5 Useful Tips for Good Time Management for Online Teachers

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To Do list

Sometimes you just need to sit down and watch the sunset, or make a video of your cat.

I confess. I’ve always had a problem with time management. I’ve found it hard to avoid getting completely immersed in online teaching to the exclusion of all else. My exceedingly patient husband was getting a little grouchy at only seeing the top of my head over the computer screen. The cookie jar emptied out with nothing new being baked. Dishes piled up. Sunsets came and went unseen. When even the cat started to look at me as if I was a stranger, I decided I had better get a grip on my time.

So I took a day and read a bunch of time management blogs and watched a ton of time management videos. There are five strategies I learned that I want to pass along. They have really helped me over the last several months and I think they can help you too. The first three involve your head and the last two involve your heart. Here they are:

"Desktop Calendar"

1.) Put Everything on a Calendar

When you teach online it’s really important to make sure you keep track of your classes, tutoring sessions, grading deadlines and anything else that you need to get done. The best way is the simplest way: Put it all on a calendar. I use iCalendar.

There are two versions of iCalendar. Desktop iCalender Lite is freeware. Voted “Best Free Software” in 2012 by PCMag.com, this wonderful little program for Windows features a to-do list and an events list in addition to the calendar. The Pro Version of iCalendar is only $14.95.  It has the added features of pulling events from your Google calendar and providing a local weather module. Both versions allow you to customize the “skin” of the calendar so that it looks great on your netbook or laptop desktop.

This tool is so useful for online teachers. For example, when you schedule a WizIQ live class and save a link to your Google calendar, your iCalendar pulls the event over and adds it to the event list. You can also add events manually such as the start and finish of a testing period, the deadline for a discussion post or some other milestone in your online class that you need to remember. The To-Do list allows you to list tasks you need to complete and prioritize them. You can also post the percentage of completion or set a deadline date. You always know where you are in the work you are doing and what you have left to finish. The image above on the left is how my iCalendar looks on my desktop.

2.) Include Everything when You Write Down Your Tasks

Online teachers are usually very busy people, often working from a home office, balancing household tasks with work and time off to be with family and friends. One of the best things you can do is to keep a record of all the tasks you do. It is so easy to get immersed in work, in student contact, in developing lessons plans or working on a new presentation and forgetting everything else. If you have a spouse and children, pets and friends, there are other demands on your time that you want to honor. Keeping track of pretty much everything not only gives you a lot of information about how well you’re managing your work, but if you set up your record keeping right, you’ll always be able to tell if you’re meeting your goals, if you’re wasting time, or what might be keeping you from enjoying more time with your family.

Time management tips and tricks

A lot of online teachers also do other types of work. For example, I do editing and writing jobs in addition to my online teaching. Before I started keeping track of time spent on the tasks I was doing, I worried that the pace I was working at was too much for me. I worried I wasn’t charging enough for my sideline jobs. I worried I was wasting too much time on social media (that wasn’t related to advertising my classes) or even to family and friends. Was I spending enough time on my volunteer work? Did I leave enough time to do the things I love to do such as hanging out with my husband, or talking to my best friend?

I always go to YouTube to learn new things, so I spent an hour or so watching videos to get some ideas. A couple of people argued it was important to set up a spreadsheet to keep track of time and tasks. But I didn’t like the way any of them were set up so I decided to build my own.

I’ve been using my time management spreadsheet for a couple of months now and it is really doing the trick. I call it “Work Log” and it is comprised of several focused spreadsheets arrayed on tabs that feed into a summary spreadsheet. I can post my jobs, hours and payments, watch my classroom time, and keep track of time spent on other things that are important to me.

Here’s a video tutorial I made for my YouTube channel in which I describe what I did and give a few tips for setting up a time management spreadsheet of your own.

If you couldn’t make it through the whole tutorial, here is what I learned by keeping track of my tasks:

  • I learned how much time is needed to set up and teach an online course for the first time. Next time I’ll know how to schedule the work so that it doesn’t cut into my family time.
  • I learned I was underestimating the time it would take to finish my sideline jobs and that impacted on the amount of money I was asking for. Next time I’ll know how to estimate the time more effectively.
  • I learned how much time I was spending on social media without actually accomplishing anything. Being aware of that has helped me use my social media time more wisely.
3) Use what you learn from keeping track

Time Management Tips and Tricks

So I used what I learned from keeping track. I made adjustments:

  • I limited my time on Facebook and had more time for my students.
  • I analyzed the jobs I was taking so I could be careful about what jobs I took on in the future.
  • I learned how many hours it actually takes to teach an 8-week course for the first time, how much of it went into student discussion, course materials collection and upload, and into preparing the lectures. Knowing that will allow me to schedule my time for the next class more effectively.
  • I learned that if I really what the things that feed my heart to be front and center in my life, I’ve got to incorporate them into my schedule in a mindful and consistent way way. Which leads me to my fourth bit of advice.

4) Make sure you include things you want to do

Don’t forget that as a teacher, you need to recharge your batteries.

Time management tips and tricks

Live classes in the Virtual Classroom on WizIQ can be very exciting, but also very draining. It’s important to build in time just to relax, to read a book, do some needlework, gardening, or build something tangible. It’s important to talk to your spouse, your children, and/or other members of your family about your day, your students, how things are going. Sometimes you just need to sit down and watch the sunset, or make a video of your cat. It’s important to feel fresh and ready when you return to your work. Making sure you have time just to relax is as important as making sure you’re meeting your work-related goals.

5) Don’t forget to do something totally silly

Finally, don’t forget to build some totally off-the-clock/off-the-calendar time into your life every day. It’s best if that totally-off-the-clock time is totally silly too. Just do something fun:

Silly and Fun

Whether it’s making cookies with silly smiley faces, watching a really funny movie, jumping rope with your children, or running around the yard with your dog, it is important that at least some of that non-teaching time is just plain fun; the kind of fun you had when you were five years old and didn’t have a care in the world.

Online teaching can be the most rewarding activity in the world. A little bit of scheduling, a lot of keeping track, and making time for what’s important outside of the online classroom can help make it one of the all-time great ways to live your life as well!

[NOTE: All images are from Flickr and used under the CC license.]

Dr. Nancy Zingrone has a PhD in psychology from the University of Edinburgh and an MSEd in Higher Education from Northern Illinois University. She is passionate about online education, having learned a significant amount of what she knows about teaching online from the incomparable Dr. Nellie Deutsch and the wonderful folks at WizIQ. Her work background includes more than twenty years in personal and individual differences research, publishing, higher education administration, and adult education.

5 Comments

  • Reply July 5, 2013

    Sylvia Guinan

    I feel as if this was written for me – there are so many great solutions inside – thank you so much Dr. Nancy:))

    • Reply September 2, 2013

      Nan Zingrone

      Thanks Sylvia! I’ve just been going back through my blogs to see what I missed content wise. So sorry to have missed your comment!

  • Reply July 10, 2013

    Rebecca Hale

    Thank you so very much, Dr. Nancy! I feel fortunate to have discovered this blog post at the perfect time. I’m also intrigued, as I am contemplating a venture into part-time writing and editing to supplement my online teaching, as to whether you have written or might be willing to share any strategies you know on seeking jobs in those fields, while already being a busy teacher to begin with! :)

    • Reply September 2, 2013

      Nan Zingrone

      Hi Rebecca:
      I’m doing job searches now that also focus on writing jobs and copy-editing jobs. I used to just set up the search engines for online teaching. I have a pretty wide group of colleagues in my field too, so my husband and I set up a skills flyer (just one page) and sent it around to everybody we know and that has drummed up some editing jobs for both of us. We’re working hard at the moment on our website; it’s very out of date, and we’re adding in skills materials, and eventually will add in testimonials, the rate sheet all that. It’s hard to find the time because I’m teaching online, blogging for myself and WizIQ, taking a lot of PD, and searching for more online teaching (and oh boy online teaching applications may be cheaper but they are definitely not less time consuming). Hence the time management needs! :-) I’m see some good YouTube channels from folks who are working in copyediting/indexing/proof-reading, talking about their jobs, their love of language and so on. Having a YouTube series of helpful tutorials that you can share around is really good.

      I’ve got a new blog for WizIQ under review that has some tips about branding and marketing for online teachers that would work for people trying to get know for editing too. Watch for it, it should be out soon.

      Thanks for your comments!

      • Reply September 6, 2013

        Rebecca Hale

        Thank you so very much, Dr. Nancy! I will most definitely stay tuned!

        Best wishes,

        Rebecca Hale

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