July 2016 archive

Finding Your Work Flow: How to Be More Productive With Less Caffeine

IMG_0167Since I started phasing out energy drinks over a year ago, and then gradually eliminated my daily coffee fix, I’ve been trying to find a way to keep my productivity up. As someone who works from home on a computer every day and relies on self-motivation, this has not been easy without caffeine.

You see, I’ve always timed myself when grading papers online (if I keep a pace, I’m able to get into a rhythm that helps me set realistic deadlines for myself). I noticed that after I gave up caffeine, it was taking me two to three times as long to get through assignments, due to my focus not being quite as sharp as it had been with the use of these socially accepted stimulants.

The decrease in efficiency was pretty devastating.

I tried 3-5 minutes of daily meditation for about a month, and while some claim that meditating is the ‘new caffeine,’ it didn’t increase my productivity as much as I needed it to. Maybe I wasn’t doing it for long enough each day, or maybe I needed to become more skilled at it for it to work better as a long-term solution

Whatever it was, meditation was not my ‘new caffeine,’ although it did wonders for other areas of my life.

Here’s what has worked for me:

I’ve been going to the public library quite often to work, and my magic cure for productivity has been classical music and especially jazz music. I listen to upbeat Mozart when I want to feel like I’m at Panera (other classical musicians sound too sad or soothing to me, at least the ones you can listen to on YouTube for hours on end).

As for jazz music (which I’m officially addicted to), it needs to be something I can’t stop tapping my foot to (sorry, fellow library patrons). I listen to this stuff for hours on end, and it’s amazing (these are my two favorites at the moment: Instrumental Jazz Mix and Background Cafe Music).

I got my caffeine-induced rhythm back, and I didn’t even need the caffeine.

It might not seem that amazing, but finding that music could be a solution has been an incredible relief. I didn’t want to go back to my coffee-drinking ways; I wanted to know that I could handle the work in my natural state.

Not only does this type of uptempo music give me the same boost as a cup of coffee, but it improves my attitude, puts a smile on my face, and leaves me in a fantastic mood after hours of grading hundreds of papers and handling countless student issues via email (which, I think we can all admit, shouldn’t be the case). Essentially, it’s a miracle drug.

So for those of you who feel you’re losing your motivation, getting burned out, and/or trying to kick the caffeine habit, give music a try. I can’t promise that my cure will work for you, but keep experimenting, and let me know when you’ve found your own stimulant-free solution (Erin@HappyProfessor.com).

Happy teaching, learning, and living.

Easy Money Saving Tips for Adjuncts

IMG_3159When I wrote the book Happy Professor two years ago, I was living in a studio apartment with my husband, who drove a beat up car and was interning with the company he now works for, while I drove to college campuses all over Central Florida to teach as an adjunct, only having dabbled in online teaching.

Things have changed a lot in two years. I make good money as an online adjunct, we have ‘real’ jobs, a house, a new car, and we don’t have to pinch pennies like we used to.

But old habits die hard.

Saving money is kind a thrill for me, so during the last 2 years I’ve discovered even more secrets to saving money when on a tight (or not so tight) budget, without feeling constrained, which I think is key.

Here they are:

  • Don’t shop at expensive grocery stores

It took me way too long to figure this out. How do you save money on food when you have to eat, but have an aversion to coupons? I’ve tried the coupon thing, but generally when I get them in the mail, they go directly in the trash. However, I recently realized I could easily shop at less expensive grocery stores. I started with Publix years ago, then discovered Target, then Trader Joe’s, and now Aldi. Just from swapping my weekly Target runs for weekly Aldi runs, I’ve started saving $200 each month on groceries, and all it costs me is an extra 20 minute round trip each week, which I think my efficiency-obsessed brain can handle.

  • Eat out minimally

My husband and I have stopped going out to eat when we’re together, since it’s just as easy to make sandwiches and pack trail mix for the two of us (which has saved us another $200 a month!). We try to save our eating out budget for when friends ask to meet for coffee or lunch. Even then, I try to limit each outing to under $10.

  • Take care of your own personal grooming/hygiene needs

I don’t need expensive haircuts, manicures, or pedicures. Supercuts is perfectly acceptable for the uncomplicated haircut I’ve had my entire life- long and straight, which I curl for that beachy look from time to time, and I can give myself a manicure and/or pedicure at home when needed. As for my husband, who would typically need two haircuts a month to maintain his buzz cut, we bought our own cheap clippers and I started cutting his hair about 3 years ago. At a minimum, we’ve saved $1000 on haircuts on his end over during that time.

  • Buy used books

My husband and I each have a $100 budget to spend on any personal or fun things that month (I’ll admit, occasionally we do sometimes get up to $200 each). Since we spend most of that money on books, we opt for used books on Amazon for 1 cent. Of course, you still have to pay $3.99 for shipping, but likely, you’ve at least cut the original price in half, which is a huge win. For me the downside of this is that you’ve now introduced one more ‘thing’ to your home, and since I’m not big on clutter before I buy the book, I think of someone I know who would also like the book, and I pass it on to them afterward. Bonus: You made someone’s day.

  • Go to the library

You can borrow (almost) as many books, audio books, and DVDs as you could possibly want for free! What’s not to love?

  • Adjust the slippery slopes in your budget

Take notice of your own slippery slopes in your household budget. We’ve been going to the beach as a ‘free’ day-long weekend activity for years, without realizing that somehow we had started paying $10 for daily parking and $15 on food and snacks at a local Publix to prepare for our day. After realizing our beach days were now costing $25, we started packing our own snacks and sandwiches from Aldi (costing in the neighborhood of $6 total for the 2 of us), and we drive an extra 10 minutes to get free parking at the beach.


You might look at these tips and think all the little changes are unnecessary or couldn’t possibly add up, but I see it as ‘budget maintenance,’ otherwise things are bound to slowly get a bit out of control without your realizing it. Not only has it helped to keep our finances in check, but because of these tweaks our monthly spending has decreased by $500.

Give it a shot! Try cutting back in some areas that you could adjust comfortably, and see what happens.

For more money saving tips, check out Happy Professor on Amazon.com.

Happy living and happy saving!

How to Cut Down on Time Spent Checking Student Emails

IMG_0150If you haven’t figured out how to cut down on the time you spend answering student emails, I may have the answer for you!

When I tell other teachers that I have a number of stock email responses ready to go in the Notes app of my iPhone, some of them are relieved to have finally found an answer to repeating themselves constantly, while others have already figured out this secret.

It you fall into the former category, below are a few email responses I guarantee you’ll use for your college students at some point.

Now, as a college instructor you can pretty much respond to emails in your sleep, so you may not see the need for stock responses, but hear me out:

The reason I try to copy and paste the same ones over and over is because I originally wrote them very intentionally, they’re clear, but also come across as respectful and kind toward my students. When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to mistype, leave out important information, or come across as rude (I’ve accidentally done all 3 at one point or another), only creating more work for yourself later when you need to clarify things.

This is why I believe stock responses are the way to go (when it applies).

Having said that, feel free to borrow and change whatever you’d like from the list below- depending on the school you’re at, what course you teach, your syllabus policies, the LMS you use, etc., you’ll certainly have some editing to do, but I hope this help get you started!

(*Note: Many of these Q & A’s come in especially handy when teaching online. Students tend to email much more complex questions when they don’t get to see you face-to-face.)

Common Student Questions and Answers

Q: I just added this class. What have I missed?

A: Hi,

Welcome to our course! Be sure to review the syllabus and schedule to see what’s due this week, and be sure to check out the course announcements I’ve sent via Blackboard for additional clarification and details about assignments. Let me know if you need anything else!

Prof. Ebanks

Q: I’m really enjoying our class, and I think I might switch my major to Communication Studies. Where/how can I learn more about the field in general?

A: Hi,

I’m glad you’re enjoying the class! If you go to DaleCarnegie.com, there are some communication workshops to choose from, and quite a few of them are free online. I might enroll in some myself :). There are also free courses at edX.org,openculture.com, and udemy.com, just to name a few! They have topics in any area you could possibly imagine.

There’s also a list of communication and teaching books on the website happyprofessor.com in the ‘Great Reads’ section. Those have been most helpful and interesting for me as someone in the communication field, and might peak your interest!

If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

Prof. Ebanks

Q: Do we need a live audience while we film our speech? (For an online speech class)

A: Hi,

I actually just sent an announcement about that, so be sure to take a look at that for additional details. The university does not allow us instructors to give grades to students who don’t have proof of 5 people watching their speech (you’re required to show the audience before and after your speech, without any edits in your speech video).

I know it can be inconvenient, but I have to abide by their policy. You might want to reach out to some of your classmates via BB Message to meet up and record speeches; I’m sure you’re not the only one having a hard time finding audience members. I hope you’re able to work something out!

Prof. Ebanks

Q: I’ve never taken an online class before. How do I find the first week’s assignments?

A: Hi,

Once you’re in the course, scroll down to ‘Modules & Assignments’ in the left-side menu of our course’s home page. Once you click into that, you’ll see ‘Module 1’ come up on the screen with directions below it. The title ‘Module 1’ is actually a link, so click that, and all the Module 1 assignment will come up. Those are also links. Click into whichever assignment you need. You can submit the assignment there. If you need more help with Blackboard, go to YouTube to see some helpful tutorials!

Q: I’m sick and wasn’t able to complete my assignments on time. Can I submit them late?

A: Hi,

I’m sorry to hear that. If you have medical documentation/a doctor’s note showing that you were unable to complete the work by the deadline (the dates must match up), you can make it up for full credit. If you don’t have any medical documentation, you can still submit your work for half credit up until a week after the deadline. I hope you’re feeling better!

Prof. Ebanks

Q: I’m so nervous to present my speech. How can I get over this?

A: Hi,

The best thing to do is practice out loud and record yourself (voice and appearance). By doing that you can judge if you’re ready and prepared enough to practice in front of people.

As a next step, I would call a good friend or family member to listen to your speech over speaker phone (still move around and make eye contact as if there’s a real audience, while you’re on the phone).

Next, practice in front of different people- I’d say 5 different people on 5 different occasions. I would also suggest going to the campus library and asking one or two people to watch your speech in a study room there; the awkwardness of having to ask and perform in front of strangers will help you adjust to that natural nervous feeling!

I know none of that sounds like fun, but not only will it calm your nerves to know you’re taking steps to prepare, but you’ll also be much more confident when you present your speech the final time. I did this all through my college speech class (bribed people in my dorm hallway with candy to watch me present- different people every time to really get a hold of my nerves), and not only did it help me gain confidence speaking, but with a lot of other areas as well (musical performances and teaching experience).

I promise these are the best steps you can take to conquer public speaking. Let me know if you need anything else!

Prof. Ebanks

3 Things You Should Say “Yes” To More Often

DSC_4959 copyAs I was reading Shonda Rhimes’ book The Year of Yes the other day, I started feeling like I wasn’t quite measuring up.

In my mind, I had been living the ‘year of yes’ since I was a college freshman, deliberately grabbing every opportunity that came my way, and I had decided that 2016 would essentially be my year of ‘no,’ for the first time in 12 years.

What a terrible idea, right?

Then I reminded myself that I wasn’t actually saying ‘no’ to everything; I was saying ‘no’ to more of the same, but I was saying ‘yes’ to new, different, and more quiet, low-key opportunities.

When I thought about it, and lumped together all the small, simple things that I’ve been saying ‘yes’ to in 2016, I realized they boil down to 3 important categories:

  • Helping others

This is why I’ve always loved being in the classroom; I like to help students reach their potential in a very hands-on way. Since I’ve taken a short hiatus from the physical classroom, I decided I still needed to find ways to help people (I’ll admit, I kind of miss that rush), so I’ve made a habit of purposefully making at least one person’s day every day. Recently, I helped an overwhelmed and grateful friend put together IKEA furniture, on a weekly basis I go to a girl friend’s house to help with her new baby, bring snacks, do the dishes, etc. I might even just smile at someone who needs a smile, or say something extra encouraging to a student when grading papers online. It’s an easy habit to build when you realize it helps everyone and hurts no one.

  • Making loved ones a priority

According to some study I read a very long time ago, one of the biggest regrets dying people have on their deathbed is that they worked too much and didn’t spend enough time with loved ones, so I’ve been working on that with all my might, despite my workaholic tendencies. My husband and I have stopped talking about work and potential business ventures on the weekends because that time didn’t feel well-spent, and my sister and I have started going on walks once a week to catch up. It’s about focusing on the people and feeling that kinship, rather than always fixating on what can get checked off the list.

  • Taking time for yourself

This one was probably the hardest for me. I know people are always saying it’s important to take care of one’s self, but sometimes it feels easier to help someone else or accomplish something work-related. However, having established a slow-paced bedtime routine, regular workouts, and more normal work hours this year has helped me reflect and reduce stress. In other words, my body and soul is grateful.


I’m not saying everyone should stop what they’re doing and dedicate all their time to helping others, spending time with loved ones, and relaxing, because I know life is busy. However, it’s important to consider your priorities on a regular basis, since it’s so easy to get turned around in this area.

Just ask yourself once in awhile, are the things I’m saying ‘yes’ to the things that matter most?

Happy learning, living, and growing.