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A “Stop Doing” List for Online Instructors

Tips for creating to-do lists are everywhere, but could taking items off of your list actually be more helpful?

A recent Inc. article from business founder Benjamin Wald provided “An Entrepreneur’s ‘Stop Doing’ List.” So many of us as online instructors are entrepreneurial in action and spirit, often putting together a combination of teaching and other work contracts each year to not only financially support ourselves in the present, but also stay current in our fields and improve our marketability for the future.

Here’s my take on what we might consider not doing, as inspired by Inc.‘s list:

  • Over-emphasizing everything: This reminds me of something a former supervisor used to say, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” Wald recommends that we “get the important stuff done, and leave the glitz for later.” Balancing multiple work commitments and family responsibilities can very quickly become overwhelming. Deciding what is and isn’t most important is no easy task, but there’s a need to prioritize in our own lives, as well as in our courses.
  • Getting trapped in administrative work: The administrative tasks of an online instructor seem endless at times, including a range of forms, reports, meetings, contracts, etc. This “busy work” can take time away from professional development and interaction with our students. Wald suggests “it’s more important to allocate time, every day, for tasks that will drive your business forward.” Where can you focus your efforts to “generate a big boost in productivity?” Avoid the temptation to procrastinate and schedule time to take care of these often required, but less motivating tasks.
  • Trying to do it all: I think there are times when all of us overestimate the hours in a week. Wald emphasizes the need to find help and support, and while hiring an assistant and delegating your assigned tasks isn’t realistic, there are services available to help you help your students (i.e., advisors, librarians, counselors, technical specialists). And consider the option of saying “no” to the next project that you know will extend you beyond the number of hours available, making it difficult to manage your workload.
  • Tweaking your 5-year career plan: It’s not uncommon to plan in terms of (and respond to job interview questions related to) 5- and 10-year goals. Wald’s list focuses on business financial projections and includes an interesting observation that “three years is the maximum timeline that makes any sense.” Could this shorter-range planning be beneficial for careers, too? Whether your goals include teaching full-time, getting involved in an education start-up, writing a book, or even changing careers, the higher education industry and its use of technologies is rapidly changing. Consider shortening your timeline, while also fine-tuning your focus. Stay up-to-date with trends in your area(s) of interest so that you’ll be better able to take advantage of opportunities that emerge.

Elements of time management are included in all of these items. If you are considering becoming an online instructor for the first time or have many courses already under your belt, periodic review of your time spent and tasks completed can be helpful as you prepare for the next term or contract. There are several web-based tools available to help you get this process of self-review started:

  • Mind Tools offers a free, online Time Management Quiz to help you figure out where you need the most help in the areas of goal setting, prioritization, managing interruptions, procrastination, and scheduling.
  • The Pennsylvania State University provides an interactive Faculty Assessment of Online Teaching to determine readiness for online delivery. Even if you’ve been teaching online for a while, you may appreciate the opportunity to reflect on your organization, communication, teaching, and technical skills.
  • Assess how you are spending your time by conducting a Time Audit [PDF] as outlined by The Organized Life. Careful review of the tasks you are performing over the course of a week may reveal “time sinks” and areas where you could improve your approach.

What do you need to stop doing in order to become a more effective and efficient online instructor? Time management, self-assessment, and even reducing your load can take time and practice. Identify one way you might change your current approach and implement it during your next course.

Image credit: Steve A. Johnson, Flickr, CC:BY