What does it mean to work smarter when you teach online

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

A lot of people these days are into the “smarter work” trend. “Work smarter, not harder” tune breaks the monotony of “more hours — more output.”

The idea of increasing productivity by working more hours has been contested by research, yet we feel like we’re “cheating the system” when we manage to accomplish more in less time, so we use the time we’ve saved to do more work.

“We’ve got so much to do and so little time that the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. … We even convince ourselves that sleep is a terrible use of our time.” Brené Brown.

When you teach online, working less to make more seems like an unsolvable mathematical problem. In order to make more money, you add more clients, work more hours, pile up more working days and nights.

Eventually such hectic schedule crops out family, friends and fun, until the very passion that brought us into online teaching world fades away or turns into disgust.

I never used to think that online teaching would overwhelm me, burden me, burn me out. The thing I once chose because it gave me freedom, control, connections and professional fulfillment, stifled my creativity and waned my desire to do my best work.

Then doubt crept in: will I ever be able to love my work again? Will I ever feel like as empowered as I did in the beginning?

Overwork and burnout will do this to you, so if you teach online you need to set up systems before the piling hours turn you into a lonely and desperate creature, spending days checking off hours, waiting until the end of each lesson and feeling relief when a class gets canceled last minute.

Solutions that won’t help you work less:

#1: Create an online course that will generate enough passive income.

Please don’t. You’ll add at least 15% to your regular weekly load, and in the end you won’t be able to sell (because sales don’t depend on how “cool” your product is).

Here’s more on online courses for a more thorough reality check.

#2: Just raise prices.

That’s a good solution if you’re able to go at least X10 without flinching. But it won’t work on a large platform where the cheapest bidder wins, and it won’t work on your website until you’re sure how your offer is different from the hours you sell on bigger platforms.

X10 your price isn’t only about scratching your old price and writing something else over it. You have to build enough confidence to know why your price is that high.

Nothing will sell without confidence.

#3: Write a book and sell it on Amazon — that will bring new clients.

In order to attract new people to your book on Amazon, you have to build a tribe to put the sales in motion.

Selling anything without a tribe of loyal subscribers/followers isn’t going to attract new people because the only way new people will see your product on Amazon is when your tribe makes enough buzz about it, and then Amazon helps out.

Solutions that will help you to work less:

#1: Find your focus

You can’t attract your dream clients and offer them exceptional solutions if you do everything. When you narrow your focus, you begin creating art. It is art, not the price point, that attracts loyal clients to your brand, and creating art is impossible if you are doing everything for everyone.

Think of your favorite writers or artists. Their greatness comes from finding their “niche,” not dabbling into everything and trying to be the best in every area. No doubt they had to try out different things, but they produced art only when they found “their groove.”

“Great work is not created for everyone. If it were, it would be average work.” ~ Seth Godin.

#2: Know what you do and don’t want to teach.

Many teachers find their niche based on what they believe will pay their bills, not what they want to do. This is how teachers passionate about reading and writing for instance turn into miserable test prep tutors or “business experts.”

All because someone tells them that “this” doesn’t sell. All because someone tells them that in order to be a successful online teacher you should only do what “pays.” Ehm…. no.

When you do that which you hate you will never be able to make it successful because in the end your work and business will feel fake.

“If you don’t believe in what you’re doing, we’ll know, and you will fail.” ~ Seth Godin

#3: Create white space in your schedule and business.

Creating “white space” is the ability to take away all the unnecessary and the extra. Most of the time we hold on to certain things just in case.

  • We have multiple options on our websites just in case someone might buy
  • We offer more packages just in case someone might be interested
  • We don’t create automated systems just in case someone might think they are too impersonal (so we create a ping-pong email chain just to schedule an appointment)
  • We don’t outsource the 10–20-minute tasks because we believe that we can just do it ourselves “really quickly.”

Creating “white space” is about prioritizing, choosing less over more, focusing on our zone of genius and ruthlessly editing everything else.

Creating “white space” is taking pride in accomplishing more in less time, taking breaks often and finding ways to redesign the way we teach and run our businesses.

“White space” is creativity meeting productivity.

Here’re more practical tips on working less.

Is it really possible?

Ah, the bottom line. Pat Flynn’s definition of smart work is “work hard now so you can reap the benefits later.

In 2014 I made a choice to work smarter (I would use the term later). I stopped helping everyone 5–7 hours a day and focused on the few people who really benefited from my help. I fired clients that were making my life miserable. I redesigned my business, my website, my writing and my life goals.

I had been too burned out to believe that teaching 35 hours a week was worth the money. I dared to believe that I could work less and make the same amount, if not more, and was determined to keep going even when I saw no hope, no development, no response.

The bottom line is smart work takes time. Everything worthwhile does. 4.5 years ago I worked 30 + hours a week, making half of what I make now working 15 hours a week. The bottom line it is possible, but it won’t take 6 months.

The journey there brings the worst in you: the mindset blocks, the limitations, the fears, the doubts, the stress, the anxiety... That’s why not everyone perseveres. It seems impossible. Heart-wrenching. Excruciatingly slow.

But we need to learn to embrace the long journey if we want to reap smarter benefits later. We need to put our well-being over “well-doing” because the number of clients or hours right now doesn’t make us more satisfied with our job in the long run.

We need to be determined and surround ourselves with like-minded people so we can spur each other one when the going gets tough. We need to believe that the mathematical impossibility of working less is in fact possible.

I send out 3 newsletters a month where you’ll read about running an online teaching business, working less and making more, lessons learned, resources and tools, and a bit of curated content. If you want to tune in, you can sign up here. Thank you!

Coach for online language teachers. Writer. New book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088Y47N39