Daunting workloads are a professional reality for many online teachers. Not surprisingly, multi-tasking has become second nature.

But there’s a difference between being busy, and being productive. And when you have so much to get through, it’s not always easy to make the smarter choice to be productive rather than running in place.

Here are five ways to stay on track and ensure you’re being productive—not just busy.

1. Re-frame distractions as rewards

Students are not the only ones tempted by the distractions of an online environment. The internet hosts a range of potential distractions for online teachers as well.

The best way to deal with these distractions is to change their status. Instead of viewing them as a guilt-inducing waste of time when you should be grading papers, re-frame them as rewards.

It’s all about timing. Grade the first eight essays or responses of the day, and then go to your favorite news site.

By getting some work done first, you turn time-wasting distractions into well-deserved rewards.

2. Eliminate on-screen clutter

Having several browser tabs and documents open on your desktop at the same time doesn’t increase your productivity. In fact, it multiplies confusion and increases the feeling of being overwhelmed.

It makes you feel rushed and pressured, and pulled in several directions at once.

Focus on one task at a time, and close documents and irrelevant browser tabs when you’re done.

3. Simplify and clear your working environment

Controlling your immediate environment can have a powerful effect on your productivity.

Working amid piles of half-graded papers or abandoned to-do lists not only makes it harder for you to find documents you do need; it also creates a form of psychological clutter.

The same applies to background noise and passing foot traffic. Shut your office door, try noise-canceling headphones, or put on some calming music that creates a peaceful and serene environment that enables you to focus.

4. Reduce the size of your to-do list

This hack appears counterintuitive, but it’s a powerful way to keep making forward progress.

When you have, say, five things to achieve today, instead of 35, that list of tasks suddenly becomes achievable.

Making it through a manageable to-do list feels like a miracle. It creates a sense of satisfaction that replaces the depressing feeling that you’ll never get everything done.

5. Separate the urgent from the non-urgent

You may have a lot to do on any given day, but not all of that needs to be done right now.

It’s too easy to fall into the toxic habit of assuming everything is urgent.

It’s not.

Take another look at your to-do list, and prioritize your tasks. You’ll find that not everything is a matter of life or death.

Focus on the genuinely urgent tasks first, and order the other tasks according to their relative importance. You can tackle them later in the week.

These are some practical hacks for separating busy work from productive activity. Try them yourself!