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2017 resolutions: Getting a NO Committee

I promised myself I wouldn’t ever make New Year’s Resolutions. To me, they seem much more like dreams and wishful thinking than an actual plan to achieve something. HOWEVER, I have realized in the past few weeks that I didn’t really make any resolutions even though I do have a grand plan for the year 2017 (and quite a detailed one, as you may have read from my previous blog posts on project planning). I did decide, however, that this year I would get myself a NO Committee. You’ll see, the hardest word for me to say is NO.

No

Photo credit: SBoneham, Creative Commons Licensed on Flickr.

I pretty much NEVER say NO to a peer review. I’m an associate editor of the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences (JESS) and thus I am often the one who calls in favours. Because of that, I try really hard to never say NO to a peer review. Who knows, I may need to request that person whom I said no a review, and then how am I going to have the guts to say “oh, I didn’t review for you, but BY THE WAY, can you review this manuscript for me?”. So not going to happen.

No

Photo credit: DuncanC on Flickr, Creative-Commons Licensed.

I pretty much NEVER say NO to a student, even if that student isn’t my supervisee, my mentee, or even a student at CIDE. Just about every request that a student sends me, I fulfill it. I always had amazing mentors and professors and I wouldn’t want any student to feel unsupported. So I just about never say NO to a student’s request.

No

Photo credit: DuncanC on Flickr. Creative-Commons Licensed

I pretty much NEVER say NO to a good friend’s request. Given that so many of them are academics, these requests are often accompanied by petitions to read a paper, peer-review a paper, revise a grant proposal, etc. It’s important to me that they grow and I also had people read my grants, revise my papers, etc. So, I try to always say YES to those requests.

BUT…

This inability to say NO means that I often say YES so much that I find myself having terrible years when I’m about to collapse and die of overwork (yes, it’s happened twice in the last four years and no, it’s not pretty). This drive to always say YES means that I also often find myself overstretched, even though I’m pretty protective of my writing, reading and research time, and of my holidays. I’m always preaching how we should protect our time as early career researchers (which I have to say, I’m good at doing with reading, writing and research/fieldwork, but less so when it comes to last-minute requests or petitions from journalists, students and faculty outside my own institution)

In the past couple of years, I’ve become better at saying NO, but I always have a lingering question on the back of my mind: “should I have said YES to that thing I just said NO to?” Therefore, in 2017, I am getting myself a NO Committee. I had heard about this notion (or similar ones) from several academics in my circle of friends. Dr. Harriet Bulkeley (Durham University) has a group of friends and colleagues who are also academics, informally called “Opportunities Anonymous“. They give each other feedback on potential opportunities and prevent each other from saying YES too often (I do know many of the participants in that group, and they’re good friends of mine too).

Professor Vilna Bashir Treitler wrote on Dr. Tanya Golash-Boza’s blog about getting oneself a NO Committee. So, in 2017, I am getting myself one. I have had a No Committee before (usually my Mom and Dad, and my brother Arturo – my Mom is a professor of political science and my Dad taught law for many years, and Arturo is a tenured, full professor at California State University Los Angeles), but this time I am going to have one that is completely outside of my family.

NO

Photo credit: Dawn on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

Getting myself a NO Committee doesn’t mean that I’m going to shirk from my responsibilities. It means that I’m going to be even more protective of my time (yes, that can actually happen much to a lot of people’s surprise). This means becoming more strategic with what I say YES to. I am often invited to participate things that count much less for our research system. So, I have to learn how to say NO to those. I have been invited to participate in events where I should have just stayed behind and rested. I also have to learn how to say NO to those.

I am actually quite pleased with how I planned my 2017. Every single conference and workshop I’m attending is pre-planned, and I am ready and prepared to the travel I am planning to do. But the only way I could do this was by taking days of holiday where I could simply stay back, sit down and reflect on what I had to do and how I could still do rigorous research, fieldwork AND have a personal life. Despite my systematic approach to managing my time and workload, I am human and still have a lot to learn in the realm of how to manage my time. So, I decided to be very strict about what I said YES to in 2017.

And I’m looking forward to saying NO more often. Listening to my NO Committee. Reflect more on the grand scheme of things.

It’s a lesson I still have to learn.

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