Working from home can present some unique challenges. Those with little children have to incorporate getting their work done with the every day needs of finding missing sippy cups and managing toddler negotiations. Maximizing time is of the essence.
Sound like a familiar scenario?
Here are a few simple tips and tricks that can help maximize your time in order to get the job done.
I taught online for well over a decade before my children were born. I had the freedom to make my own schedule in order to meet the deadlines and expectations of my employers. I could work in between my other “commitments”: walking the dogs, lunching with friends, working out at the gym, volunteering for local events, etc. I took regular trips and vacations because work could just go with me. My days were flexible and while I had a seemingly overloaded schedule, I still had the freedom and flexibility to get it done on my own time.
Flash forward to a few years ago when my kids were born (that’s right….three born a minute apart: triplets). Welcome to a new era of working from home. Initially they were on a four hour schedule and I was able to find a comfortable routine during the day and night when I could work. Their schedule evolved to sleeping through the night and taking two long naps during the day so my schedule evolved as well. With time, two naps turned in to one and my work time became less and less. Eventually, they figured out how to escape from their cribs and scheduled naps became scarce. For a few months during this transition, I would load the kids and dogs in to the van and take them for “carnap” every day. The kids would sleep for a couple hours in their car seats while I parked and worked from the car (thank goodness for McDonald’s wifi and cellular connections).
Now that my kids are nearing three, simultaneous napping is all but extinct and I find my work time is compressed even more. I get up early and stay up late and squeeze in the occasional email while the kids are engrossed in a puzzle or a rerun of Daniel Tiger. As my kids get older, my laptop keeps getting placed on higher platforms to keep it out of the reach of little hands. I haven’t used my office in years and my Trek Desk is in storage.
What I’m finding though, is that I’m working smarter. I know ….I know….the push is to get away from multitasking but, let’s be real: as online faculty we simultaneously participate in conference calls, hold office hours, send emails, post to discussion, and grade essays. We wouldn’t be able to function if we couldn’t multitask. With my ever-compressed schedule and distractions at an all time high, I’m learning to work smarter than ever.
So what can you do to make the most of your time?
Well of course much has been written on this but here are a few things that work for me:
- Only touch an email once. Open it and then reply/delete/file for the records. Don’t save it for later. Take action immediately.
- Check in to your various inboxes every few hours to keep them from becoming overloaded. Utilize mail forwarding services when allowed so that you only have to check one inbox.
- Keep a calendar and keep it up to date at all times. I use Mac Cal and it syncs with my phone. I also keep a Google calendar for some other random things. I check the calendar a thousand times a day for both personal and professional commitments.
- To follow suit with the calendar, I also use iphone/Mac reminders. I have a variety of lists going at all times that help remind me of critical (and some times not so critical) things. I have my phone with me at all times so whenever I need to remember something for later, I just tell Siri to set a reminder.
- Find a grading system that works the most efficiently for you. I used to grade assignments as they were submitted throughout the week but this required me to go back and forth and change gears countless times in a day. I now grade assignments immediately after they are due. It’s easier to keep focus when grading 20 of one kind of assignment rather 2 submissions each from 10 different assignments.
- Be proactive. When the systems allow, schedule announcements and even discussion posts ahead of time.
- Work ahead. My husband is off on the weekends so I try and set aside a couple hours to work on the “extra” stuff. If I’m developing a course or working on a special project, I use this uninterrupted time to work ahead and get situated for these projects.
- Keep scrupulous and organized records. Yes, it’s a pain and it’s tedious (especially at first) but once you have a library of discussion posts, grading comments, etc, your time spent doing these classroom activities will be less.
- Cross book. For example, if you work for 2 schools that require office hours, schedule your office hours to run at the same time.
- Find tools that help optimize your time. Examples might be Dragon Speaking, keyboard short cuts, copy/paste apps, etc. The key is to find what works best for you. Look for little ways that you can optimize and it will soon add up! Whether your day is dominated by another full time job, an aging parent, a spouse, or a herd of two year olds, find an approach that works for you and make the most of every minute in the day.
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Nicole Runyon has been been teaching online since 1998 and loves helping
adult learners find ways to achieve their goals and broaden their perspectives.
We are proud to have Nicole offer her mentoring services at The Babb Group,
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Contact the author Dr. Nicole Runyon