Organizing Your Time As an Online Teacher

What to Focus on and How to Get Things Done

Set Your Goals and a Plan of Action
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Set Your Goals and a Plan of Action

My goals for 2015.
In my 2014 summary post, I talked about the big goals that I wanted to achieve in 2015.
Having a goal to aim for gives you clarity on what you want to achieve in your teaching business. And once you have this goal, it means that you can plan on what actions you need to take in order to get there.
So, think about your goals for the next 3, 6, 12 months, and then break up this goal by deciding what smaller projects/tasks are important.
So, as an example, let’s say you’re just starting out with your online teaching business and your goal is to have things up and running within three months.
You can then break up these projects into tasks; for example, coming up with a site plan, buying a domain name, getting hosting etc.).
Give these tasks a deadline to be completed, and then make them a priority during your working hours.
Doing all of the above ensures that you are working on things that are going to help your teaching business.

Start Timeboxing and Batching Tasks

Time Boxing
Don’t leave things open
When you leave your days open, you allow your emotions, your energy levels, and other people’s agendas to dictate what you do.
This is how you end up spending two days exploring a new social networking site after reading about how one guy made $6,000 in five days (I’ve been there!), and completely ignoring what you should be doing.
Instead, plan out your days and weeks based on your goals and your plan of action, getting as specific as possible.
This is called timeboxing.
For example, every Monday at 10:30 I work on a new post/video for English learners for one hour. And on Wednesdays at 14:00, I work on my course for English teachers.
This is why teaching during a certain block of time helps too; it means that you can focus on teaching at a specific part of the day and spend the other part of your day working on everything else.
Also, try batching tasks (like sending emails) so that you’re not always moving from one task to the next. This helps you get into a rhythm and be more productive.
So base your daily and weekly work schedule based on the goals and plan of action that you come up with.
I even make some time on Fridays to reevaluate my long-term strategy, which stops me from thinking about the big picture when I should be getting things done.
Time boxing can be a little strange at first, and you might be thinking that it’s too regimented; but it has worked wonders for me.
Additionally, your schedule will evolve over time; I’m constantly changing things up on a weekly basis.

Focus and Avoid Distractions

Use apps to help you stay focused
Use apps to help you stay focused
Time boxing won’t work unless you can focus on the task in hand.
This is a constant struggle for me, and for nearly everyone I talk to who are working for themselves.
One thing that has helped greatly is the Stayfocusd app for Chrome. It works like this: you enter the URLs of the sites that you don’t want to visit while working, and ban them for a specific period of time.
When you try to go to a blocked site, you get a blank screen telling you that you should be working. This helps you refocus on your task.
It was amazing when I first started using this how often I would automatically go to my email or The Guardian or Facebook or Youtube, or even The Weather Channel.
I soon realized that I did this whenever I came to a sticking point with what I was doing; when I needed to really think about something in more depth.
Additionally, avoid other distractions by muting your phone, letting others know that you’re working, and by listening to music/putting on noise canceling earphones.
Having a deadline works wonders too. I’ve done this for my two big courses, and there is nothing like restricting your time to get you focused on what needs to get done.

Get Organized and Trust Systems

Three Productivity Tools for Online Teachers
My post on productivity tools
It took me a while to take the plunge and start using apps that I knew were going to help me. I’m just glad that I ended up getting them!
I talked about Asana and Evernote in this post, and the more I use them, the more I realize just how valuable they are.
Asana is the hub of everything I do: I use this to plan my projects, write down all my tasks, collaborate with my students and those who are getting mentoring from me, and to write down all the ideas that come into my head throughout the day.
Using applications like these takes a huge weight off and helps you focus on what’s important in that moment.

Outsource Where Possible

Chris Ducker Book
A great book on outsourcing
As a perfectionist, I find it difficult to pass tasks on to other people. But I’ve started doing more of this recently.
Last year, I was trying to do too many things that I wasn’t qualified for, or tasks that were repetitive and take up a lot of time.
For example, I started work on transcribing 40 videos for English learners, but soon realized that it would take me forever. I ended up paying someone to do this, and spent my time on other parts of the course that I was creating.
If you are new to online teaching, then you might be bootstrapping right now and doing everything yourself. Two things on this:
– You can always improve what you do now (logo, web design, welcome video etc.) at any time – so don’t feel like it has to be perfect right away (you should see some of my old sites!).
– Outsourcing doesn’t have to be expensive – there are plenty of things you can get done on Fivver, for example.
Here is a great book on outsourcing by Chris Ducker to help you get started with this.

Separate Work and Play, and Get Distance

Something I really struggled with last year was work vs play.
I spent too much time, especially in the evenings and at weekends, not really working and not really relaxing. I was watching football while trying to write an article, for example.
But over the last few months, I have managed to separate the time I spend working and the time I spend not working quite effectively. There are many tips for this (like working only at a specific location), but for me, having a work schedule and time boxing have been the deciding factors.
Getting distance from your work is important; it helps you come back fresher, more motivated, and with more creative energy.

Additionally, when you have specific times when you can get stuff done, you become more focused as you realize that this is the only time you have to do it. 

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