…you’re not THAT busy, it’s just that your job IS your life. It doesn’t have to be. Make a break. Take a breath. It doesn’t all need to get done. Learn to make choices.
(David Phipps, commenting on Managing your workload as a full-time academic, August 2010)
I know that academic workloads can be nuts. I’ve been an academic. I also know that as an academic you have considerably more control over your work than many other professionals.
Autonomy has a downside. You have to make decisions for yourself. And you have to take responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.
It’s hard to say no
You feel like you are letting someone down.
You are worried that saying no will annoy someone who has power to harm your career.
You grieve the loss of the possibilities a particular opportunity might bring.
You are also responsible for the consequences of not saying no
When you stretch yourself too thin, you don’t do anything to your best ability.
The fact that your best ability is so fabulous means you might still be performing more than adequately even when overstretched.
But you know that it isn’t your best, and that is adding to the anxiety and fear that is pushing all this activity.
Saying no enables you to give more of yourself to the important things.
You will be able to deliver your fabulous best on the things you say yes to.
- to be a better teacher for the classes you are teaching.
- to be a better scholar and produce better work in the areas you are focusing on.
- to make a better contribution to the committees you agree to serve on.
- to be a better partner, parent, friend, sibling, child, neighbour, local community activist, …
- to really relax and enjoy your holiday and return to your work (and life) refreshed and re-energized.
You have limited capacity.
Your work is not your life.
As important as the things you are saying no to are, either someone else will do them, or they will still be there to do when you have the capacity. You are not a cardiac surgeon. No one will die.
If you would like support to plan your semester around the things you want to say yes to, the planning classes in the Academic Writing Studio are built around the principles of Priorities, Boundaries, and Slack.
Opposite day as a decision making strategy: one way to think about how to do this
Edited and recategorized Nov 10, 2015.