Saturday, October 22, 2016

It's okay to say "No".

"You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically – to say 'no' to other things."

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was cited by Forbes Magazine for that quote. And it resonated specially loudly yesterday when I had two very interesting conversations over the phone.

See, I tend to try to help people as much as I can. But there are instances when my priorities are so high up on my list that I cannot accommodate short-notice demands on my time. Yesterday was a case in point:

I am currently loaded with a lot of technical writing assignments, a series of experiments that I actually perform (not like others who have staff to do the lab work), and preparations for upcoming presentations and events in early November. Meaning, til the middle of next month, I'm truly living the PhD life: Piled Higher and Deeper. A staff member who assists me in experiments is also very busy, preparing technical reports and his presentation to a conference.

Then the calls came. Without going into specifics, I had to decline invitations to certain meetings, specially since they're short-notice ones—happening next week—and discussions that needed to happen before these meetings never happened. The staff member also cannot accommodate requests for such events. We agreed to help in the background, because outputs there are part of our deliverables (just a part), but not to actually sit in those meetings... which, based on the meetings' schedules, meant that staff are out of office for a week. A week! How can we deliver other outputs to other research pipelines when they are needed when we've alloted a week to meetings for only one project?! Thankfully, my supervisor had my back on this one because he knows that the priorities we are working on will end up in our technical publications.

The second of the two callers ended our conversation by saying that whatever argument used on me won't convince me to join or to let the staff member attend. Then the line went dead. Most evidently, the person was frustrated. Most likely because for the first time, to the two callers, I chose to put us (me and the staff member) first. To be "selfish". To say 'no'.

True, they do have pressing needs and tight deadlines. But I believe that what they're doing is not beneficial in the long run. Through that phone call, I learned that there truly are people running to address what's urgent but not taking the time to sit down and discuss what is important.