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Blog – Productivity, Confidence & Work/ Life Balance, and my ‘Burning Yes’

By Dr Carrie Mowatt

On the 23 June 2020, Olga Degtyareva’s online workshop took the participants through setting boundaries to enable us to achieve our long-term goals and helped think about prioritising our ‘burning yes.’

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘YES’ burning inside.” (Stephen Covey)

Little did I know that the universe was going to provide me with a spectacularly unforgettable ‘burning yes’ later that very evening!

There was a distinctly physical theme to the start of this event, as Stephanie Höhn (Developmental and Mechano-Biologist and CamAWiSE Steering Committee member) introduced our speaker Olga Degtyareva (physicist turned Productivity Mentor and Blogger). I also started my career as a Laser Physicist before becoming a Product Manager. Stephanie highlighted that the workshop was a part of the International Women’s Engineering Day taking place the same day.

Olga set the scene by painting an engaging and relatable picture of the many varied work/ life balance challenges encountered by women at all stages of their careers in STEMM. We touched on the extra challenges and opportunities around remote working and home-schooling during the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic. Sharing examples from her own life, Olga explained that while preparing the evening’s talk she balanced her time between writing slides and having fun making lemonade with her kids. We nodded agreement and shared our experiences in the chat, comforted by the message that we are not alone.

In several small group sessions, making great use of the breakout feature in Zoom, we had more detailed discussions around topics like our biggest personal challenges and acknowledging what we achieve by sharing three accomplishments so far this year. To help us on our journey to gain clarity and focus, Olga shared a quote from business tycoon Warren Buffet that:

“Really successful people say no to almost everything.”

which feels an awfully long way from where I am today! Thankfully, Olga has a framework to help us put this into practice:

  • Write a list of everything you’re currently doing, including things that are overdue
  • Create a master list of 5-10 valuable long-term goals
  • Decide what you will let go of to focus on your goals
  • Schedule time in your calendar for what’s important, including fun and social time
  • If you only do something once a week, that’s still fifty-two times per year!

This approach resonated with us in the audience, with several people sharing related tools like:

Blog author – Dr Carrie Mowatt

For me, the biggest takeaway was how to find and maintain the confidence to say no to enough of the opportunities and tasks that come my way. I noted Olga’s advice to think about my ‘burning yes’, the valuable goals I’ll achieve by focusing. Later that evening I was provided with a rather unfortunate example of this. My husband Jim and I went for a relaxing stroll to the river before bed. On the way back he jogged on ahead of me, which resulted in him tripping and falling.


So hard in fact that he dislocated his shoulder and we had to call the paramedics. As I was emailing my manager at 4 am to say that I would not be able to work the following day, I felt reassuring clarity that my husband’s health was my ‘burning yes’ and my colleagues are extremely capable and could work without me for the day. Jim’s now back home and on the mend, aided by a sling and a significant quantity of painkillers. While the smaller day-to-day tasks are less clear-cut, I will always remember this time when the ‘yes’ burned bright and the ‘no’ came easily.

Recommended reading list from Olga:

  1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey.
    A new approach to planning which starts with an end in mind.
  2. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
    Highly recommended. The book covers the battle encountered when writing, overcoming procrastination and to beat the “Resistance”.
  3. The 4 hour work week by Tim Ferriss.
    An inspiration for an effective and efficient approach to get more work done in less time.
    This is a very different book from the two above and not everything may apply to scientists

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