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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.”

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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.

#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. 

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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!

#46: Four Key Strategies to Improve Time Management in Online Teaching

#46: Four Key Strategies to Improve Time Management in Online Teaching

This content initially appeared on APUEDGE.Com

Time management must be a top priority for online teachers. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares four tips to help online educators be productive and effective in the virtual classroom. Learn strategies to assess and track how you’re currently spending your time, ways to prioritize your time so the most important tasks get done, how to minimize disruptions, and how to plan out your future time to ensure you’re fulfilling your current teaching responsibilities while also spending time on your long-term career goals.

 

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Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Thanks for joining me today in the Online Teaching Lounge. We’re going to talk about four key strategies that will help you in time management for your online teaching. It’s, of course, pretty well-known that we’re expected to do more with less in today’s world and in business and, of course, in teaching and learning.

It’s very easy to feel that distractions are just coming from every direction when you’re working online, in particular. We might have emails coming at us, new ways of working in the classroom, perhaps we have a different learning management system or LMS in our school or institution. We might also be trying new strategies or using new pieces of subject matter, something that we’re unfamiliar with.

Whether it’s finding a new way of engaging with our students or just trying to survive all those daily distractions that normally happen in the online world, or even maybe it’s just living and working at home at the same time, whatever those things are that are coming at you, time management is a top priority.

Tip 1: Assess Where Your Time Goes Now

So where can we start? The first tip is just like anything in life, we need to know where we are right now. If you were to plan a financial strategy, you would first want to know: where does your money go? What are you spending it on? What is your current budget?

So the first step is to know where your time actually goes. Most of us think we know how we spend the time, and we think we’re accounting for all of that time grading, teaching, and being in the classroom.

Chances are there’s a lot more we’re doing when we’re in our work mode than just teaching our courses. Some statistics say that online workers spend up to 40% of their time managing email. That could be two and a half to three hours a day just checking emails, reading emails, and responding.

You might have interruptions throughout your work day. There’s this idea that people cannot really multitask, but if you change tasks in the middle of what you’re doing, you’re actually doing something called task switching. If you’re task switching, you’re spending a great deal of time just trying to get back on task and you spend time refocusing. Most people would call that time waste or time sink. It just disappears.

As you start looking at where your time actually goes, how do you keep track of this? One way to keep track of where your time is going and how you actually spend it is to use something called a time tracker. This could be as easy as an Excel spreadsheet or just a document you write down by hand. You can write down every 15 or 20 minutes or even every half hour what you did during that time.

After the first day of doing this, you’ll be able to look back over the day and see how much of your time was spent actually working, teaching, and doing those things that you think you’re doing online or on the computer, and how many minutes were actually spent doing something else.

You can do it, as I mentioned, electronically or on paper, but whatever you do, you’re going to want to be excruciatingly honest about where that time is going, and then you can start to sort it. You can put it in categories like:

  • Meetings or email reading
  • Different kinds of grading or accountability strategies you have in your classroom with your students
  • Time spent responding to instant messaging, if there is such a thing in your classroom
  • If you post in online discussions or teach live lectures, you could also write down all the time spent there
  • Time spent looking at data, analyzing how to improve student success
  • Time spent connecting with your colleagues, your managers, your team, building relationships. Time spent talking to students individually
  • Time spent posting and discussions and managing the announcements within a course
  • Even time spent writing a course. Some of you are definitely developers and spend a lot of time there too.

Outside of those immediate professional tasks, you might also have time spent interrupting to go downstairs or down the hall and take care of a little bit of your home duties. Some people punctuate their online work with breaks, and rightly so. This helps to re-energize you. Take a short walk down the hall and you can start fresh.

But some of that can really grow into a lot of time spent doing the laundry, doing the dishes, taking the dog for a walk, and writing down exactly how much time is really spent doing those things will help you be more accountable.

As you look over this tracker, look for trends. What are you seeing in the way your time is being spent? Where are you giving the most time? Where is the time just disappearing on either interrupted tasks or household chores or things that really are not part of the work day? And what is the impact? What are your results in the way you’re managing your time?

If it’s really true that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts, where is the effort really coming from? What kind of focus are we giving that 80% of the results we’re getting? In essence, we’re looking at how things are right now to determine what you want to do more of and what you’d like to do less of.

Once you identify how you’re really spending your time, you have the power to change it. You can be more productive by moving things around, scheduling your work around when you have the most energy and also trying various types of productivity strategies.

Tip 2: How to Prioritize Your Time  

The second key strategy to managing your time more effectively when you’re working online is to prioritize things. Many things seem urgent and important. It can be at times very difficult to know the difference when everything seems due all at once or when there’s a short timeline. When everything seems important, stop and take stock, considering what really is important.

What things are most important to you short-term, long-term and overall throughout your career? What is the most important thing to your students? What matters most to your institution, your university or school where you’re teaching? What are you doing that lines up with your mission or your values as a human being, as an educator, and what really is your biggest priority in the long run and in the big picture?

There are a lot of tools out there you can look at to help you prioritize things, and also to help you develop a strategy for this. There’s a Stephen Covey tool, that’s the urgent and important matrix, pretty well known. It’s basically got four squares on it and these quadrants are places where you’re going to list things that are urgent and important, urgent but not important, important but not urgent and not urgent and not important. Once you sort things into these kinds of categories, you can determine what needs to happen first, second, and third throughout the day.

You might also consider various mapping tools and other prioritization strategies. A lot of these tools help you think about what really matters to you long-term, versus what you think you might need to just do today. And then you can have a strategy about the way you approach your time management teaching online and the way you manage your priorities throughout your academic career or your educational career. Some things will fall off your list altogether once you do these tasks.

Tip 3: Executing Tasks in a Focused Manner without Disruption

The third key strategy to managing your time when you’re working and teaching online is to simply get things done and limit your interruptions. We call this, in the business world, executing. Executing means we’re not in planning mode anymore. We’re not thinking about it. We’re not prepping for the class. We’re doing the things. This means we’re getting things done productively.

Execution itself is a state of being focused, checking things off the list, doing them quickly in a focused manner. This might mean that you might do your grading all at once or in a set period of time during which you allow no interruptions to come in, and you simply focus on grading students’ assignments.

You want to think about what time of day you’re at your best. When you really have challenging things to complete, for example, if you need to do we do some curriculum design and that’s not really your strongest suit, start with an energetic activity, something you’re really great at. Then, put a period of curriculum design in there, and then get back to something else more energetic.

Find ways to put the things that really need to get done in between periods of time that are really energizing for you so you can stay focused throughout the day and do the deeper work that you also need to do in your professional field.

The more you’re interrupted, the less you’re going to get done. You’re not going to be able to execute things. Those interruptions will cause you a lot of stress and lengthen your work day. There was some research that noted that there was about 25 minutes lost with major interruptions, just to get refocused again.

You might not be able to totally get rid of your interruptions, but you can definitely reduce them and find some strategies that help you manage interruptions in ways that are more effective. You might note what kinds of interruptions frequently occur. Write them down. Just like you did a budget for the way you spend your time, you can actually keep a checklist of interruption types, or you can just keep a record of what kinds of interruptions happened and when they occurred throughout the day.

If you start looking for patterns and trends, you might be able to anticipate where you actually just need to take breaks and spend time with your family, or spend time on those other things that tend to keep interrupting you.

You can also create some focused time that’s supercharged. Close your door, turn off your phone or leave it in the other room, close all of your apps and different types of things that would send you notifications, and work most intensely during one or two hours.

Also, give yourself time to relax outside of those more focused times. When your subconscious brain knows it’s going to get a chance to not have to be hyper-focused, chances are you’re going to allow yourself to be more focused when you need to be.

And, of course, set up some special times when you’re going to look through the emails and answer the phone calls and reach out to the people that might otherwise have reached out to you in a way that was interrupting.

Think about what focus really looks like for you. What kind of time do you already have in your day to get work done and what kind of time do you have to just do the planning or follow up things? What kinds of interruptions do you normally have in your work day and what approaches might you use to reduce those interruptions?

Tip 4: Track Your Time in the Future for Long-Term Changes

Lastly, the fourth key, the strategy is to track your time in the future. Rather than just tracking it, to see where you’re at and creating a budget for the future, now we’re looking at time to get data about how to keep improving.

As you track your time, you’re going to be able to see what your career is really made of. What your job as an online instructor is most centered on. Does it really reflect what you think it is? And where do you want to start making long-term changes? You might plan really well, but when you need to get a lot done and execute tasks, you also need to be able to count on the time that you have set aside so that it is valuable and spent the best it can possibly be spent.

Track the time you spend talking to students, following up with students and actually interacting with your students. If you used to teach live courses and now you’re just teaching online in an asynchronous manner, notice how much time you spend one-on-one and in large-group interactions with your students compared to how you did that in the face-to-face setting. Chances are you’re going to find it actually takes more time online than it did in the face-to-face.

You might also want to keep track of the way you spend time around your most important goals. For example, if you also do research and you want to spend time writing research papers, presenting at conferences, and doing that sort of thing in the academic world, you’ll  want to track all the time you spend on that every day to see that you do spend some time.

Also, consider how much of your time across a given week is actually spent on meetings. Meetings with your department, your team, your manager, your students, any kind of meetings at all. And start looking at how these align with your values and with where you think you want things to go. What kinds of tasks and activities are part of your work day that you actually want to track? What results are you aiming for that you need to see in your own work?

When you have scheduled your time to review these things, and you’ve found some patterns that work for you, you’ll be able to maximize these four key time management strategies, and you will be on top of your online work, getting things done.

In closing, consider which one of these four key strategies is a priority for you right now. If you find online resources or manual resources, like making lists, writing things down that really work for you, stop by the website and share a comment. Tell us what’s working. We love to see what works and we love to share it with other online educators to help us all be the best we possibly can be. Thanks for being here with me today to talk about these four key strategies. 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 episodes, 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:

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. 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.

#40: Benefits of Using the WOOP Tool

#40: Benefits of Using the WOOP Tool

This content was initially posted at APUEdge.Com

Do you want to improve your time management or adopt a new habit? In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen shares the WOOP tool to help you change behaviors, create new healthy habits, and take a fresh approach to online teaching or online learning. Listen to hear the four steps that were developed using neuroscience and motivation theory to help you become more focused, more productive, and more successful in your online teaching and learning goals.

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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.

Teaching online and learning online can happen anytime, anywhere. For this reason, it may be challenging to set boundaries, to manage time, to prioritize the tasks to be done, and to manage everything else in life.

Perhaps there are aspects of your online work that you have tried to change, but you find that you keep returning to less effective strategies. In today’s podcast, I’ll give you a new tool to help you with time management. It will also help you focus on what you would like to accomplish in your online teaching or, if you’re an online learner, in your online schooling.

You can also use it to change habits and behaviors, so it can easily be applied to other areas of your life. This tool will help whether your task is big or small, you might be teaching one class or have to write one assignment, or you might be teaching five classes and need to grade 120 essays. Either way, this tool is based on neuroscience, motivation theory, and it will give you more of what you want and help you spend your time wisely.

If you need to get through circumstances you cannot control like having to self-quarantine or having children at home when they would normally be at school and other unexpected challenges you are facing, this tool will help.

What Challenges Are Keeping You from Being Productive and/or Effective?

Before I share it, think about three things that keep you from being focused in your online learning or teaching right now. And if focus is not really your concern, think about three things that keep you from being successful or effective as you would like to be, in your online learning or teaching right now.

I asked this question to faculty, students, and academic leaders a few months after the pandemic erupted and significantly impacted the way people lived and worked. And I’d like to share some of their answers with you.

  • First, we have the relationships in the home environment. Kids, having children at home, homeschooling children, children wanting to be in the office space, wanting to play. A husband, wife, or partner wanting to talk while they are home. Other family issues, dogs, cats, or other pets, maybe the dog needs to go out, go for a walk or something like that.
  • Next, we have health areas. They could be health issues, allergies, fatigue, or getting sick.
  • And then of course we have the environment we work with. TV might be on. Distractions. Being easily distracted, maybe our own ability to concentrate or our own stress levels.
  • Perhaps it’s just the unknown, feeling anxious or worrying.
  • The internet speed and connectivity, the office setup, or lack of an office space.
  • And, lastly, we have areas of productivity, expectations and work-related tasks. These could be texting, constant email interruptions, maybe you hate grading papers, multitasking, difficulty finishing one project before starting other commitments, taking on too much, not enough time to complete these tasks and personal commitments, or maybe you find it difficult to say “no.”

Many of these challenges are really just a normal part of working from home and teaching and learning online, or even normal parts of life. They can become even more significant when other circumstances have changed, like family members being present when they normally might be at school or work. When there is more going on like political unrest and pandemic concerns.

And some of these challenges really are unique to the conditions faced during the pandemic. As you think about these challenges, consider the experiences you have when you face these challenges. What is the impact on you?

You might have less sleep or irregular sleep. Your energy could be impacted. If you typically exercise and are more active, you can’t always do that now or you don’t feel like getting started. Your enthusiasm is reduced. You may have begun your approach enjoying and wanting to teach online and as these things have continued to impact you, you’re “want to” moved down to the “should” level and then should may have become “need to” and that became even less compelling when it became “have to.”

Anything we approach with the belief that we should do it, we need to do it, or we have to do it is beyond our control it seems. It’s as if there’s this demand placed on us from outside us that now controls our time and our mental space as well.

Whenever we perceive something this way, another impact is that we find it difficult to find solutions or even find our focus and we lose our creativity. Long-term, these impacts on our health and wellbeing are very significant. And the challenges of managing these things that impact our online learning or online teaching also impact our relationships, our sense of purpose in the work, and our life satisfaction. We can see that changing things might help. We’ll bring these ideas back later in the podcast when I share the tool with you.

How the WOOP Tool May Help

The good news is that I’m sharing a tool with you today that can help you turn things around; this tool is called WOOP, or W-O-O-P. It’s a simple tool I discovered recently that I think you’ll find simple and powerful. Well, what is WOOP?

First, I’ll tell you what WOOP is. It’s a tool that uses two different types of strategies. These are mental contrasting and implementation intentions. The tool helps change behaviors and achieve goals. It’s based on neuroscience and theories of motivation and goal attainment.

If you get really excited about this tool and want to dig deeper into these areas, I suggest reading the book, “Rethinking Positive Thinking” by Gabriele Oettingen. Each letter of the strategy stands for one step and the steps are “Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan.” Now I’m going to break these down for you to walk you through the WOOP process.

Step One: Wish

What are you trying to accomplish? In this step you’re going to state your goal. It should be something challenging, but realistic. If you include aspects that seem compelling to you, this will make it even better. But choosing something out of reach and unrealistic when you use this tool will actually make the process more difficult and completely unmotivating.

The timeline of your goal does not really matter, it could be goal that you want to achieve today, tomorrow, next year or five years from now. For the topic we are addressing today in this podcast, I suggest choosing a specific goal in your online teaching and learning. It could be a teaching task, another aspect of working online, your self-care or family areas.

Here are a few examples from online professionals that have shared their goals with me:

  • staying focused during work time or completing work in a timely manner
  • delegating to others more effectively or providing clearer guidance to people who are waiting for my step on a project
  • writing or updating an online course
  • seeing a project through to completion
  • completing grading, getting grading done on time, grading more efficiently, or establishing a consistent schedule in relation to student grading
  • checking some smaller tasks off the to-do list that have piled up
  • writing for publication or planning scholarly activities
  • reading more academic articles instead of watching TV
  • prioritizing various work activities and priorities
  • working on school studies more regularly or working in your online teaching more regularly
  • making self-care a priority
  • reducing stress
  • taking time for exercise in the morning, and
  • setting boundaries with family members when it’s time for online work

Think about what you would like to accomplish. Is it something you would like to change or improve? Is it a habit you would like to begin? After hearing the many examples I’ve shared with you, you can see that something big or small would work and it can be short-term or long-term. Just take a moment to choose one goal that you’re trying to accomplish for this first step and write it down.

Step Two: The Outcome

What is the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal? Yes, you might consider the immediate outcome, like the fact that your grading would be done, or you would finish the project.

And let’s take that outcome even further. What’s it going to do for you? For example, here are three example outcome statements I really like, maybe four.

  • “I have more energy and feel better about myself.”
  • “I am relieved and feel proud of myself.”
  • “It gives me sense of accomplishment and pride and I’m happy that I’m using my time wisely.”
  • “I have a positive feeling that I’m taking care of my students.”

As you consider the best possible outcome that would result from accomplishing your goal, write this in the present tense as if it’s already happening. This step is going to give your brain some visualization to begin anticipating what you will feel or experience.

You already know that accomplishing this goal is going to be important to you and it’s going to help you. The outcome takes it to the next level by helping you give it even more purpose and meaning. Take a moment to craft your outcome for this second step and write it down.

Step Three: The Obstacle

What are the obstacles that prevent you from achieving your goal? What’s standing in the way between you and your goal? Earlier I asked what three things were keeping you from focusing or being as successful as you would like to be in your online teaching and learning and then I shared many ideas other online professionals have mentioned about their work.

Now we can take those things and turn them into a more detailed idea. Here are some examples:

  • “I don’t feel motivated or excited to exercise in the morning.”
  • “I procrastinate and get distracted by Facebook or other social media.”
  • “I’m tired when I get home from work and just don’t feel like reading.”

As you think about your obstacles to reaching the goal, just list one specific thing that is tangible, as an obstacle that comes up for you. As in the previous step, visualizing the obstacle is going to give your brain that connection to what you’re thinking about, and it will anchor your thinking in the process. The obstacle will come up again for you in the future and it’s important as part of this process to write it down. So take a moment to identify one specific obstacle you are personally facing related to your goal and write it down.

Step Four: The Plan

What are you action would help you when this obstacle shows up? The plan will be one sentence, structured like an “if–then” statement or a “when–then” statement. You will be able to create this plan and visualize it your mind. The sentence starts with: “When ____ (that would be the obstacle), then I will ____ (and that’s the action to overcome the obstacle).”

An example might be that “When I wake up, then I will see my exercise clothes and shoes I’ve set out the night before, put them on and exercise anyway. Even if I’m tired and don’t feel like exercising.”

This of course is my own example, my own scenario. I learned that I never feel like exercising in the morning, but I really want to. It takes time to get out the clothes and put them on or set up what I’m going to do. Because of that I actually started planning ahead the night before, and I put my exercise clothes and the shoes on the bathroom counter so I see them when I first get up and go into the bathroom.

I don’t have to make any decisions. I don’t have to look through my closet for exercise clothes. That resistance is totally eliminated. I also set out my exercise equipment, like my hand weights, my workout video DVD, my headphones, or any other items where I go to do the exercise. Again, this reduces decision-making and the time it takes to get ready, and it makes the habit a lot more obvious for me. Having everything set out the night before helps me overcome the feeling of not wanting to exercise because things are just ready to go and it’s a lot simpler getting started.

We know that the best way to establish a new habit is to imagine the obstacle and then do the action to reduce the obstacle and make the habit more obvious and easy to do. In the WOOP tool that we’re using today, the idea is that we visualize the obstacle, and we anticipate it being there. And we condition ourselves to respond to that obstacle with the behavior or activity we want to do instead.

Here are a few examples:

  • “When I get up in the morning then I will immediately put on my exercise shoes and go for a run, even if I don’t feel like it.”
  • “If I get distracted from my work, then I will block all distracting websites with Focus Assist, and get back to work.”
  • “When I get home from work, then I will immediately log into my Brightspace classroom and start reading.”

Take a moment to design your “if–then” plan, or your “when–then” plan and write it down. As you create the sentence, visualizing it and imagining it happening is going to help you prepare to activate your plan.

WOOP Can Help You Overcome Obstacles, Adopt New Habits

Now using WOOP can really help; it can help you create new habits, change behaviors, and take a fresh approach to your online teaching and learning. You’ll find that you can use this tool to overcome any obstacle to creating a big project or completing a big project. It can help you master a difficult situation.

You can also use it to handle time management, set up self-care routines, and confidently adopt new priorities.

The mental contrasting strategy includes taking your current situation, visualizing what it could look like as an ideal state, and visualizing obstacles that you will encounter.

While you might have created goals and plans in the past, the key here is to identify and anticipate those obstacles. This makes the difference in pushing through them.

In implementation intentions, these are the triggers that you set up for the “if then” and the “when then” relationships to create new actions you’re going to take.

The tool is simple but powerful. It really does help you target one area of your online teaching work or your life and make a change. You can complement this strategy with additional ideas like using checklists, taking a planned breakreflecting at the end of the week to acknowledge your progress, and then adjusting your plan for the coming week.

Thank you for being with me today to explore this tool and consider trying something new. Remember that if you write things down and reflect on how they’re working for you, it makes the process clearer and helps you think about your thinking, as well.

Writing your steps to this plan and writing your reflection on how it worked for you, these are great places to start. Best wishes to you this coming week in your online teaching and in trying out the WOOP strategy.

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 and your online teaching journey.