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Home with a sick kid

Outside OfficeI spent this past Tuesday home with a sick kid.  He spent most of his day laying on the couch watching episodes of the classic Doctor Who series.  I spent most of my day except for a mid morning one hour meeting enjoying my outside office, also known as the back deck.  I love the opportunity to work outside when the weather is nice and we are lucky enough to have a great back deck where we can work when the weather is as nice as it has been these past few days.

I try to have my back to the sliding glass windows so that I focus out rather than in, and Tuesday was no exception.  Part of my teaching online Tuesday task was to systematically go through each of my classes, look at each of my students, and see what if anything they needed from me and then take care of their needs.  My list of student needs did spill over into Wednesday but overall it was a productive day filled with multiple pots of green tea, lunch done on the grill, sunshine, and birdsong.

Now I didn’t ignore my son in the other room, I make sure that I take breaks between tasks so that I don’t end up with back problems from sitting too long.  Sometimes I just stand and stretch for a second or two but this day I walked into the living room, commented on whichever Doctor Who episode he was watching at the time, and checked on his status and what if anything he needed.

I have several favorite working places that change with the seasons, for this season working on the back deck and enjoying my outside office while simultaneously being able to care for a sick child certainly does make teaching online one of the best career moves I ever made.

20140729-132120-48080985.jpgAnd as for my mid morning meeting when I wasn’t working in the outside office, well that was done the same place I try to have all of my meetings, because we are on video I attend those meetings from my home office, that way my background doesn’t look any different then anyone chiming in from their offices on campus and I don’t have to feel guilty about being able to work in such a fantastic and varied set of places.

I like the idea of the “boring office” for video based meetings even when I’m in areas that I should brag about since in the end I don’t want to waste time talking about where I am so that I can get back to work and enjoy where I am that much sooner.

Tackling Time Wasters

SAMSUNGHow do currently manage your time? What are your time wasters? What are your other obligations? What is your overall goal and how do you want to achieve that goal?

Teaching online, working from home is absolutely fantastic.  But there are challenges to over come.  One challenge that most of those who work from home will face are the “Time Wasters” that stare us down and steal our time.  For me my goal to work from home has been a long one, I think I first really had the desire to work from home when my son was born.  I tried a few different things, some worked okay, others not at all, and then I discovered distance education and started teaching online.

The great thing about working from home is that for the most part you can structure your day however you’d like and there is no one watching over your shoulder.  Want to clock in an hour early and then take a two hour lunch? Awesome!  No one watching over your shoulder.

But that is where the time wasters come in.

Many people think that the time wasters would be Facebook or TV or general Sloth, but those aren’t really an issue for me.

For me the time wasters always look the same, some type of work that falls into that important for someone (not always me) category.  Sometimes urgent, usually not. My biggest ones fall into the category of helping others.  It can take some effort to realize that by helping others in the moment I am actually doing them a disservice since it is cutting into my productive time and taking time away from when I can help them better when my work is done, not to mention that if we don’t finish out work, we don’t get paid, and that is really not helping our family.

Dishes (cleaning in general)

The kitchen is my nemesis.  Well a messy kitchen anyway.  We do our best to keep a clean house, but with three active boys and a dog there is always a mess somewhere and there is always something to clean up.  Working outside of the home you get to walk away from it each morning and hopefully forget about it as you move through your day.  Working from home though all of those important tasks that need to get done, such as the dishes just stare at you.  For this one I take a two pronged approach, first I try and give myself some time in the morning to get some cleaning in before I start my working day.  And when I’m tempted to stop the work I’m being paid for to spend an hour or two cleaning the house top to bottom.. I RUN.  Well I don’t really run, but I relocate to somewhere other than my house, coffee shops and tea shops are my favorite.  They have just enough noise and humanity to keep me focused but not too much (and the caffeine is a great bonus for productivity as well).

Waiting for someone or something

People are another one of my time wasters, or rather the way I can sometimes stop and wait.  Who said I have to stop in order to wait?  Every once and a while I find myself thinking “Oh I just need…” and then I slow down and wait for it.  I’ve been doing much better at this one though.  Now I take the waiting for other people as a blessing.  Waiting for the meeting to start?  Give a single student feedback, return that email, there is always something that can fill the time we spend waiting, even if you’re all packed up waiting for your wife to pack herself up so you can relocate to the next coffee shop.

Email

Email saves a lot of time.  Teaching online I send and receive a LOT of email.  But there are times when you can get lost in your email.  I think the only thing that really works for email is turning off the notifications for email and only checking email at regular intervals that are appropriate for your environment and the use of a whole lot of filters.  I’ve unsubscribed from every mailing list I was on and have my email set up to text me if my wife or my boss emails me other than that I check my email at regular intervals.  With email being large I check between each task to see if a student needs help, and for those times when there is an email that doesn’t immediately impact a student then I toss it to the bottom of my Asana list and keep working.

Beating my time wasters is a daily challenge.  What are your biggest time wasters?  How to you beat them?

Asana Popcorn

I am rounding out my first month at my new job teaching online full time and it is fantastic.  But staying focused and being efficient is something that everyone who works from home should probably put a priority on and I’m not any exception there.

Asana.com

One of the ways that I have been able to help stay on track and get work done has been through the use of Asana.com the project management and collaboration tool.  Although the rest of my department isn’t using the tool yet I’ve been finding it very helpful for keeping myself organized and on track.  I have set up a unique “Workspace” as they are called in Asana for my school and have set up each of my classes as an individual project within that workspace.  I also have a project called “General Organization” as well as projects that show up as they are assigned to me.

Set Reoccurring Tasks

Reoccurring tasks, even the simple ones such as check for “student emails” and “reach out to struggling students” that we should remember to do every day I put in as reoccurring tasks so they don’t get lost in the shuffle of the ordinary days.

Plan Each Morning

Each morning while I’m making a pot of tea I scribble down the items that I want to get done for the day on a piece of paper, and during my first cup of tea I organize my day.  With the reoccurring items already in my “Today” list I add in the items I want to get done, review my upcoming tasks pulling any that need done up, and then I check my email to add in any tasks that have come from others. Adding them in and assigning them to their respective projects, adding in due dates, and moving them to the different Asana lists of Today, Later, and Upcoming.

Then I close the views for “Later” and “Upcoming” to focus on today.

Enjoy Popcorn

I don’t remember when I first read about the “Workstation Popcorn” method of productivity but it so closely resembled what I was already doing I adopted it whole heartily.

The basic premise is that you need to move throughout your day so you don’t get bogged down in unproductive and unfocused work.

I’ve used the Asana “Section:” feature to pre-populate my “Today” todo list with locations that work for different types of work.  Some of the locations are just different places in the house, “Office Early:” is my office downstairs, probably the quietest place in the house when there are kids home,  “Outside:” refers to my back deck.  Then there are a number of coffee and tea shops nearby, a few restaurants, and parks.  Places with WiFi and the right environment for me to get done what I need to get done.

Pre-populating the Asana today list with the different potential working locations using the section feature makes it much easier to plan the day quickly and get right to work.  And yes when working with students things always come up, but by being the most efficient with the things I can plan throughout the day I am that much more prepared for when a student needs help right away.

 

Finding Balance

IMG_1997We’ve been at the in-law’s house for the past few days.  It is a beautiful place and they are lovely people.  Finding a place to work has proved easy since my in-laws ran a company from their home for years and they still have their massive office set up.  But when it comes time for my live meetings with video and audio I have been retreating to our bedroom upstairs where I can close the door.

I’ve been trying to keep a balance and not work all of the time.  It can be hard when there is a lot to do, when the work is fun, and when you don’t have to go “into the office” to do your work.  Finding a way to turn off at home was slightly easier since I have been using different physical spaces to do different work.  It is more difficult here because I’m still working on setting up those spaces.  And perhaps I’m feeling a bit guilty being in such a great place while my counterparts are working in an office.  Well maybe not that guilty.

The answer of course is to find groove and build a routine, I’ve only been working from home in this new job for a week and a day so I’m sure the groove and routine will come.  Building a work from home routine is probably going to be easier once the kids go back to school themselves next week and I’ve had a couple of weeks on the job to figure out what needs to be done when.

Finally getting started.

IMG_2473Off on a plane with a connecting flight and I’m reminded how much better direct flights are.  My second leg was delayed by a few hours so I was stuck for a while in Chicago.  Not a bad place to be but there are better places to get some work done then an airport terminal.  SO in my quest to get some work done I decided to go exploring a bit, hopefully somewhere with WiFi.  I was surprised to see that there was a significant lack of WiFi in the airport when I went to sit down.

Luckily though I had my trusty iPhone and it’s personal hotspot capabilities.  So I still was able to work and get things done.  Mostly last minute postings for my last three classes (ending in just a few days).

In the end there was an hour long layover that turned into a three hour layover.  Tired I did what I could but without the iPhone I would have been sunk.  I was surprised there wasn’t free WiFi at a major US Airport.

I was picked up at the airport by my new boss and made it to the hotel where I’m staying for a few weeks.  I was able to get my homework for the weekend posted before the midnight deadline and even managed to visit the 24 hour Walmart next door to pick up some Tea and other essentials such as Prosciutto Panino.

After my day of traveling, shopping, writing, and rushing I was quite happy to have my “Relax Melodies” app on my laptop to block out the sounds of the city a cup of green tea and a bed.

Today is my second day of a two week training stretch and I’m learning so very much about the team and the way they organize themselves.  At first I was reluctant to come and spend two weeks so far from my children and family but I’m not sure I would have been integrated as well with the team as a whole without the trip.  It will be interesting to see the difference when I head back home to New England to see the difference in the way I organize my day and my routine.  If anyone has any suggestions let me know.  I’m teaching a full load, several on-screen meetings each week (mostly Monday’s and Tuesdays mid day) so there will be a lot to do.

It’s a great group of people in a great program.  I honestly think I will learn as much if not more from my counterparts then I will teach to my students they are that great.  And the more I immerse myself in what I’m going to be teaching the more I’m positive this was the perfect move for me.

So again, if anyone has any telecommuting and working from home organizational ideas let me know.  I’m going to need to hit the road running when I return and I’ll share what I find works.

Persistence Pays Off

20140729-132120-48080985.jpgHere is a rare photo of my home office setup.  Since I like to work early and I try to get as much work done here before anyone else in the family wakes up I start my mornings here after a pot of tea is ready and the day’s priorities are set.  But the space is not all mine Note the three “homework chairs” for the three boys to use each afternoon.  The whiteboards (yes four is probably overkill) I have for brainstorming, strategic planning, and motivational goals/reference.

Over the past several months I’ve been approaching the end of my doctoral coursework and had started to look for work in ernest.  Sending sometimes as many as a dozen CV packets a day.  Like the whiteboards it was probably a bit of overkill.  I also joined the “Teach Online Bootcamp” offered by The Babb Group.  The end result is that I’ve been hired as a full time online instructor at a school out west.

Persistence pays off.  Sometimes you just have to keep pushing and keep trying.  I fly out this coming Sunday for two weeks of training and immersion.  So the Nomadic part of my teaching is starting in full force as well.  After the two weeks I’m going to return home and have my routine set here where I will start each day in my home office, then roam needed to keep focus and productivity up.

The new job has made me think of what I want to do with the Blog as I move forward.  Since I don’t want to talk much about my specific position, my students, and hunting for an online teaching job is less interesting to me now then it was a few weeks ago that does help limit my topics.  Moving forward I want to write about how I teach online, how I work from home.. specifically how do I handle the work-life balance, the isolation of being at home, and keep my productivity up so that I can adapt as needed to life as it comes.

Although I will be specifically approaching these questions from the point of view of someone teaching full time and that will by my primary audience, I am hopeful and confidant that my insights and the things that I learn will be helpful to anyone who works from home.  Especially with noisy children in the house.  As I continue to make this transition I may end up with more questions than answers.

Finding Overseas Higher Ed Teaching Jobs

20140613-094657-35217041.jpgMy wife has traveled significantly more than I have.  Her father ran an international design firm and as such there was a bit of travel for her when she was younger.  My longer term goal is to explore the world.  And I’ve developed a small obsession.  A certain Wikipedia page. The “Lists of Universities and Colleges by Country” it is addicting to look through the list of countries and to daydream..  Clicking through to the “employment opportunities” for the different universities in exotic and not so exotic locations and see what foreign professor jobs are posted.

Although teaching online is a great way to gain some ability to travel and break ties to a specific part of the world, another way is to find a position in one of those exotic locations where you could be the foreigner for a year or three and really immerse yourself in the culture.

For our situation it’s a bit unrealistic now since we are both have young children from previous marriages with the custody orders that come with such a situation so our focus is to find online teaching opportunities and gain some more local nomadic abilities.  But the children are getting older.   They certainly share our unrequited wanderlust.  Maybe they’ll end up deciding to look for an overseas university themselves when the time comes.

Still the Wikipedia page for “Lists of Universities and Colleges by Country” is a great resource for those looking to find a job as a university professor in another country or state.

If you could teach anywhere..  Where would you choose and why?

 

Where to Apply for Online Teaching Jobs?

20140217-153643.jpgAs I wrap up my doctoral program I realize that I have a few options.  With the underlying goal of being a Nomadic Teacher I know I want those options to focus if possible on working remotely.

Part of my efforts will of course be in continuing to do Instructional Design work both for others and on a few projects of my own.  As well as working toward finding full time work as an online professor.  I know that these positions are rare so I have begun my efforts in focusing on most of the remote positions available.  I have subscribed to the Job Lead service from “The Babb Group” which I highly recommend, and I have a job alert set up with Higher Ed Jobs which has been helpful.  But as I visited the websites for different universities I realized that many of them had an Adjunct Pool and didn’t advertise adjunct positions.  I decided to take a systematic approach to my search.

I’ve logged onto the website for the National Center for Educational Statistics and generated a list of all of the US Colleges and Universities with at least 1 student taking all of their classes exclusively via distance education.  My thought of course being if there are students taking courses via distance education then there clearly must be professors teaching via distance education.

After a bit of fun in the spreadsheet app I have I sorted the list by the total number of distance education students.   Then thinking that the most likely schools to have a need for online teachers would be the ones with the highest populations of distance education students I sorted the list by the number of distance learners and then went by hand to find the website address for the top 150, and the Human Resources website for the top 150.. I found all but two.

Now I have a list I have something to work with.  To both check the job boards, and also to check the HR websites for each of the schools, identify where to send “unsolicited” CV’s if they don’t advertise adjunct positions, and to gather the information on the schools that would be most compatible with me.

Below is a video I made that will walk you though how to generate the same list for yourself in your quest to find an online teaching job.

However if that looks like too much work you can click here to purchase the very lists you saw created in the video so that you can start to systematically approach colleges and universities in your own quest to become a nomadic teacher.  Best of luck !

Getting out of the office

IMG_2201I work in several different locations.  I have my home office which I rarely use.  I have my back deck which I love to use and where I’m working today.  But mostly I love to roam and do my work out of the house.  Coffee shops, public parks, libraries, places with people.

The irony is that once there I put in my headphones and turn on “Relax Melodies”  to dull out the noise.  But the feeling of people around me, life, the energy that comes from being around others helps to fuel me.

There are also some quick mind tricks that can be used to keep the day flowing productively.  I have a location for doing email, a location for writing, a location for reading, a location for conference calls, etc.  by moving myself from location to location I not only get the small break I need to refresh but I also am able to build location based habits to stay focused on what needs done.

When I need to do something out of the ordinary or hit a stumbling block I’ll move on to a new spot and look at the world from that however small of a different perspective.  It seems to work for me.

There are a few co-working spaces near by but instead I keep a list of working spaces in Evernote where I break down my list of places to crack open my laptop and get some good work done usually while enjoying a pot of tea.

My list is broken down by city, with notes on each location.  Local coffee shops (not the franchises) are my favorites since they usually offer the best local flavor.  Where do you get the most work done?  Have you ever tried setting location based habits?

Remembering Yourself

20140514-093620.jpgSometimes, believe it or not, I have trouble staying motivated.  And there are times when I procrastinate.

At first I used to fight it and tell myself that I was a horrible person if I wasn’t 100% focused and in the game.   As time goes on I have been trying to be more mindful of my thoughts and forgiving of myself and letting go of the guilt of not being 100% on and focused all of the time was an important step.

One of the things that I have been finding these days is that these days most of my motivation and focus issues revolve around being physically or emotionally exhausted.  The worst is when it is a combination of the two.

This past weekend was certainly a doozie, knocked off my rocker by a conflict that was something I should have been able to let go of and not worry but my anxiety ran high, my worry overflowed, and everyone in the house was affected.  Emotionally frayed I had trouble sleeping and today I face the combination of emotional and physical exhaustion.

Today I have been mildly productive.  I have taken the syllabus for each of the summer classes and broken down all of the information in them to create a project in Asana.com for each class complete with due dates, priorities, and reminders.

20140514-093640.jpgBut there are a few things I am not motivated to do today, procrastinating.  Someone once told me that procrastination sometimes is there to tell you something is wrong, a stop gap, to force you to stop and look closely at what it is you are supposed to do and fix whatever is wrong before you move forward.

Today I was supposed to record several head shot videos for a few classes.  Today rather than find myself further exhausting myself to put out a sub-standard video I’m choosing to stop and look closely at what it is I’m supposed to do and fix what’s wrong before I move forward. I’m going to rest so that I can record quality videos later this evening or tomorrow.

Finding the balance between being 100% on and focused versus making sure that you are well rested, healthy, and properly taken care of isn’t exactly a balance.

Unless I am well rested, healthy, and properly taken care of I am unable to effectively focus and be productive.

This is one of the things I struggle with teaching online.  It is so easy to push and push and push until there is nothing left.  It is so easy to push yourself into exhaustion and crash.  But I can’t.

As hard as it is when there is work, housework, kids, and their homework.  Amid all of this that needs to be pushed through it is so easy to start with the work and forget the fuel.

In much of the Winter/Spring term I struggled and failed to keep my energy, motivation, efficiency, and focus up.  I didn’t take enough time for myself, to ensure I was rested well enough, and I allowed myself to get exhausted and ragged.  As the summer term begins I am trying to put an effort into “Remembering Myself”.

Through this effort I am hoping to see an increase in both my productivity as well as my enjoyment.  I plan on focusing on water, walking, and sleep.  Increasing the amount of all three.

What do you do to help remember yourself, to put your rest, health, and personal care are remembered so that you can have the energy to stay motivated, stay productive, be there for your family, and enjoy life?