Are Research Administrators Nonessentialist? Two Great Reads for 2022
Nonessentialist? That sounds horrid! But think of yourself (and others) as research administrators. Is it your mindset to be all things to all people? I have to. It's all important. How do I fit it all in? Do you react to what's most pressing, say "yes" to people without really thinking, gravitate to doing things at the last minute? Do you find that you often feel out of control, overwhelmed, and exhausted? These qualities are what define a nonessentialist. You might say that with the requisite interactions with researchers and bureaucracies, these qualities are just part and parcel of being a research administrator: by definition a research administrator has too much to do and not enough time. It doesn’t need to be that way.
The pandemic has many of us reassessing the quality of our contributions to both our work and home lives (cf. the Great Resignation). Every day of the week there is a new book on productivity and time management. Just google "top productivity books.” But most research administrators don't need a time management tool or a productivity technique. In the deluge (or is it quagmire?) of requirements and regulations that is research administration, a person needs a systematic discipline that allows them to discern what is absolutely essential and then eliminate as much of the rest as possible, so that they can make the highest contribution to their researchers, their institution, their family, and themselves. To that end, we want to recommend two books—both easy reads—that will enhance your ability to act by design, rather than by default.
Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (2014)
Some of you have likely seen this book before, but our reaction was, “Where has this book been hiding?” A book that is often on top productivity book lists, we both found the book transformative and immediately saw applications to work and home. One reason that Essentialism may be “less visible” is that like Steven Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the book will be seen by some as more philosophical than practical. Nonetheless, as McKeown notes, “Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” [they] ask, “What do I want to go big on?” The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.”
Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most by Greg McKeown (2021)
A critique of Essentialism is that you can eliminate all you can from work (and home) and still come up short. You still have too much to do. We often believe (falsely) that doing what matters most must be difficult. According to McKeown, Essentialism was about doing the right things; Effortless is about doing them in the right way, an easier way. The goal is to both discern the most essential activities and make them the easiest to accomplish so that we can achieve the results we want. The book provides actionable strategies to make the important stuff easier and the trivial stuff harder without burning out or sacrificing one’s sanity. We agree with reviewers that say reading Essentialism before Effortless provides a context and framework to get much more out of the second book; however, it’s not essential (pun intended).
We, the authors of this article, first met at the recent SRAI reception in New Orleans: Bella, a research administrator for 10 years and Rebecca, one for over 39 years. Through our love of these two books, we have established a professional bond: we were both excited by Essentialism when we first connected and became even more excited by Effortless by the end of 2021.
We plan to share practical applications for research administrators in future Catalyst articles and hope that you will take the journey with us to discover how to make it easier to do what matters most, both for work and for yourself.
Bella DiFranzo, Senior Consultant
Attain Partners LLC
Rebecca Claycamp, MS, CRA
Consultant in Research Administration