Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information
about leading a balanced and productive life while making
In this issue, you'll find:
- Easy Yes, Graceful No
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Easy Yes, Graceful No
As hard as it is to believe, the summer is drawing to a
close and the new school year is upon us. With its arrival
will come many opportunities to use your talents for the
greater good of others and for your own satisfaction.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get in my
workshops is how to say “No” to many of the opportunities.
The question is really a two part question, with the first
part being about how to figure out which opportunities to
take on and the second part being about how to turn down
the other opportunities gracefully.
Deciding on Opportunities - Part 1
A couple of points to consider:
Since you, and only you, can decide what opportunities
to say yes and no to, you need a method for making
decisions so that the fabric of your life doesn’t feel
like a random patchwork of projects. When professors ask
me how to decide, I recommend that they develop a life
management system that has some criteria built in for
accepting and initiating projects. If you have attended
any of my workshops, you have seen how the Pyramid of
Power can become a lens through which opportunities are
filtered until some turn into commitments and the rest
are turned away. Just in case you have not yet set up
your life management system, I run through the steps in
a one hour complementary webinar which I offer every two
months or so. If you are not already on the webinar
mailing list, hit reply to this newsletter email and type
Webinar. You will get periodic invitations as they are
- You will always have more opportunities present
themselves than you can do in a lifetime. If you wish to
lead a happy and satisfied life, you need to chose the
best projects for you at the right times.
- No one but you can decide which projects to accept. The
people around you may recognize your talents but they
don’t know just what you need at this time in your life,
nor do they know what else you are working on. That is
your job to figure it out.
- Very seldom is anything a “once in a lifetime”
opportunity. If you continue your good work, another
version of an opportunity will present itself. I speak
from experience. The book I am currently working on was
an interesting idea to one publisher six years ago but
the timing was not right for me. When the time was right,
another publisher expressed interest.
There are commercially available systems with fancy
computer programs but don’t be misled. The computer
program does not make decisions for you. It only gives
prompts for you to make the decisions. Here are a set of
low tech prompts to help you discern which opportunities
are right for you.
- Does this opportunity fit my long term goals (Pyramid
of Power & Dream Book)?
If you have attended a Peak Performing Professor workshop
at a conference or on your campus, you wrote your life
purpose statement, your mission statement (perhaps two,
one for your professional life and the other for your
personal life), and 6-8 vision statements. Then you
collected all of your many goals both present and future
into your Dream Book in the categories of your vision
statements. Use this life management system tool as a
lens through which to filter this current opportunity to
see how it fits with your long and short term goals.
Warning: sometimes an opportunity is so interesting and
worthy of your time and talents that it might cause you
to rewrite parts of your vision statements. An example
might be if a book contract were to be offered to you
in your research area.
- What resources and commitment (time, money, energy,
space, and attention) do I need to manage this
Think through the implication of the opportunity both
in the present and in the future. Don’t commit the
future planning fallacy, a universal human peculiarity,
in which we overestimate future available time. If I
ask you to join a committee requiring about five hours
of work a week during next week, you will say, “No way,
classes have just started and I’m trying to finish some
projects that I was overcommitted to this summer and
didn’t get done.” But if I ask for the same commitment
on your time and energy for next February, you might
consider it forgetting that you will also have the same
constraints on your schedule at the start of the second
semester. To counter the future planning fallacy,
pretend the opportunity is for this week and ask
yourself how you would fit it in now. If you jump at
the chance and start clearing everything off your
calendar, then accept it and clear the calendar for
that point in the future when the projects has the most
- What is the opportunity cost – the loss/gain (time,
money, energy, and attention) and risks of this and
other opportunities I won’t do if I do this?
Even professors who are a bit more realistic about their
time use forget to think through the snowball effect of
how a possible commitment bumps out other opportunities
once you commit. Taking on a course overload may mean
you can’t coach your son’s soccer team. This could
actually be a good thing if you were looking for an
opportunity to get out of the coaching duty but if you
love sharing that experience with your son and his
friends, you have to calculate the cost of sacrificing
it for the extra course.
It is ok to be healthily selfish about how an
opportunity fits in with your overall career plan. Too
many associate professors without tenure take department
chairmanships only to find that those responsibilities
prevent them from focusing on the teaching and
scholarship goals that position them for promotion and
- Is this the right time in terms of my vision given
other professional and person projects I am also
Some opportunities are so tempting but the timing is
off. The first time I was asked to submit a book
proposal on my current project, I agonized over the
lost opportunity if I said no to that publisher. But
then I asked myself, “Is this something I want to do
someday? If so, what would it take to get there?” Then
I outlined a specific strategic plan to develop
material, road test it in workshops for five years,
and then write a proposal. When the next opportunity
came to submit a proposal, I was ready.
- How do I get the time to do this project: get rid
of other tasks or say “No” to other opportunities?
For this step you need to have an approximate idea
how long the opportunity will take. One way to
guesstimate this is to review similar projects you
have done and recall how much time they took. Another
way is to ask someone who works on similar projects.
Multiply whatever time commitment you guess by a
factor of two. Things always take longer than you
Deciding on Opportunities - Part II
Many times you will create ideas for opportunities.
You might get excited about a research idea you would
like to work on or a course revision that would make
your class so much more interesting. You will be
making that decision mostly on your own except for
talking to others who have done similar projects to
find out what their experience was. For example, if
you are considering writing a book, you might ask
colleagues who have written books how they managed to
do so without taking a sabbatical. You might find out
about time lines for research submissions.
In addition to your own ideas, invitations to
participate in projects will come from others. The
second part of the discernment process is about how
to interact with the opportunity giver (the O.G.)
Your goal is to say “Yes” with conviction or “No”
without feeling guilty.
Here are the stages of how to interact with and O.G
about an opportunity.
A Few Caveats
- The invitation
An opportunity giver (O.G.) approaches you to invite
you to write, teach, serve _______ (fill in the
blank). The first thing you say is, “Thank you for
the honor of asking me. Tell me more about this
opportunity.” Ask specific questions such as how
much time the project will take, what standard the
final product should be in, with whom you will be
working, what support you will have?” After you have
gotten the information you need to consider the
opportunity say, “I need about ___ (24 or 48 hours)
to decide. I will get back to you at______.”
- The discernment
Using the questions listed in Part I above, compare
the opportunity with your Pyramid of Power.
If you are leaning towards accepting the opportunity,
consider what you are giving up to do it and what
resources it will take (time, people, equipment) to
support its completion.
If you are leaning towards rejecting the opportunity,
consider what you are losing by not doing it. Start
to consider whom you know who might be good at the
skills needed. You do not have to know whether those
people are available.
- The action plan
If your answer is yes, start to plan a sample day in
the life of this opportunity and think through how
you will integrate it with your other
If your answer is no, contact some people who have
the skills and ask if you can suggest their name for
the opportunity. Reassure them that that does not
constitute a commitment on their part but that the
O.G. might be contacting them.
If the answer is that you can do part of the project
but not the full opportunity, figure out what you
are willing to do, for example, co-chairing a
committee instead of chairing it. Get clear on what
you will and won’t do and what kind of support you
- The encounter
If the answer is yes, go back to the O.G. and say
you would be happy to take the opportunity as long
as you have proper support such as lab space,
student assistants, or whatever else you need. Get
clear about deadlines, standards, reporting
schedules, final outcomes and the consequences if
those are not met.
If the answer is no, go back to the O.G. and say,
“Thank you again for your confidence in me about
this opportunity. I will not be able to do it at
this time (or that is not something I ever want to
do). However, Peggy, Jose, and Bryan have those
skills. I don’t know what their availability is
but I let them know that you might be contacting
If the answer is a partial yes, discuss and
negotiate what you need and how you want the
opportunity to unfold. Listen to what the O.G.
wants and look for overlapping areas of
expectations. Get clear about the items listed
above under a yes answer. When the timing is not
right now but you anticipate it being right in
the future, offer your service for a future date.
You might say, “I can’t chair that committee for
this two year term but I would be willing to be
considered again for the next term.”
If you decide not to take an opportunity offered
by O.G.s, don’t give reasons why you can’t do the
project. As soon as you do, they will try to
solve the time management conflict. If you say,
“The children are home on spring break that week,”
O.G.s offer to have their teens babysit. If you
have an infirmed mother-in-law moving in with
you, O.G.s will arrange Senior Ride to take her
to the senior center. All you have to say is,
“I won’t be able to take this opportunity but
thank you for having the confidence in my skills
to ask me.”
If the O.G. is your boss, you might not have the
complete freedom to pick the projects you work
on. Instead you will need to negotiate tradeoffs
on projects, for example, you might ask to be
assigned to only one new teaching preparation a
semester so that you can continue with a research
agenda which brings grant money into the
Appling the above guidelines will help you say
easy yes’s to a few opportunities and graceful
no’s to many others. Your college will get
great service from you as you enjoy working on
projects that challenge you and develop your
2. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
Title: "Strategic Career Design and Work-Life Balance" and
"Peak Performing Professors at Mid-Career and Beyond"
Date: September 9, 2011
Place: Syracuse University ADVANCE program for STEM women
Title: "Strategic Career Design and Work-Life Balance" and
"Peak Performing Professors at Mid-Career and Beyond" and "Peak Performing
Professors at Mid-Career and Beyond" and "Time Management and Leadership
Development for Chairs and Directors
Date: September 14-16, 2011
Place: University of Virginia
Title: "East Meets West: Ancient Wisdom, New Science, Engaged Faculty"
(With Dorothe Back) and "Lessons from Social Neuroscience: Engaging,
Collaborating, Creating at Work/home"
Date: October 27-30, 2011
Place: POD annual conference, Atlanta, GA
Since this is a big writing year for me, I am
limiting my speaking engagements and only accepting
a couple more invitations for presentations on the
speaking topics above for the fall of 2011 and winter
of 2012. Contact me if your college or university
needs a presenter on any of the topics listed above.
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© Copyright 2010 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The
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Susan Robison, PhD.; 9005 Chevrolet Drive;
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Voice: 410-465-5892 or 410-461-1382