Hello, and welcome to Academia Made Easier. I created this newsletter to share ideas on how to make academic work and life a little bit easier. For over a decade I have experimented with ideas, hacks, tricks, practices, and automations to help me not just survive in academia but to feel a sense of relative calm. My experiments were borne of necessity: I started my academic career in 2008 with twin preschoolers, a chronic health condition made worse by stress, a very tight tenure clock, and a challenging learning curve as I entered academic life mid-career with a limited sense of how universities functioned. It was not a winning combination!
Some of my experiments have worked, some have failed miserably, and some worked for a time and then didn’t once circumstances (both personal and career) changed. In this newsletter, I will share - in small doses - my experiences and lessons in hope that it reduces your own need to search for solutions. Some ideas may work for you, others may be wildly inappropriate. For all, I encourage you to try the idea out - even if just mentally - and see how it goes.
Okay, enough intro. Let’s get started with this newsletter’s idea!
One Small Thing to Try Immediately: The “Thanks but No” Signature
I have discovered that a great way to have more time for priority tasks is to have fewer things to do overall. (Obvious? Yup!) While some things are not entirely in my control, a lot of things taking up my time are in my calendar because I agreed to them. My generosity with my Future Self’s time can be far too high.
Part of the problem is that it is easier for me to say yes than to say no to invitations. Being agreeable is temporarily rewarding and the text (since almost all invitations come in an email) practically writes itself: “Sure, sounds great!). What I needed was an equally easy way to say no.
The simple solution I found was to create a “thanks but no” email signature. Creating the signature took less than five minutes and over time I have trained myself to make increasing use of it. I adapt the text every few months. Here is my current text:
It is nice of you to think of me! I have a number of university service and research project commitments on my plate right now, on top of my work as Executive Director, that have my schedule very full. Because of this, I am not taking on any new commitments at this time. Thank you for the invitation. I do appreciate it.
I estimate this email signature has saved me roughly one gazillion hours in time delaying responding to a request and time spent on things that I didn’t really want to do. And the more I use it, the more comfortable I am using it. The hidden beauty of it is that the things I do say yes to are much more exciting and energizing to me. If you want to try this idea, check out this helpful 3-minute video on how to set up email signatures.
Chipping Away: What I Have Been Up To
A quick update on some of my own work this past month, since I have your attention:
My February The Skills Agenda column discusses the reasons why I think university instructors should build skills training into their courses. If you are teaching, be sure to check it out.
I am excited to announce the release of the fourth edition of my political science research methods textbook, Explorations: Conducting Empirical Research in Canadian Political Science. Explorations invites students to see themselves as researchers and trains them to be critical consumers of research. If you teach social science research methods, please contact Oxford University Press to request an examination copy.
I had the pleasure of speaking about Canadian politics and western alienation with the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. Check out the lecture on YouTube if you are interested in Canadian politics.
Until next time…
How do you say no to requests? Have you tried something like the ‘Thanks but No’ signature idea? I would love to know how it works for you. Please connect with me on Twitter at @loleen_berdahl and share your thoughts using the hashtag #AcademiaMadeEasier.
Stay well, my colleagues.
Loleen Berdahl, PhD: I am a twin mother, wife, runner, cat lover, and chocolate enthusiast. I spend far too much time on Twitter and binge-watching television, and my house could be a lot cleaner. During the work hours, I am the Executive Director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy. I am the author of University Affair’s Skills Agenda column. My most recent books are Work Your Career: Get What You Want from Your Social Sciences or Humanities PhD and Explorations: Conducting Empirical Research in Canadian Political Science.