When you say yes to others, you say no to yourself

Malini DevadasWriting

I’ve built a business upon the realisation that so many academics just aren’t writing their journal articles. When I ask people why that is, they reply that they don’t have time. When I dig a little deeper, to find out why they don’t have time, it turns out that it is because they are so busy helping everyone else who asks them for help.

Now, I’m not saying that we should never help others. Of course, it is nice to help colleagues when we can. And one day we might need others to help us. However, when you are helping others so much that you have no time left to do any writing, then something has to change.

I understand that academics who want to get a promotion or gain job security are in a tenuous position, where they feel obliged to sit on numerous committees or organise conferences or do outreach work for their department. But when your contract comes to an end and you have no publications on your CV, who is going to suffer the most — your department/institution, your boss or you?

If you find yourself wondering how to change this situation, here are some ideas that might help you:

  • Don’t say yes as a reflex when someone asks you to do some extra work. Tell them you’ll think about it and then actually take the time to think about it.
  • If you can’t take on the task, simply say that. You don’t need to explain why or justify it. Say ‘I’m sorry but I can’t’, and leave it at that.
  • At the start of each month or year, set a limit for how much extra work you are going to take on. This will help you put a limit on it.
  • Put aside specific time in your diary for writing and don’t let anything encroach on it.

For many academics, particularly women, it can be hard to decline the opportunity to help others. We often feel obliged to help, and sometimes we can even feel flattered to have been asked. But don’t sacrifice your career just to be ‘nice’.