Vilna Bashi Treitler on saying ‘no’ to academic requests, and the idea of a ‘no committee’. Here’s a key part:
Forming a “No Committee” helped me get perspective on my limits. Let me tell you about my No Committee. On it, I have two friends who are both professors and the third person is my life partner. Their qualifications: they care about me, they know the academy well enough to know what challenges are there for me, and they keep up with me so that they know how much is too much for me to handle.
How do I use them? When an opportunity comes to me, I send them an email with the subject line “Here’s one for the No Committee” and ask them for their advice. In the email I describe the opportunity, what information I have about what it entails (and whether I can trust the information I have), and further, I normally list all my reasons for saying yes to this thing plus whatever doubts I might have, and I hit “send.” Then I wait. I think the subject line tells them enough that they each tend to answer rather quickly. It probably also helps that I always listen to their advice. I have not yet ignored the No Committee’s vote. That is, if they say no to me, I say no to the opportunity. Seriously. As I said, these are people who care deeply about me, and care less about my ambition or my insecurities which drive me to say yes more than I should. The one time in 2015 when I didn’t ask their advice, I said yes to something I regret saying yes to! And once, I sent them information about an opportunity that I didn’t want to take, and they outvoted me and each told me that I had to do it – and can you believe they were right??? Doing that thing has paid off in ways I surely couldn’t anticipate at the time.
I wrote post last year about the challenge of saying ‘no’ that got quite a bit of attention and some good comments, building on some remarks by Rob Kitchin.