Time Management Challenge #4: My online class is taking over my life!
Establish a routine.
Make your availability clear in an announcement that is posted for the entire semester and keep yourself to that availability. Students can then predict when they will get a more direct response to a question. If you say that you will be online M-F from 8 am to 12 pm, then stick to that time frame. This will help to insure that you are not a slave to the system and that the time you spend working is the time that you are compensated for. (It may take a semester or two of online teaching to find a successful pace).
I have certain hours that are blocked for working when my daughter is in school. I try to keep the distractions minimal by turning them off or putting out of site. (Whatsapp, Facebook, personal emails, the fridge, my new bread machine.) Sometimes that's a challenge when I have 120 papers to get through and I'm just craving for distractions to entertain me. But that's when I most need to focus on bulldozing through the work.
I tune in at night Monday-Friday, keep on top of the flow, and this triggers improvement across the board. What is said to the first and second students who post is then accessed and absorbed.
On certain days I only do certain tasks (grading on Monday (early birds) Wednesday, Friday) and on other days I only comment and discuss things. Saturday is catching up day if I didn't get to the end of all 3 classes' homework grades. I comment during the weekends also, if I am not too busy; it makes the beginning of the next week easier.
Block time and use it for specific purposes. One hour online for just grading assignments – no discussion/casual comments, for example.
I've found that I take certain days a week where I do most of my grading and critiquing of assignments. I try to start right away in the morning, only break for lunch and get it done. I always start by answering my emails, then take a look at my Question & Answer topic and Instructor's office. I put my full concentration into it. Then, the other days, I reserve for a quick check-in… answering questions and emails.
As we all know, many students don't post to Discussion until Friday or Saturday, so I make it a point to check in those days first thing so I'm not dealing with a heap of responses on Monday and scrambling to catch up.
Prioritize your daily check-in.
Prioritize your day by checking the Instructor's Office and private offices first and responding to questions that are posted for quick responses.
Then choose which topics need the most attention first, based on the number of posts and the timeline for submission of the next stage of the work.
Consider the whole week. Mondays and Fridays are usually a little on the quiet side assignment wise, but busier discussion wise, where Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are more crit heavy. Anticipating this can help you plan your week effectively.
Research has shown (see below) that multitasking is actually less efficient than focusing on a single task and then moving on. And, in fact, trying to multitask may have an impact on your cognitive control.
I try not to multitask. I focus on one aspect of one course, then I move to the next, prioritizing based on the need for feedback to execute the next stage of the work. This approach is worth noting, because the idea of "being an effective multi-tasker" has been encouraged most of our professional lives.
Abandon guilt & perfectionism.
I try not to over-edit my comments. This is difficult for me because I feel like in an online class, students are liable to misinterpret a comment if it's not phrased exactly precisely right–they may think a critique is harsher than I mean it to be, or they may not understand a connection I'm trying to draw–but in the interest of getting all of it done, sometimes I just don't revise.
Give yourself permission to have a life!
Take at least one day off a week. And get up from your desk every hour or so.
I actually use an egg timer for the time I use in each topic, whether Discussion or Assignment. I set it for 20 minutes and am usually startled when it goes off. I'll repeat the process but limit it to 3x per topic. If I can't finish that day, I hit it the next day.
I have been working on just stopping. My habit before would be to get it all done and have no new posts anywhere when I logged off, but that was just not good for my sanity and my family. I have now begun to give myself a time limit, stop and just post an announcement saying that I am still working my way through and will return the next day. It always gets done, it just doesn't have to be done immediately.
Watch the clock. What I mean by this is break your day up into chunks of time and know how much time you have spent working on each course. Three to five business days to respond to submissions is a good amount of time and we should take that if we need to. Remember that it is not required to give same day or next day feedback to students.