I said no for a whole year and it worked out brilliantly!
I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. I realized a couple months ago, when I took on a few new things, that I had pointedly avoided taking on anything new or extra for over a year – since before my baby was born.
It’s advice that is often given, especially to women and people of underrepresented groups, who are likely to be asked to do a lot of extra jobs: learn how to say no; don’t waste your time on things that are not going to help advance your career; set limits at the beginning of the year for how many committees you will be on, how many papers you will review, how many conferences you will attend, etc., and then say no to any after that.
And I am guilty of taking on too many of those extra things that you don’t get any career credit for – organizing a symposium, giving a lab tour, etc. When I was pregnant, I never consciously planned to not do any of those things after having a baby, but I wish I had, because it worked out brilliantly. It was simply that my home life was my number one priority, and I figured out what I had to get done at work each day, and did just that. Here’s what that first year back at work looked like.
Day to day, I worked pretty short hours. In the mornings, my partner did daycare drop-off, so this was my alone time and I usually ended up getting stuff done at home and going in to work later in the morning. Throughout the day, I had to pump milk, cutting out ~30 minutes 3x, then 2x per day, and I am still maintaining one session a day. Then I wanted to leave work before rush hour and early enough to get a little bit of non-cranky baby time before baby bedtime. I always thought I could work a little in the evenings, but I was so tired, and rarely had anything urgent enough to warrant it that I seldom did anything other than answer emails. I did spend a number of evenings applying for jobs. So that was maybe 5 solid hours of work a day for a big chunk of the year.
Of course I was extremely efficient in those few hours, but while at work I just did the essentials. I ran my experiments, I helped others when needed to keep the lab/experiments running, and I wrote papers. I attended meetings and only the most relevant research or professional development seminars. The only real ‘extras’ I did were serving on a panel and picking back up the facilitation of a career development group I had begun before taking my leave - things I really cared about. I did not write any grants. I did not start any new lines of research. I did not join any new groups or committees.
I went to two conferences when my baby was young (with my partner and/or mother there to help take care of the baby), which I had signed up for while pregnant. I did not register for any future conferences, and I did not regret that one bit.
I don’t know exactly what changed after the first year, but things started to fall into place in a way that allowed me to pick up some new things. In part, things got more routine with the baby, but I didn’t consciously think about that. At the same time, some appealing opportunities arose – some funding opportunities came up that I didn’t want to pass up; some professional development opportunities seemed important enough for me to commit some time to. So now I’m working just a little bit longer (still not more than 8 hours including evening work, on average) with less time out for pumping, and doing a few extra things. I feel good!
I basically trimmed the fat from my time, and I don’t think anyone else was really affected. There was one opportunity I felt a little bad about missing that would have allowed me the opportunity to interact a little more closely with several PIs, but I couldn’t work it out with my partner’s schedule. Even including that, I felt virtually no work-related guilt the whole year. I attribute this to my actions matching my priorities – something that is easier said than done. An important aspect of this was that my mindset wasn’t hugely different pre-baby – work was always just work to me – so I didn’t have a major shift in priorities or learning how to re-balance them.
What about you? Would a period of saying NO to any extras help you re-prioritize?