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Ten Productivity Strategies Online Instructors Can Borrow from Entrepreneurs

Online Teaching and Learning

Ten Productivity Strategies Online Instructors Can Borrow from Entrepreneurs

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There is no shortage of productivity and efficiency advice for entrepreneurs. An overflowing supply of books, websites, newsletters, podcasts, and videos offer tips, tricks, and strategies to help entrepreneurs manage their time, attention, and priorities. But that advice also applies to online instructors. With this in mind, let’s borrow a few strategies from entrepreneurs (Gaille, 2015) to help maximize the impact of our online teaching time:

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There is no shortage of productivity and efficiency advice for entrepreneurs. An overflowing supply of books, websites, newsletters, podcasts, and videos offer tips, tricks, and strategies to help entrepreneurs manage their time, attention, and priorities. But that advice also applies to online instructors. With this in mind, let’s borrow a few strategies from entrepreneurs (Gaille, 2015) to help maximize the impact of our online teaching time:

  1. Make a list. Just as you wouldn’t enter a face-to-face classroom without a clear plan for how to spend the class period, you shouldn’t treat your online classroom any differently. Make a teaching checklist that highlights exactly what you need to get done every day; highlight specific tasks with time frames and outcomes (e.g., Monday 9:00–9:45 a.m.: grade 10 papers).
  2. Put the worst first. There are some teaching tasks we love . . . and others that we hate. If you want to be productive, prioritize your teaching checklist to start with your least favorite tasks. By accomplishing your least favorite teaching tasks first, you start the day with a sense of accomplishment and are less likely to procrastinate. So, if you don’t enjoy grading, get it out of the way first; then you can focus your mental energy on the more enjoyable aspects of online teaching.
  3. Just do it. While some aspects of online teaching, such as grading, take considerable time, other important instructional tasks are quick and easy—for instance, posting an announcement to share a current event or clarify an assignment. Structure your teaching checklist to intersperse quick, easy-to-accomplish tasks between time-consuming ones. The momentum you gain from completing your checklist will help you to stay motivated, focused, and on track.
  4. Enjoy it. Despite our reliance on technology, humans are not robots and shouldn’t attempt to work like them. Schedule breaks and use them as rewards for finishing items on your teaching checklist. Not only will doing so motivate you to complete your checklist items in a timely manner, but research finds that we are rejuvenated, more focused, and more productive after clearing our minds. For example, your checklist might specify 45 minutes of grading, 15 minutes to post announcements, and then a five-minute break for a snack, stretching, or scrolling social media.
  5. Identify peak times. We all have times of the day when we are most effective and times when we drag. Identify your period of productivity and prioritize this time to focus on the critical teaching tasks that have the greatest impact on student learning, satisfaction, and engagement. Research finds that high-impact instruction targets interaction, presence, and feedback; so, slot teaching tasks that meet these goals during your most effective time of the day. Save activities that you inherently enjoy for less productive times as you are more likely to persist at something you like.
  6. Follow the Pareto (80/20) rule. The Pareto principle indicates that 20 percent of our effort typically accounts for 80 percent of our results. The key is to focus on the instructional tasks that really matter—namely activities that foster interaction, presence, and feedback—and spend less time on instructional activities that don’t clearly affect student learning, engagement, or satisfaction. Ask yourself, “What would happen if I quit doing XXX?” It is essential to know the educational ROI of your teaching time so that you can stop wasting time on things that don’t matter.
  7. Batch. Cluster your tasks so that you focus on one general activity at a time. By batching instructional tasks—for instance, responding to all student emails at three designated times each day, returning all student phone calls at one designated time, and creating multimedia resources during scheduled period—you can reduce time you spend mentally shifting from one activity to another.
  8. Specialize. Many people claim they can efficiently multitask. Unfortunately, research finds that they are typically wrong—and aren’t really multitasking (Crenshaw, 2013). Rather than multitasking, which means simultaneously engaging in different activities related to the same outcome, most people are switch-tasking—that is, quickly jumping from one task to another to advance on multiple outcomes. Multitasking is a good thing; switch-tasking is not. Simply put, switch-tasking takes more time than serial tasking. If you want to maximize your instructional time, quit jumping back and forth between email, texts, calls, and your online classroom. Focus on one task at a time.
  9. Optimize and reflect. Be conscientious about your time, attention, and productivity. At the end of each day, reflect on when you were most and least productive and what items on your teaching checklist you did not accomplish as planned. Take note of instructional time that seemed particularly valuable as well as online classroom time that may have been wasted. Allow priority management to guide your time investment in the online classroom.
  10. Relist. Close each day with an intentional and deliberate wrap-up focusing on the next day’s online teaching tasks. Review and revise your teaching checklist. Identify priority areas. Finalize completed tasks. End your day with a clear understanding of what you accomplished and your goals for the next day.

The ubiquity of the online classroom means that there is always more to do, so structure your schedule to ensure that you invest your teaching time in activities with impact and in a manner that establishes boundaries on your personal time. The key is to teach smarter… not harder (or longer). 

References

Crenshaw, D. (2013). The myth of multitasking. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gaille, B. (2015, January 29). 10 great ways to increase your productivity. Retrieved from https://brandongaille.com/10-great-ways-to-increase-your-productivity

B. Jean Mandernach, PhD, is executive director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University.