical movement, like a little exercise of some kind, maybe you’re going to take a nap, get some rest, or you’re going to actually connect with your emotions and feel something like a response to the day. Maybe you’re going to feel excited that work is over for the day or relaxed because work is over for the day. Some people turn on the evening news and for them, that’s the signal that I’m done with my work day, and now I’m moving on to some other activity.

Be Intentional About Your Routines

Whatever it is for you, consider intentionally implementing end of day routines that close off your online work day. Whatever you can do to avoid complaining about the past or about troubles throughout the day, but instead reframing those as opportunities to strategize for the future when you might bump into similar obstacles. Those things are going to help you reframe setbacks in a positive way, and also aim for continuous improvement throughout your day, throughout your week, and throughout your teaching career.

Online education, of course, as I continue to mention in these podcasts is an isolating venture. But the more we reflect on it, the more we connect what we’re doing with the impact we’re having, and also consider our personal wellbeing and continue to fuel our own fire, light that flame of inspiration within ourselves, the more we have to give to others.

I hope that this coming week you’ll consider how you’re taking care of yourself in your online teaching routine and what you might do for intentional morning routines, taking breaks throughout the day intentionally, and also considering purposeful and intentional end of day routines.

These things are going to help us all throughout our online education careers and throughout the daily work of being an online educator. And with that, I wish you all the best in your online teaching this week.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episode, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey!

#44: Renewing Your Energy Can Improve Your Online Teaching

#44: Renewing Your Energy Can Improve Your Online Teaching

This content first appeared at https://apuedge.com/podcast-renewing-your-energy-can-improve-your-online-teaching/ 

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.

Listen to the Episode:

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Read the Transcript:

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.

Limit Distractions

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.