Some academics do seem to be wedded to their research, but let’s leave the marriage metaphors aside. This post is all about choosing which academic work commitments you say ‘yes’ to.
At the beginning of this year, I wrote a post on why it was important to be able to say ‘No’. It is a way to create some kind of balance, a way to give you space to breathe. ‘No’ is a deeply important word and action.
And, while ‘No’ is important, there are going to be times when it isn’t appropriate. Times when you will be unable to say it, or will not want to.
Sometimes you will have to say ‘Yes’.
Sometimes, you will absolutely and definitely want to say ‘Yes’.
And sometimes, on very glorious occasions, those times will be the same.
Earlier this year, Jen wrote two great blogs on how to recognise if you were in a good busy space or a bad busy space. Academics are always busy and any post that tries to claim differently doesn’t understand the world in which we work. There is always reading, writing, editing, marking, teaching, meetings, and myriad other things to do. Any time you think things might be quieter and there is time to breathe, a student has a crisis or a paper comes back with revisions or life simply does it’s thing and the moment is gone.
This post is not going to claim anything different. Saying ‘Yes’ can be just as difficult, and just as important, as saying ‘No’. Opportunities that scream ‘Yes’ to you will not always come when things are peaceful and deadlines aren’t screaming for your attention. Saying ‘Yes’ might make you ridiculously busy and, for a time, upheave all your beautifully organised work-life balance. Sometimes ‘Yes’ will make life feel all the more messy and chaotic.
And sometimes all the chaos and upheaval and late nights will be absolutely worth it.
So how do you balance ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, when both have their place, and you need to balance work and life as best as you possibly can? And how do you recognise good opportunities to say ‘Yes’?
Just as you need clear criteria about when to say ‘No’, you also need to have clear criteria about ‘Yes’.
Andrew wrote about the importance of goals in the context of using social media. Knowing your goals is part of your criteria, but also you need to be sure about how to achieve those goals. You need to have clear boundaries around what is worth any added work or even, at the end of the day, simply worth your time. Any ‘Yes’ means that you have less time or energy to give to other projects. Read on to learn about how I do this.
As I’m learning how to make good ‘No’ decisions, I am also, paradoxically, learning how to make good ‘Yes’ decisions. Here are three questions I ask myself before making a decision and giving an answer:
1. Does saying ‘Yes’ further who I want to be as a researcher and a person?
I am a deeply simple person – who I am as a person informs very closely who I am as a researcher in terms of what and how I study and write. So does saying ‘yes’ to something help me to learn something like a new subject area or analysis technique? It is something that will nourish me (to sound all woo-woo)? I say ‘Yes’ to writing and editing as often as I can because I love working with words – it makes me nerdily happy and it makes me a better writer. Essentially, if this becomes something I end up working on over weekends or it becomes a stressful deadline, I ask myself whether it will still feel worth all the chaos and upheaval and late nights (Yes) or will I want to throw it all in the river and run away to join the circus (No).
2. Is saying ‘Yes’ the right thing to do?
This is not just about being included (see my post on saying ‘No’ as to why this should always be a ‘No’) but about being part of the Academic Circle of Niceness, as well as simply sometimes doing our job. We’ve all read drafts from students late at night because they’ve been needed the next morning. Or looked over colleagues’ grant proposals for typos in the hours before submission as they sit in the corner bleary-eyed and weary from exhaustion. We have also been that student or that colleague in need. Does saying ‘Yes’ add to your karmic bank? Does it help someone out who may not have anyone else to ask?
3. Is it a chance that may not come again?
Sometimes, even if an opportunity answers to questions 1 and 2, you might still be uncertain about whether to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, particularly when you’re really busy. Yet, every so often, opportunities arise that you think will nourish you and be the good thing to do – and they’re one of a kind. Saying Yes might be tricky but it’s a question that may also not come again – and this might make the chaos worth it. Last year I said Yes to a mentoring role where I was the most junior academic asked. My university is a small one and I would not have been given this opportunity at a larger institution – and so I said ‘Yes’. While I wondered at times what advice I could give to mentees whose work was so entirely different to mine, I realized that just being an open-minded sounding board, interested and without agenda, was enough. I also learnt an amazing amount about the grant process – and about the reproductive biology of raspberries and examining dinosaur bones using lasers that don’t destroy them, which should work well in any upcoming trivia challenges!
In saying all this though, sometimes I am entirely heart (if you have not yet discovered The Awkward Yeti comics, you are in for a treat). I have been known to make a decision based solely on ‘Yay – why not – this could be fun – I’ll figure out later – la la’. Not all such heart decisions have been good decisions, but the ones that have worked out (‘I’ve never worked in China before – teaching English sounds fun – I can be ready to move country in six days’), have been wonderful. Sometimes in life, we just need to take a risk.
Criteria for ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ help to protect us from being overwhelmed and help to keep commitments in balance.
Then the risks that we take are more likely to be informed ones. It’s all about figuring out what works for us, – and realising that our very personal, right balance of work and life may not always look even.