Four Tips to Help Distance Educators Manage Time Spent Online

Has email overtaken your life? Teresa Marie Kelly offers hope. As a distance education faculty member at Kaplan University, Kelly knows first hand how easy it is to fall into the email trap and offers the following four tips for to help online faculty create a better work-life balance.

1. Let go of the guilt. In any given online class, there may be a soldier logging in from Iraq, a student located three time zones away, and a night owl who concentrates best at 4:00 a.m. As a result, the online faculty member likely will receive questions or comments at any time of the day or night.

The desire to serve students, and online educators’ subconscious need to justify their work-at-home existence, leaves many online faculty feeling guilty if they don’t respond to students right away. It’s time to let go of that guilt.

2. Set your working hours. Kelly urges all online faculty to set working hours and obey them. “This [problem] is common to telecommuters; we try to fit in work around everything else,” she says. But instead of continuously checking email, grading papers, running errands, and doing laundry, Kelly suggests carving out set blocks that are just for work.

These blocks may not correspond directly to a standard office work day, for example you may have day when you need to teach one synchronous class in the morning and another in the evening. However, on these days, it’s important to schedule time in the afternoon for non-work-related activities.


3. Manage your time, and learn to explain to others. Part of the secret to the work-life balance is better time management. However, even when online faculty manage their time well, they often have trouble explaining their position to administrators, and vice versa. Questions about time management are often heard as complaints about workload or requests to work harder; learning to communicate with one’s colleagues is often a big hurdle to handling time effectively, Kelly says.

4. Be proactive. If online faculty do not learn to set boundaries, they risk the sort of burnout that could drive them out of the online classroom altogether. While it’s important for administrators to make it clear that a commitment to teach online is not a monastic oath to have no life other than a virtual one, Kelly also encourages online faculty to take charge of their own time.

A critical step to doing so involves managing students’ expectations by explaining instructors’ availability and communication policy upfront. Students, she says, generally understand as long as the online faculty member obeys his or her own promises about check-in times and response turn-around.

Adapted from “Setting Boundaries: Four Tips for Managing Your Time Online and Not Letting Your Work Consume Your Life,” Distance Education Report, August 1, 2007.