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Podcast: Regular Reflection Can Help Improve Productivity

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Podcast with Dr. Bethanie L. HansenFaculty Director, School of Arts and Humanities

Online educators can get so caught up in completing tasks and meeting deadlines that they often feel like they don’t have time for the big or important things. In this episode, Dr. Bethanie Hansen talks about the importance of reflection to assess one’s values and priorities. She also suggests an approach of reflecting on yesterday, evaluating how that time was spent, and then being intentional in how you are using your time in the present moment.

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Read the Transcript:

Dr. Bethanie Hansen: This podcast is for educators, academics and parents who know that online teaching can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding, engaging, and fun. Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge. I’m your host, Dr. Bethanie Hansen, and I’ll be your guide for online teaching tips, topics and strategies. Walk with me into the Online Teaching Lounge.

Welcome to the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. I’m so glad you’re here today. We are headed toward the end of our first year in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. With episode 50, we are anticipating about two more till we can call it a perfect year of 52 episodes. Thanks for being with us over the course of the past year.

Start a degree in the School of Education at American Public University.

We’ve covered a lot of topics on this podcast and hopefully something is always of value to you. There are specific pillars, or topics, that we cover on the Online Teaching Lounge:

  • Best practices in online education
  • How to reach your students better
  • Life as an online educator; and
  • Using multimedia tools.
  • Then there’s this fifth topic that keeps coming up, and that is your own growth and professional development as an online educator or an online professional.

Recently, I picked up a great book called “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman. It’s about finding your focus, mastering distraction, and getting the right things done. This episode is all about reflection. Although the book itself is about focusing in the future and making better use of your time, reflection is really about looking at the past, making meaning out of it, and taking something away that we can either do better, or cherish, or enjoy. In other words, there will be many things that we want to start doing, stop doing, and keep doing based on our reflection.

Have you ever thought, “Where did the day go?” Perhaps you got busy working, answering emails, doing a lot of things, making a phone call here and there and doing your various tasks. And all of the sudden, the day is over. Well, I certainly have. And Peter Bregman says that this actually has to do with the fact that we, as human beings, fall into habits. We start to do little behaviors that fill up the whole day. And pretty soon we’re unaware of those patterns.

From his book, I’m going to read just a little section that really inspired me today. He says:

Either we keep moving along a path that isn’t quite right, but we fail to knock ourselves off of it. Or we intentionally choose the right path, but keep getting knocked off of it. If we’re going to look back and feel good about what we’ve done over a year, a day, or even a moment, we need to break those patterns.

Today, we’re going to look back over the past year. We’re going to think about the previous day we’ve experienced. And we’re going to think about this present moment, right now. So buckle up and enjoy the journey that we’re going to take together today.

The Importance of Reflection

So let’s get started. Looking back in our reflection, what was the previous year about for you as an online educator and professional? What did you do over the course of that year to handle all of the things that came your way? What was your guiding focus or principle that led you to where you are right now, this moment, from one year ago today?

Identify What You Value

Everyone is guided by something. And most of us are very unaware of what we actually care about. We have things that we would call values that guide us. For example, you might value social connections, relationships, being with other people, talking to other people. If that’s one of your values, over the past year you notice that perhaps you didn’t have enough time to do that, or you weren’t able to do that because of things that stood in your way.

If your top value was actually moneymaking, you could look back and see were you able to stay employed? Did you make the money you wanted? Financial security is often a value in the top five that people do embrace for obvious reasons. We need to live. Not everyone has it as their top value. Often I find that it’s number four or number five in there for people who do really value that.

Then there’s time management. Do you value being productive and managing your time, or is that just some fluff about how to organize your life, but not really the substance of it? Think about what you value most, and over the past year, how aware did you become of your most important values?

In other words, what is your “why” behind what you’re doing? Did it come out to you? There were several distractions and interruptions to normal daily life that may have come up for you. And in those things, did you begin to see what actually mattered?

Many of us notice what we care about by looking at the negative side of it. Perhaps we’re noticing when we’re not able to spend enough time on that particular thing we care about, or when it’s being frustrated in some way.

For example, if we do value relationships most, we notice when we’re not able to connect with people. If we value solitude and thinking time most, we notice when we don’t get any of that either.

What Did You Bring?

As you look back over the past year, what became your personal theme? And what did you bring to your online teaching? Considering what you brought in the year that passed, you’re able to look ahead and think about what you’d like to bring in the future and what you would like to be your primary driver. What is it about online teaching that you really do love, even if you feel like you just can’t quite measure up in that area? Or you continually feel frustrated trying to reach a goal that you’re not quite able to hit?

When you settle down and think about what really matters to you, you may find that the reason you’re so frustrated is because you do care so much about a particular area. It’s not so much that you’re surrounded by lack and things that go poorly. It’s that you’re thinking, how could they go better, and how much more do you want to reach that particular goal?

When seen in this light, we can actually find our values much more clearly, and we can begin to live them in the coming year more clearly as well.

As we wrap up almost 52 episodes here of the Online Teaching Lounge, it’s a great time to be thinking about the year ahead. In the coming year, I value connection and relationships deeply as one of my top five values, and I’ll be bringing a lot of special guests to this podcast. You’ll be learning from others outside of me. I had one guest this past year, and we’re going to have several more that I think you’ll really enjoy.

I’m going to purposely bring my value of social connection into what I’m doing much more, and I hope you’ll enjoy that. So as you hit the year ahead, begin thinking about. What was the main theme of your past year and what would you like to take into the coming year?

How Did You Spend Yesterday?

The next step of your reflection is to think about the previous day. So if we just think about yesterday, whatever yesterday was. This podcast is typically published on Wednesdays. So if you’re listening to it near its publication date, possibly the previous day was a weekday for you.

What was yesterday all about for you? Were you teaching? Were you working online? What did you bring into that day that helped you to really feel fulfilled about your work? What is it in your personal value system or your driver as an online educator and online professional that you brought into your daily efforts?

When you look back at yesterday, did you get some of those right things done that you care most about? Was there something in your day thoughtfully included so that you ended your day with a high note, or was it just a big list of tasks to be done?

I talk to a lot of folks about their time management and how they spend their time, as online professionals and as online educators. Many times when we feel the most overwhelmed it’s because we lose track of the bigger picture we care most about, and we get lost in the minutia of the day-to-day tasks that are really pressing on us for time and completion.

If you look at yesterday and it was a big to-do list, never-ending, endless stream of emails and tasks to do, essays to be graded that are not finished yet, and a lot of really non-people connected tasks. If you see a lot of tasks and not a lot of connection, let’s think about tomorrow, what will that day be about? And how would you do it differently if you planned just one of what you might consider the “right things” to include in your day?

What kind of things would you include if you took the day on more intentionally? One person I know has the habit of listing the most one-important thing she wants to get done. And she does that thing first before opening her email or looking at any of the distractions.

In doing this, she’s able to live her why every single day. And she has actually become so productive that her eight hour Workday of tasks that used to bleed into nine, 10 or 11 hours of the day is actually taking her only five or six hours a day. That task focus left her completely.

And yes, she can still tend to the tasks that do need to be done as part of her role, but by living her why, completing that first most important thing, she’s able to have a productive day before the day even gets on. There’s no more getting lost in the minutia or distracted by a lot of things that need to be done all at once. And she just takes the time at the beginning of each day to think about what the one most important thing is that she needs to do.

Many people I’ve worked with in coaching have asked me how they can make more time for the big projects in their lives. Perhaps you have a big project, maybe there’s something you’re working on, it could be you’re designing a course or revising a course. Maybe you’re writing something professionally, or preparing to present at a conference. Or perhaps you have some other special project that matters to you and is important to you.

If you’re doing your to-do list all day, every day, chances are you’re never getting to that item. If you decide every single day is going to be about that one thing, and then you get to all the rest of your things, you’re going to find that you make incremental progress toward the most important things in your life regularly.

And you’re going to start feeling structure in your day. You’ll feel more satisfied, productive, and find that your work is measurable. You can see actual change and improvement. So as you reflect on yesterday, and what that day was all about, take away your patterns and habits and start one step towards just choosing one meaningful thing each day to complete first.

Living in the Present Moment

And then lastly, Peter Bregman talks about what this moment is about. It’s amazing how many of us are in the present moment, but thinking about something in the future. Perhaps we’re anxious about a meeting coming up, or a deadline that we have to complete a lot of work for. Maybe we have a lot of things to grade and they’re all due by Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Maybe there’s something in our personal lives coming up and we’re also anxious about that.

Or perhaps we’re thinking about the past. Maybe there was a situation with a student we were concerned about and wish had gone differently, and we’re worried about the past. Maybe we think about the past and we worry that we haven’t done enough for our family members, or for our own health.

Whatever it is we worry about from the past, or we get anxious about for the future, the present moment is none of that. The present moment is just right now. The future isn’t here yet. The past isn’t really here. And in this moment, if we let go of all those competing thoughts, we can focus on the here and now. And we can be much more clear in our thinking, and clear on what we care most about as well as what matters most to us.

In the present moment, some people have habits of slowing down, closing their eyes, breathing deeply, putting their hands on the sides of the chair, feeling that chair, thinking about what they’re experiencing right now in this moment. Putting feet on the floor, feeling the feet in the shoes fully, maybe wiggling their toes. And then taking a moment to just sense what is going on in this moment right now.

What sounds are being heard? What’s the temperature like in the room? How does everything seem in this present moment? And in doing that, a lot of things drift away from our mind, and we think much more clearly at times like that.

In each moment that we are working online, or teaching online, and in each moment that we’re living our lives, the more we can be present in that moment, the more we can let go of distractions and stay on the path that we really want to be on.

So, for example, back to those couple of reasons people go to work and things people think about. If you’re all about relationships and connection, and you slow down and get really present right now in this moment, you might suddenly be aware of people you’d like to connect to.

If you’re reflecting on teaching, you might be thinking about in this moment, a student or two who seems to need you right now. Maybe an idea comes to you about how you might reach out and connect to your students in a new way.

Or, if finance and wage earning is more important to you, you might think about right now how are your finances doing? If you just got paid and you are doing quite well, you have money in the bank, perhaps you feel pretty good. If you think about what you’re doing for employment, and you’re satisfied with the wage you’re earning, you might also feel very good.

And likewise, if you’re not satisfied with that, if you’re not pleased with your bottom line in the bank account, something might occur to you in the present moment that you’d like to try in the near future to change your income or move in a new direction, maybe take on another part-time role.

Whatever this present moment is all about for you, whatever your most important values are, drink it in. Really connect to that in the moment, let go of your anxiety and your worry, and you’ll find clarity where you can move forward right now.

In wrapping this up, we’ve just looked at reflecting in our online educator lives and roles, over the past year, over the past day, and in the present moment. And as we reflect, we are much more readily prepared to take steps forward where we’d like to go.

Whatever time of year this is for you, and whatever spot you’re in during a course or a semester, take the time to reflect. Decide if you’re pleased with your direction and how much of your values have been able to come out in what you’re doing. And after you’ve done that reflection consider what you would like to change in the year ahead to live your values much more fully.

If you’d like any suggestions on identifying your values and determining what your most important priorities are, there are some tools linked here in the podcast notes. So feel free to look at the transcript and try out some of those links, and that will help you move forward in that direction.

Again, we’re looking forward to the coming year in the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. We’ll be having a few special guests and some interesting and very helpful topics for you. I hope you’ll join us for year two of the Online Teaching Lounge podcast coming up in just a few weeks.

Thanks for being with me today to reflect and consider continuous learning as online educators and online professionals, and definitely check out Peter Bregman’s book “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, And Get The Right Things Done.” Here’s to being the best you in your online teaching this coming week.

This is Dr. Bethanie Hansen, your host for the Online Teaching Lounge podcast. To share comments and requests for future episodes, please visit bethaniehansen.com/request. Best wishes this coming week in your online teaching journey.

Dr. Bethanie Hansen is a Faculty Director and Certified Professional Coach for the School of Arts & Humanities. She holds a B.M. in Music Education from Brigham Young University, a M.S. in Arts & Letters from Southern Oregon University and a DMA in Music Education from Boston University. She is an educator, coach, manager, writer, presenter and musician with 25 years of experience helping others achieve their goals.

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