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Episode 17 — You Are Too Busy To Be Busy

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Your outlook on being busy dramatically impacts your productivity and your stress levels. It is undeniable that you have a lot to get done and a lot to accomplish. So how do you manage expectations (your own and others) and your workload? In this episode we will discuss the concept of busyness and the prevailing attitudes that impact how you react to it.

Hosted by Dr. Nick Oswald featuring Kenneth Vogt of Vera Claritas.

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This is an automated transcript and may not be 100% accurate.

Intro/Outro (00:10):
This is The Happy Scientist podcast. Each episode is designed to make you more focused, more productive, and more satisfied in the lab. You can find us online at Your hosts are Kenneth Vogt, founder of the executive coaching firm, Vera Claritas, and Dr. Nick Oswald, PhD bio scientist and founder of Bitesize Bio.

Nick Oswald (00:40):
Hello and welcome to the happy scientist podcast from Bitesize Bio if you want to become a happier, healthier, and more productive scientist, you are in the right place. I’m Nick Oswald the founder of and with me is the driving force of this podcast, mr. Kenneth Vogt. I’ve worked with Ken for over seven years now with him as my business mentor and colleague. And I knew that his expertise could help a lot, a lot of researchers. And that is why we started this thing. In these sessions. We will hear mostly from Ken on principles that will help shape you for a happier and more successful career along the way. I’ll pitch them with points from my personal experience as a scientist, and from working with Ken today, it’s almost as if Ken is talking to me, we’re talking about the topic you are too busy to be busy.

Nick Oswald (01:28):
In episodes one to nine of this podcast. We talked about the foundational principles of human needs, core mindsets, and charisma factors, which we’ll be referring to in all future episodes. So if you find this episode useful, please go back and listen to episodes one to nine to get an understanding of these life changing concepts. Okay, so let’s talk to Ken, Ken, I’m too busy to be busy. Tell me why.

Kenneth Vogt (01:52):
Okay. Well, here’s the bottom line. What you think you know about business is likely wrong. This is the problem. It’s funny. I first came to this insight when I moved to Mexico and I was, you know, I lived in Mexico for a couple of years. Now, moving from America to Mexico was quite a culture shock. They have a different way of living down there and not inferior in any way. In fact, I, I learned a great deal from being in a different culture. Now, the Mexican people as a group are extremely hardworking. They work everybody I knew there worked six days a week, 10 hours a day, that was just a normal life. And yet they never seem to be busy. They always had time for friends and family. It just, it just was a normal way of life. Now I was doing the same work there that I do here. Nothing was different. Everything was

Kenneth Vogt (03:00):
The same in my life, except all of a sudden I wasn’t busy anymore, but nothing had changed. And I had, and I realized, I need to understand how this works, because if I could bottle this, people will pay good money for it. It’s, it’s really important to recognize that your feeling of being busy is an attitude. It is, it is merely an outlook that you have, and, and it’s kind of baked into American culture for sure. But I would say more broadly Western culture that we’re supposed to be busy and we’re supposed to be stressed by, by being busy. And that that’s, that is a supposition that has not only it hasn’t been proven. It’s been proven to be false. Yeah. Think about this. How many people do you know, if you say, Hey, how you doing? Like, Oh, I I’m so slammed. I got so much going on.

Kenneth Vogt (03:59):
I just, I just have, I can’t even see straight. And, and you get to see the pride in their eyes. This is how they think their life should be. And maybe you’ve fallen into that trap and that’s been how you’ve been living. And at some point you start to realize, I am not happy being buried. I don’t want to be stressed all the time. You know, it’s like somebody saying that, you know, they’re, they’re so happy about they’re high cholesterol or they’re so happy about their crushing debt. Why would you want to be happy about that? Why would you, why would you accept that you’re supposed to be happy about that. So the, the, the first point I want to make here is that just because busyness is a prevailing attitude, doesn’t mean you need to buy into this. You don’t have to think this way.

Kenneth Vogt (04:57):
Now this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be active and you shouldn’t have lots to do that. That’s fine. Yeah. Accomplishment comes from doing things. And the more things you do, the more opportunity for accomplishment you have, you know, that’s, you’re going to like that. But there’s a, there’s a quote from Socrates that I think kind of makes the point here. It says, beware the barrenness of a busy life. So is your busyness helping you feel accomplished or is it stripping away that feeling, are you feeling empty? That I don’t have time to do anything I want to do because all I do all day long is the things I have to do. And the demands on me just keep getting bigger and more numerous. So if that’s how you’re experiencing life, realize that it’s a, it’s not the truth. It’s, it’s how you are taking it. And there are some things you can do about that. I mean, obviously you can start saying no to things in some cases, but most of us actually want to stay active. We want to stay busy. So saying, no, isn’t really the solution to all these problems. And in many cases you’re saying, I actually don’t want to say no, I want to do all the stuff that’s on my plate. I just, I just don’t want to be stressed about it. I, I want to act differently about it. So Nick is any of this ringing true?

Nick Oswald (06:29):
Yeah. It’s very interesting actually, as the idea of, so why would you want to be busy? And I think it comes from yeah. Or, I mean, one way to look at it, is that in different companies or different settings or different labs, the, the expectation of busyness is different. Is it the pressure to be busy? Thats different, it’s just that, it’s just a way that we want to to a way for us to fit in and to get validated. If we’re looking at the wrong metrics on our life.

Kenneth Vogt (07:09):
Right. And you know, we’ve all heard of busy work. What is busy work? Well, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s that you’re being active, but you’re not really accomplishing anything of value. It’s so you’re not, no, one’s looking at the bosses and looking at and saying, see you, they’re not, they’re just sitting there doing nothing. They’re not doing anything. Well, they see you doing and like, ah, well obviously he’s working, you know? No, it’s not obvious. It’s not obvious at all. In fact, sometimes the best work you can do is to sit and ponder. Maybe you need to think about what you’re going to do sometimes. It’s that, that planning stage before you set up that experiment where you really think about, okay, what do I need to do this? And how how does the process have to work and taking that time? Now, all of a sudden you don’t look busy, but actually it’s, you know, the, the busyness is in your head, which is a good place for it to be, as opposed to you just being running back and forth and like, okay, I need one of these.

Kenneth Vogt (08:10):
I go get it. Oh, wait a minute. I need one of those. I go get it. Oh, no, I need another one of those. I go get it. Well, that’s, yeah, you’re active. You’re busy, but you’re not getting anything done. You know, you’re, you’re spinning in circles. So you’ve got to create that for yourself first, where like, I have to take time to think I got to take time to process the results. And then when I say process, I mean, process mentally, what does this mean? What, what conclusions can I draw from this, that you got to have a moment for that.

Nick Oswald (08:40):
I think a useful thing might be Ken to look at what is, what would the opposite of a busy state and, you know, in the workplace look like, you know, and in the same ways as we talking about basically leavers, you can pull to make yourself move yourself into, into the mastery zone in your science. And, you know, we talked about going from looking for results to asking questions. That’s more relaxed going, looking for, going from needing to be right, to being, understanding that what you, all you can give at anyone point is your best opinion. And you have to be open to that, being wrong, and you have to welcome that. Or it’s more peaceful to welcome that. And then this is another one of, I have to be busy all the time versus what is on the other side of that lever? What would you say?

Kenneth Vogt (09:29):
Right? Well, on the other side of, I have to be busy all the time is that I, I have to be in charge of my own life all the time. I remember when I was a young man and feeling, feeling like I had become an adult because I had too much to do. And that, and I was really proud of that. I wanted to be an adult. I wanted to grow up, but then later I realized that that’s not what grownups do. Not the real ones, not the successful ones. So you, you got to have, you’ve got to be more thoughtful about what comes into your life. What, what comes into your awareness? What are you going to focus on that? And if you aren’t thoughtful about things, you’re going to feel busy all the time. So you may find that, that the more thoughtful you become, the more present you are to what is actually happening, what am I actually doing?

Kenneth Vogt (10:33):
What do I really think? The less busy you’ll feel. Now it may not change any specific, nothing, nothing on your to do list, may change, but just being focused in the moment can help you. Now, one of the things that people do that spins them out and make some super busy in their head is that they’re constantly thinking about the 10 things they got to do. They’re thinking about number one, then number two, then number three, then number four, number five. And they’re doing that constantly instead of working on number one, not thinking about two through ten, because I could have finished number one, that constant, and you had a way I gotta do this, I gotta do this. I gotta do this really gets in your way. And that’s what gives you that stressful feeling of, of busyness now they said, there’s another thing that people do with busyness.

Kenneth Vogt (11:23):
They use it as an excuse. That the fact that I’m busy means I can blame external factors for everything that’s not getting done or everything that’s falling apart, or everything is going wrong. So it’s no longer my fault that I missed a deadline or that my performance was subpar. You see, I was just too busy to do it properly, but what this is doing, it’s shifting responsibility away from yourself. And I sometimes people hear that and go, good. I want to be held responsible. Actually, you do, you really do. You don’t want to be held responsible for failures. Sure. But get clear that you want to be held responsible because when you want to be held responsible, you’re going to make sure there are very few failures. Whereas if you’re using this business as an excuse to be irresponsible, well, what can I do? I would have did it.

Kenneth Vogt (12:17):
Right. But I didn’t have time. Right. I wouldn’t, I would have got that done, but I had to do this other thing and I, you know, what can I do? It’s just an excuse. And you lose all your power. Yeah. And so that’s a horrible feeling to have your power taken from you. So if, if you have any inkling in the back of your mind that you’re afraid of responsibility, if you bristling at the notion of responsibility, I implore you to really look deeply at that. Because if you’re fearing responsibility, you’re never going to be happy. It’s responsibility is comes before you’re taking action and kicking action comes before you’re accomplishing anything. And you’re going to need accomplishment to be happy. It’s going to, it’s going to be very difficult to be happy if you don’t feel like at the end of the day, you know what I put into good work today, I got, I got things done. I move things forward, as opposed to, well, I spun all the plates for another day and they haven’t fired me yet. You know, that’s, that is, that is a horrible feeling.

Nick Oswald (13:27):
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think we will cover some you know some techniques for managing to do less in managing workload and things like that in future episodes. But again, this is a really fundamental principle of why are you here? What are you just understanding what you’re doing to yourself here? And how do you unpick that and get to a more healthy workload you know, work a more healthy way of working. One thing that strikes me about this is that it’s almost like you need to come back to what the fundamental of why, why do you want to be a scientist? Did you become, want to be a scientist because you want it to fly around being stressed all day? Or is that something that was either you imposed on yourself because you thought that’s what you had to do, or it was imposed on you by a culture that you experienced in, in a, in a working environment. And so on.

Nick Oswald (14:32):
You can step back from that and go, and sort of force yourself into the, back, into the back into the mindset, the pure mindset of why you want it to be a scientist. And and just realize that actually it takes time to do a good job. And so you need to devote that time. I know that when I get into this, this this loop of, of being busy is because I’m, it’s almost like I’m not prepared to devote time to things. I just want to get it done. And then it just creates a runaway spiral coming back and just realizing that you need to devote time to things and give them the time that they need, give you the experiments the time they need, give your thinking time, the time that it needs, give you a reading time, the time that it needs, then, then realize that you have a time budget. That’s the only thing you can’t have more of and you have an energy budget. And so then you have to just manage the expectation of what you can fit into that and, and guard that expectation in a way, if there is external pressure to to to try and somehow skimp on it.

Kenneth Vogt (15:40):
So a concept that I really want people to grasp is that busyness creates a loss of control and you need control, but when you’re busy, you get out of control. And now everything starts to turn into this, this, this blame game. It’s now it’s always some, somebody or somebody, something else’s fault in something outside of your control is to blame. Well, the danger of blame cannot be understated. It is the most constantly kind of judgment, and it robs you of control and it shackles your claim to creativity. So you, you just can’t, you can’t just fall into this. You can’t just let it happen to you. You’re going to have to take a stand against it. So if you’re going to take a stand against it, how do you do that? Well, you have to have a different attitude. So, you know, the answer is not to play smaller, to limit your limit, your commitments.

Kenneth Vogt (16:38):
This is just an attitudinal issue. So when somebody asks you how you’re doing, this is a, this is a good place to check. What do you say? You tell them how busy you are. You tell them how slammed you are. You tell them how much is on your plate, or do you instead say, Oh man, incredible things are happening. There’s so much flowing right now. It’s, it’s just, you’re talking about the same scenario, but you’re describing it in a different way, you know, own it, take responsibility for what your life is about, you know, and yeah, don’t let anybody take that responsibility away from you. It’s yours. You get to keep it and don’t see responsibility as a negative thing. See it as a positive thing. It’s a powerful thing. It’s an, it’s an engaging thing. I, I like to say that busy equals blame.

Kenneth Vogt (17:28):
And that way you just, just remember that busy equals blame. If you have, if you’re saying to yourself or someone else I’m busy, I’m blaming something. What am I blaming? But I figured that out, but responsibility equals power. Well, who doesn’t want power. So grab that responsibility, stop looking at busyness as something that’s happening outside of you and, and happening to you and, and recognize that you actually can take charge of this. It’s it’s, it’s not something that you have to just give into. You have an option. Now I explicitly wanted to have this episode be shorter than some other episodes, because I know you’re busy. So is there anything you want to add about this or any experiences you’ve had with busy-ness Nick? Because this is pretty much where I to, I want to wrap it up.

Nick Oswald (18:22):
Sure. I mean, for me, this is, this is interesting because I go through periods of, of busyness, of where it spirals into of where it feels like it’s not in control anymore. And I’m probably, I get better and better over the years, but it’s still, it’s still a bit of an Achilles heel of mine. And at the moment I’m in a, in a a cycle of high busyness, if you like, and and bringing it back down.

Kenneth Vogt (18:50):
So let’s, let’s do a little live coaching with Nick here folks you’re in a cycle of high activity right now. That’s what’s happening. I’m.

Nick Oswald (18:57):
Sure, that is true as well.

Kenneth Vogt (18:57):
It’s a series of important responsibilities.

Nick Oswald (19:03):
But it does also feel like it feels like there is more to do than I can cope with in a working day. Okay.

Kenneth Vogt (19:12):
So that the first answer to that then is check your attitude, make sure that you’re not just feeling oppressed about everything and you’re not blaming external characteristics for what’s happening to you. You realize no, I took out, I made some commitments to some things, and that’s why these things are on my plate. And you recognize that now that if you realize that you’ve taken on more than you can handle, well, that’s a great realization. And you can take action on that, but you won’t have that realization. If all you’re doing is, Oh, woe is me. I’m so busy. You gotta get, gotta get past that and get down to, well, what’s really going on here. What’s important. What, and if I have to choose between doing A or B, what am I going to do? And then what am I going to do about the one that I didn’t choose to do? All of that is your engagement. All of that is you still remaining in control. So this, this is what allows you to have the opportunity to, to operate differently than the person’s like, Oh, I’m so busy. I just can’t, I can’t cope. It’s it’s not enough.

Nick Oswald (20:21):
Yeah. Definitely food for thought. I mean, I definitely want to back go back and listen to this episode again. It’s nice and sharp. So I’ve got time.

Kenneth Vogt (20:31):
That’s right. And by the way Nick, I want to, I want to thank you for allowing me to throw you under the bus like that, because it gave us, it gave us the opportunity to, to show some, to show folks, Hey, this is how to really think about this. And you’ll notice that

Kenneth Vogt (20:48):
Nick didn’t, he didn’t come away, all beat up. He, you know, he’s, he’s not bruised and battered. He, he got a chance to just look at something and see what it’s about. So don’t be afraid. You can look at this too. If, if busyness is scaring you, and for many of you, it is, don’t be afraid to look at it. You’ll learn some things when you look.

Nick Oswald (21:06):
Yeah. I think the first thing is just to calmly observe what’s happening. And even if you don’t know what to do to fix it, then just look, you know, even just knowing that it’s it’s happening observing it and, you know, and admiting it to yourself. That is the, the first step to being able to pull back from it and pick it for yourself. So I don’t feel bad that I was thrown under the bus. That’s fine by me

Kenneth Vogt (21:29):
Alright. Well, there we go.

Nick Oswald (21:32):
Okay. So that’s a wrap for today. Just a reminder that,we will be discussing these things and more this topic rather, and more in all sorts of different ways in the Facebook group, which is And also a reminder to check out episodes one to nine of the podcast. If you haven’t done so already in there, we talk about the foundational principles, human needs, core mindsets, and charisma factors, which we refer to in multiple episodes through the series. I hope you’re finding it useful. I certainly found that one useful, and I’m looking forward to the next one. Thank you, Ken.

Kenneth Vogt (22:13):
Excellent. We’ll see you. Next time.

Intro/Outro (22:20):
The happy scientist is brought to you by Bitesize Bio, your mentor in the lab. Bitesize Bio features, thousands of articles and webinars contributed by hundreds of PhD, scientists and scientific companies who freely offer their hard, won wisdom and solutions to the bitesize bio community.

Hosted by Dr. Nick Oswald featuring Kenneth Vogt of Vera Claritas.

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