Letter to an Online Teacher: Create More Time
You have ideas.
They are good ideas that you are excited to share. They are ideas that have changed your life. They are ideas that excite and stimulate you. They are ideas that matter.
You started a small business to share your ideas.
Others can benefit from what you know and you want to share your knowledge with them, so you started a small business. Of course, you need to make a living in the process. You have a family, mortgages and responsibilities. You do not want to go to work in a soulless job, but you do have bills to pay.
Your business grows.
Your business is making ends meet, but it is certainly not leaving you with hours of leisure time.
It feels like every student counts. Every marketing email matters. Everyone who clicks on your website is a potential customer. And you can’t afford to lose them.
The website needs to be updated. The news feeds need to be fed. The Facebook pages need to be groomed. The newsletter needs to be written. The children need to be fed. The laundry needs to be done. It is simply impossible to keep up, so:
You are stressed.
Anxiety is often the result. Sometimes it shows up as Fear of Missing Out , an actual diagnosed and studied ailment, prevalent among young people and business owners. Sometimes, it’s just a garden variety of anxiety. Regardless of the source, feeling overwhelmed is typical.
Pick your life.
Thich Nhat hanh, my favorite Buddhist monk, says “Sometimes you smile is the source of your happiness, other times your happiness is the source of your smile.”
Feedback loops are everywhere. It is often impossible to determine what the cause is and what the effect is. That said, it is not hard to determine which cycle you want to be in. Do you want to be in a loop with your smile or with an anxiety disorder? Do you want to work all day to afford the car and the clothes that you need to work all day?
Stop: What if less work was actually more effective?
At a certain point, more and more energy makes smaller and smaller gains. When is your work “Good Enough?”
The concept of “Just Barely Good Enough,” is common among software developers. The idea is that you want your creations to be good: Solidly good, undeniably and irrefutably good. However, creating something that is beyond good enough is not a good use of your time and money.
It is said that Henry Ford once sent a group of engineers into the junk lot, and asked them to find the element of his cars that was out-lasting all the rest of the parts. The engineers returned to tell him that the king pin always outlasted the rest of the car. The story goes that Ford responded by reducing the quality of the king pin. Perhaps this is an urban legend, but I am going with it.
The concept of “Good Enough” has often been suggested as a helpful tool for perfectionists. My oldest friend struggled with perfectionism as a child, becoming terribly anxious with her schoolwork. Her wise and resourceful parents read up on the matter and taught her how to be “Good Enough.” The idea is to do good, very good, but then to stop and turn that paper in.
How does that look, for me?
In my earlier marketing attempts, I would tinker with every element of my business. Is my logo too orange? Should I use Comic Sans or Kristen ITC? Which colors most appeal to the 40-something mothers I am marketing to? These questions are important, but they seemed essential. As if the color that I choose would be the difference between a successful business and a life time of unmanageable pain.
The truth? It really doesn’t matter. In the big picture, in the “What will you remember when you die,” picture, it just doesn’t matter. Most things don’t.
What is “Good Enough” for my life?
-I live with dear friends in an affordable rural place. No walking to cute cafes or bookstores for us!
-I wear old clothes. I have style, but it isn’t expensive.
-I need to go South, every winter.
-I need to have 4 months expenses paid into the future, to be able to relax now.
What is “Good Enough” for my business?
-I determined exactly how much money I need to make each month. Once I make it, I stop.
-I know how many students I need to be financially successful. When they are enrolled, I stop.
-For tasks like website development or newsletter creation, I set a time limit. I work on my website when I need to update my classes or offerings. I send out one newsletter each month and I finish it in a day.
Develop some strong work habits
-I made a time/money budget to figure out which of my various gigs (writing/teaching/editing) was bringing in the most money for the most joy. Chris Bailey just completed a year of productivity experiments on himself, and he found that “there are just a few tasks in every area of your life (like your mind, body, emotions, relationships, career, finances, and fun) that contribute most of the value in each area.” He calls these the “High leverage” tasks.” Answering e-mails wasn’t bringing in much cash. Teaching live classes was. Both of them are “work.”
-I work in two hours spurts: All of the time management people talk about routine. I would love a routine, but my life just doesn’t offer it and I can’t seem to make it. What I can do, though, is have “Routines” for my “Spurts.” When I am writing, I am at a standing desk. I pretty much attack the keyboard and work fiercely for two hours. Then I take a break.
-I go into my spurts with a plan. I make my to-do list the night before, or at least before the “spurt.” I do the “High Leverage” tasks, first.
-I have scheduled Independent Reading time with my daughter every afternoon
-I do not check my email until I need a “break” from my writing. Facebook is off limits during my spurts.
-I use Facebook (even for business purposes) after my kids are asleep. I am active in several groups that are related to my business (teaching classes to homeschoolers). I do not use the groups to actively advertise, but I check the conversations every week or so.
-I write things down in my calendar and make them happen. I tell students that the new schedule will be up on a certain date, and then I make sure that it is up.
-I run my courses in 5 weeks sessions every two months. I use the 3 weeks off to prepare for the next classes. Even when I am not teaching a class, I am working. I prepare Powerpoints, read text books and research software.
Questions to ask yourself:
-What is good enough for your life?
-What is good enough for your business?
-What is the fastest and most enjoyable path to get you there?
There is a world of joy to be captured
When you are creating your world and striving to live in joy and beauty, you do not have a whole lot of time to haul in an income. Do it. Do it well. Do it joyfully. Then play with your kid.