Organize Time Teacher TESLO

Organizing Your Time As an Online Teacher: What to Focus on and How to Get Things Done

Get things done

Don’t get stressed. Get organized!

When you have your own online teaching business, things can get a little hectic.

There are lessons to teach, marketing to be done, admin to be taken care of, planning, strategizing, advertising, posting, connecting, and whole bunch of other things to spend your time on.

And sometimes, you just sit there in front of your computer screen. Clicking.

As I have expanded my online teaching business over the years, I have had to get organized with my time to ensure that the important things get done; things that are actually going to move my business forward.

In this post, I want to share with you what currently works for me when it comes to organizing time, knowing what to focus on, and actually getting stuff done.

And it all starts with a plan…

Set Your Goals and a Plan of Action


My goals for 2015.

In my 2014 summary post, I talked about the big goals that I wanted to achieve in 2015.

Having a goal to aim for gives you clarity on what you want to achieve in your teaching business. And once you have this goal, it means that you can plan on what actions you need to take in order to get there.

So, think about your goals for the next 3, 6, 12 months, and then break up this goal by deciding what smaller projects/tasks are important.

So, as an example, let’s say you’re just starting out with your online teaching business and your goal is to have things up and running within three months.

From this, you make a plan to find your niche, create your website, and get some students into your lessons as soon as possible.

You can then break up these projects into tasks; for example, coming up with a site plan, buying a domain name, getting hosting etc.).

Give these tasks a deadline to be completed, and then make them a priority during your working hours.

Doing all of the above ensures that you are working on things that are going to help your teaching business.

Start Timeboxing and Batching Tasks

Time Boxing

Don’t leave things open

When you leave your days open, you allow your emotions, your energy levels, and other people’s agendas to dictate what you do.

This is how you end up spending two days exploring a new social networking site after reading about how one guy made $6,000 in five days (I’ve been there!), and completely ignoring what you should be doing.

Instead, plan out your days and weeks based on your goals and your plan of action, getting as specific as possible.

This is called timeboxing.

For example, every Monday at 10:30 I work on a new post/video for English learners for one hour. And on Wednesdays at 14:00, I work on my course for English teachers.

This is why teaching during a certain block of time helps too; it means that you can focus on teaching at a specific part of the day and spend the other part of your day working on everything else.

Also, try batching tasks (like sending emails) so that you’re not always moving from one task to the next. This helps you get into a rhythm and be more productive.

So base your daily and weekly work schedule based on the goals and plan of action that you come up with.

I even make some time on Fridays to reevaluate my long-term strategy, which stops me from thinking about the big picture when I should be getting things done.

Time boxing can be a little strange at first, and you might be thinking that it’s too regimented; but it has worked wonders for me.

Additionally, your schedule will evolve over time; I’m constantly changing things up on a weekly basis.

Focus and Avoid Distractions

Use apps to help you stay focused

Use apps to help you stay focused

Time boxing won’t work unless you can focus on the task in hand.

This is a constant struggle for me, and for nearly everyone I talk to who are working for themselves.

One thing that has helped greatly is the Stayfocusd app for Chrome. It works like this: you enter the URLs of the sites that you don’t want to visit while working, and ban them for a specific period of time.

When you try to go to a blocked site, you get a blank screen telling you that you should be working. This helps you refocus on your task.

It was amazing when I first started using this how often I would automatically go to my email or The Guardian or Facebook or Youtube, or even The Weather Channel.

I soon realized that I did this whenever I came to a sticking point with what I was doing; when I needed to really think about something in more depth.

Additionally, avoid other distractions by muting your phone, letting others know that you’re working, and by listening to music/putting on noise canceling earphones.

Having a deadline works wonders too. I’ve done this for my two big courses, and there is nothing like restricting your time to get you focused on what needs to get done.

Get Organized and Trust Systems

Three Productivity Tools for Online Teachers

My post on productivity tools

It took me a while to take the plunge and start using apps that I knew were going to help me. I’m just glad that I ended up getting them!

I talked about Asana and Evernote in this post, and the more I use them, the more I realize just how valuable they are.

Asana is the hub of everything I do: I use this to plan my projects, write down all my tasks, collaborate with my students and those who are getting mentoring from me, and to write down all the ideas that come into my head throughout the day.

Using applications like these takes a huge weight off and helps you focus on what’s important in that moment.

Outsource Where Possible

Chris Ducker Book

A great book on outsourcing

As a perfectionist, I find it difficult to pass tasks on to other people. But I’ve started doing more of this recently.

Last year, I was trying to do too many things that I wasn’t qualified for, or tasks that were repetitive and take up a lot of time.

For example, I started work on transcribing 40 videos for English learners, but soon realized that it would take me forever. I ended up paying someone to do this, and spent my time on other parts of the course that I was creating.

If you are new to online teaching, then you might be bootstrapping right now and doing everything yourself. Two things on this:

– You can always improve what you do now (logo, web design, welcome video etc.) at any time – so don’t feel like it has to be perfect right away (you should see some of my old sites!).
– Outsourcing doesn’t have to be expensive – there are plenty of things you can get done on Fivver, for example.

Here is a great book on outsourcing by Chris Ducker to help you get started with this.

Separate Work and Play, and Get Distance

Something I really struggled with last year was work vs play.

I spent too much time, especially in the evenings and at weekends, not really working and not really relaxing. I was watching football while trying to write an article, for example.

But over the last few months, I have managed to separate the time I spend working and the time I spend not working quite effectively. There are many tips for this (like working only at a specific location), but for me, having a work schedule and time boxing have been the deciding factors.

Getting distance from your work is important; it helps you come back fresher, more motivated, and with more creative energy.

Additionally, when you have specific times when you can get stuff done, you become more focused as you realize that this is the only time you have to do it.

Over to You

All the of the above is still a work in progress for me, but as I mentioned, I have made huge improvements with organizing my time so I’m more effective and productive with what I do.

Please leave any tips you have on this topic, or any thoughts you have on this post, in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading!


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  • ElfinW

    Thanks for this post, time management it has to be the number one problem with online teachers ! How much time would you say you spend on lesson preparation ?

    • Thanks for your comment Elfin. After gathering many resources and having these to hand, my preparation time went down quite dramatically. Having one area of English to focus helps with this too – I used to teach all levels, and many different types of English, and the preparation for all these learners was quite difficult!

  • As always, as informative post. I always consider myself a rather productive and efficient teacher, but I have just installed StayFocusd after admitting that I too often browse news sites when I should be planning lessons. I hope it allows me another half hours of productive work time each day.

    My Gogle calendar is a mass of colored blocks – I block out times to teach, times to relax, times to study, etc. And it works for me. When people ask me to do something, I consider my 5-hour ‘do-nothing-but-relax’ as time when I am unable to schedule anything at all… it leads into your point about separating work and play.

    I used to find myself at the computer for 16 hours a day without understanding that I wasn’t productive. Now I work ten hours with a distinct break. At night I try not to read articles related to the work I do during the day. It’s important to recharge.

    • Thanks for commenting James. My calendar is also a mass of colored blocks – our meeting the other day was during a time that I allow for appointments, for example.

      I also try to avoid articles related to the day-to-day, otherwise it’s difficult to really switch off. But this is sometimes easier said than done, especially when I’m browsing through social media and something catches my eye.

  • One thing that works wonders for me is the Pomodoro Technique

    Basically, when you have a task that you tend to procrastinate, your brain perceives that as pain. That’s why you don’t want to do it. However, after doing it for 5-10 minutes, you’ll realise that it might be boring, but definitely not painful.

    Taking 5min breaks after about every chunk of 25min work, makes you stop before you get tired and, in the long run, you’re a lot more focused doing 4×25 than 90min straight. I work quite a lot revising scientific papers and I can tell you – it’s not fun. But this technique has helped a lot!

    Another tip: give yourself a mini reward at each break (a block of chocolate works wonders for me) and a bigger one at the completion of your tasks. You’ll trick your brain into wanting to do them.

    For those interested in it. I learned this in a lots more at Coursera’s “Learning to Learn” course.

    • Great advice Djalma. I was going to put the pomodoro technique into the post, but I don’t use it frequently enough to warrant it.

      Although, I do come back to it when I’m lacking motivation and desire to get things done.

    • Lisa Jayne Wood

      I’ve never heard of this technique, I will definitely check it out…

    • Stordar English Teacher

      I’ve been testing this technique for a couple of weeks now. It works great! To start a chunk, you need to ask yourself a question: What actually am I doing now? It keeps you really organised. You break your action plan into short measuarable tasks, and then you monitor how many pomodoros each task takes you. I see that my productivity has increased, and now I am more effective in planning too)

      • Glad it’s working for you.

        • Cara Leopold

          Your time management is only as good as your task management after all – I think this is where Pomodoros really work. I find that switiching on ‘Stay Focused’ and then setting it to block FB and the like for 25 minutes really helps me crack on with the task at hand!

          • When I’m clicking around, I always go back to the Pomodoro method.

  • Lisa Jayne Wood

    All of what you say rings so true! I have just started timeboxing (I didn’t realise it had a name!) I just need to stick to it! No more planning a class while cooking the pasta or replying to students while watching Bradford City beat yet another premier league team…

    • I was thinking that it was going to be a Preston vs Bradford final for a while. Thanks for posting Lisa!

      • Lisa Jayne Wood

        I had my fingers crossed!

  • Anastasia

    Indeed using IT Tools enable you to organise yourself better wherever you work. In my company we use Comidor to organize our project, tasks, and documents. Moreover, I totally agree that assigning to other collegues, who have the potentials and time, crucial and urgent tasks is also useful.

    • Thanks for commenting, Anastasia. I’ll check out Comidor later.

  • Stordar English Teacher

    Asana has become a real revelation for me lately! I am still tasting to make the best use of it. The choice of functions is impressive. I used this idea from yur abovementioned post) and am really grateful!

  • Joseph Huth

    Jack, this post is so incredibly helpful and exactly what I need to hear and learn at this moment in time. What would I do without you?? Many thanks!

    • Glad you liked it. Thanks for the kind comment.

  • Jason

    Hey Jack….I’ve always used Trello, but have heard great things about Asana. How would you compare the two? Also…..does Asana link up with Google Calendar? That would be a nice feature.

    • Thanks, Jason. I haven’t used Trello, so I can’t compare the two. I have been linking Asana to Sunrise Calendar, however, Microsoft bought Sunrise and are going to kill it off. I need to see if you can link tasks to Google Calendar.

  • Melba Leach

    Jack! Thanks for the info. Will save this blog as I am still in the formative stages of online teaching. What a great resource! Melba

  • Dave Beech

    First time I’d heard of ‘timeboxing’, but I’ll definitely be giving it a go.

  • Jessica Howell

    Just want to say how helpful I find all of your emails, web posts and videos. Thank you so much. You are an excellent motivator. I’m just starting the transition to my own online teaching and am finding your advice really encouraging. Thank you 🙂