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Episode 20 — The Multitasking Myth

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About this episode

Is efficiency important to you? In the quest for the shortest path between two points, many people opt for multitasking. Some folks are particularly proud of how good they think they are at it. But how are they measuring success? And is multitasking the guaranteed way to success? In this episode we will talk about a clinical study that sheds some surprising light on the value (and danger) of multitasking.

Hosted by Bitesize Bio’s own 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 (00:04):
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 scientist. Your hosts are Kenneth Vogt, founder of the executive coaching firm, Vera Claritas, and Dr. Nick Oswald, PhD bio scientist and founder of

Nick Oswald (00:38):
Hello and welcome to the happy scientist podcast from Bitesizebio If you want to become a happier, healthier, and more productive scientist, you are in the right place. I am 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 you in the lab. In these sessions, we’ll hear mostly from Ken on principles that will help shape you for a happier and more successful career. And along the way, I’ll pitch in with points from my personal experience as a scientist, and from working with Ken today, we will be talking about the multitasking myth, but before we get onto that, remember that in episodes, one to nine of this podcast, we talk about the foundational principles of human needs, core mindsets and charisma factors. So if you find this episode useful, please go back and listen to episodes one to nine to gain understanding of these life-changing concepts. So let’s bring in the man himself, Kenneth, how are you today?

Kenneth Vogt (01:40):
Doing great. How are you? Thank you. Cool. Well, , let’s dive right into stuff. What is multitasking before we have much to say about it, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent? Well, it’s rather simple. Multitasking is dealing with more than one task at the same time. Now that doesn’t mean that you’re, that if you do multiple things today, you’ve been multitasking. You means if you’re trying to do them at the same time, if you’re riding your unicycle and juggling, that’s multitasking. And as you can imagine, just from that little, that little example, it’s kind of hard. And in fact, from the title, you might might also assume that we’re not too positive about it because the multitasking myth, because the fact is many people think multitasking is their answer to productivity. And furthermore, many people think that they’re really good at it. And so, yeah, I’m sure you’ve heard, heard other your other fellow lab mates bragging about how they can do so many things at the same time.

Kenneth Vogt (02:53):
And we’re not, I’m going to say right from the beginning. We’re not saying it’s impossible to multitask, that’s not the point. Yes. You can ride a unicycle cycle and juggle at the same time. You can walk and chew gum at the same time. It certainly can be done. But the problem is, is it’s coming at a cost and I’m not just going to offer up my opinion for that or, or anecdotal evidence. I’m actually going to site two university studies. Now we’re going to talk about one of them in fair amount of detail. And the other one we’ll we’ll mention, but we’ll have links to both of them in the show notes. So if you really want to dig in and you want to, you want to read the research, you’ll see it. The first study we’re gonna talk about came from Stanford university, which I believe everybody will accept is, is pretty pretty sound academic institution.

Kenneth Vogt (03:47):
You know, they’ve got 18 independent labs centers and institutes. They have 109 research centers. And if you’ve ever been there, it’s an amazing place. We’re going to talk about one study from one of their centers. It was it was entitled cognitive control and media multitaskers. And there were, there were three authors. So I believe the lead author was, was Dr. Nass. And then, and then he had two other, two other qualified folks with him, but you can, you can take a look at that. If you want to look up the study itself, which we’ve linked to, but

Kenneth Vogt (04:28):
When you think about Stanford university, Stanford has also launched many, a startup productivity is a big, big deal to the Stanford crowd. So for them to come out with a study that just skewers multitasking, that’s pretty important because they’re seeking what is the most productive way for things to be done in business and in research. And well, that’s kind of gives you an idea of where we’re headed with all this. And I have to say a lot of the study. I’m with you Nick, earlier in my life. I really thought I was a great multi-tasker. It wasn’t just that I thought that multitasking was good because I didn’t think it was good for everybody. I didn’t think everybody could do it, but I knew there was a special few like myself

Kenneth Vogt (05:20):
Who could excel.

Nick Oswald (05:22):
Yeah. It certainly seemed like it was the thing to do. Didn’t it?

Kenneth Vogt (05:25):
Yeah. And, and

Kenneth Vogt (05:29):
At any time he, it was just a matter I wanted to be active at all times. I didn’t want to have any wasted time if I could do two things at once. Why wouldn’t I, because the fact is we do two things at once or more than two things at once. All the time. You know, when you’re driving a car, your foot is pushing a pedal. Your hands are, are turning a wheel. Your eyes are scanning the road. So now we know that multiple things can be done at the same time. Or, you know, if you look at more broadly, I say, well at any given moment, Hey, my heart is pumping. My lungs are breathing. I don’t, I don’t have any problem doing that. And everybody does that. So isn’t that multitasking? I would say, no, not it’s not multitasking because what we’re talking about here are tasks, tasks that are you being consciously performed.

Kenneth Vogt (06:24):
And for instance, your heartbeat, that’s not being consciously performed. It’s not even being subconsciously performed. That is being automatically performed and breathing is the same story. Although you can overrule it, at least for a while, I can make myself hold my breath, or I can make myself breathe faster. But at some point the automatic system is going to take over and go, Oh no, you have to breathe again. Or you are hyperventilating. I’m gonna make you pass out until your breathing regulates. And unless you’re some very accomplished Yogi, you probably can’t control your heartbeat rate. Now, the thing is we can do things subconsciously though that will control some things. So for instance, if you get anxious, you might stop breathing. You might hold your breath or, or your heartbeat might raise, or your blood pressure may increase. But, but you are not directly doing those things.

Kenneth Vogt (07:23):
What your subconscious is doing is creating anxiety. And then the body is responding to anxiety with its it’s programmed for what do I do when, when anxiety kicks in. Uso, you know, we have, we want to differentiate between conscious things we do, subconscious things that we do, and then bodily functions, because they’re not the same. And, and oftentimes I’ll hear people crashing together, the, the word mind in the word brain, and it’s not the same thing. Brain, is a brain is an implement. A mind is something that has to do with, with psychology. You know, that’s, that’s your subconscious and conscious mind. Ubut they’re not the same as your brain. Your brain is having some kind of function that is reacting to what our, what our minds are doing. Uso there’s a little bit of difference here. So, but we’re going to be pretty much focused on conscious stuff here. This is, this is conscious mind endeavor. This is, these are the things that you’re choosing to do and choosing to do at the same time. And we’ll see what happens here. When this, this study looked at three, three key abilities, filtering, memory management and task management. So,uand so it turns out that many people have problems with one or more of these abilities. Chronic multitaskers are actually bad at all three. The people that think they’re good at it are bad at all. Three, let that sink in for a while.

Nick Oswald (09:04):
The better you think you are at this, the worse, you are.

Kenneth Vogt (09:07):

Kenneth Vogt (09:11):
And being bad at all three. It’s not just that you might be okay, I’m bad at all three, but I’m just slightly bad at all. Three. I’m not that bad. I mean, average people that are only bad at one or worse. No, no. Chronic multitaskers are generally speaking worse than the average person for each of them individually. Also, I mean, this, this poor, this study is so brutal. I’m telling you folks, it’s, it’s hard to hear if, if you’re committed multi-tasker.

Kenneth Vogt (09:38):
So for instance,

Kenneth Vogt (09:43):
Somebody who’s a multi-tasker thinks that they can concentrate on multiple things at the same time, but actually what’s happening is that you’re easily distracted. You’d assume that this individual multi-tasker would be able to you know, but really be excellent at filtering out the noise when, because they’re focused on their chosen multiple streams of, of input. But the, the problem is, is they’re often not choosing them. They are letting their environment choose them. And so the more inputs they get, the more they just leave the gate open and let those inputs come rolling in. And it turns out that that multitaskers are, are easy prey for, you know, red and shiny syndrome. That if there’s something distracting, that it gets their attention, they don’t block it off. And even if it’s irrelevant, they still go for it. They don’t prioritize it. They don’t, they don’t decide where they’re not.

Kenneth Vogt (10:42):
It’s important. The only act on urgent. So it’s there, it must need attention. And that’s where they, that’s where their mind goes. And the problem is that, that you’ve probably all heard of the, a grid that will help you decide what to do. It’s just a simple two by two grid, and that is something’s important. Something’s not important. And then on the other, you put that on the X axis and then the Y axis it’s urgent, or it’s not urgent. And so you can have a task that’s both not urgent and not important. Wow. Never do that. You should never do that task. It’s not urgent or important. You could have a task that is urgent, but not important. That one is compelling because we just love urgency. But the fact that it’s not important, tell us, maybe I shouldn’t really be giving this attention right now, even though it’s urgent.

Kenneth Vogt (11:41):
It’s, you know, it’s the three-year-old yanking on momma’s skirt when she’s cooking dinner. What’s important right now is that she not, you know, dump a pot of noodles on the kid’s head. And, and the three-year-old wants to inform mom that the dog has entered the kitchen, you know? So it’s not important, but it’s urgent because you know, here’s this yanking on the skirt. Well, then you have things that are important, but not urgent. Wow. Those are the things that we love to put off. Those are the things that we stall on then. Yeah, I’ll get to that. I’ll get to that. But they’re, they’re one of the best things to do. And then finally, there’s things that are urgent and important. Well, that’s, that’s obvious, you know, you, you fell off the roof and you broke your arm. This is not urgent and important that you get medical care. So we jumped to those things, but the chronic multi-tasker loves urgent, doesn’t care about important. And I think he, and I know you’re fighting in this, in your own head, but I do, I care about important. Yes. But you’re still being passed by urgent. And so you will do things that are urgent, but not important over things that are important, but not urgent. That’s, that’s one of the, one of the flaws of the chronic multi-tasker any of the sound familiar Nick.

Nick Oswald (13:09):
Yeah. So I definitely sounds familiar to me. I’m just trying to figure out how to fix it.

Kenneth Vogt (13:14):
Oh, well, we’ll get to that.

Nick Oswald (13:17):
So you mean that because the, the flip side would be, if you weren’t multitasking, you would be taking, selecting one, you know, the ideal priority task. And then just focusing on that until it’s done, rather than allowing it to code in with all sorts of things that are hierarchical,

Kenneth Vogt (13:36):
Urgency would not take priority over the task. You were engaged in only importance would. So, I mean, I will grant you if you’re doing something in your, your, and I’m going to, I’ve invented a word mono-tasking if you’re mono-tasking this, and you’re running an experiment and everything’s fine. And then somebody, somebody just wants to chat you up right then it’s like, excuse me, I I’ll get to you in and a half hour. You don’t, you don’t react to that. The fire alarm goes off in the building. Okay. You react to that, even though you’re in the middle of your experiment. Cause that’s important. So there’s, that’s how you, how you manage the difference of that. Yeah.

Nick Oswald (14:17):
Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. So it’s, mono-tasking I like that. I think we should make the I’m a mono-tasker t-shirt yeah.

Kenneth Vogt (14:25):
Yeah. In the end, the beauty of that is mono taskers. They’re focused, focused, people see things and, and unfocused people, miss things, people who are distracted, miss things. And so then the in fact, we’ll get to that in a little bit,

Nick Oswald (14:42):
Back to the Taurus and a hero. Really. It isn’t, it seems like it would be faster to do lots of things at once, but actually focus can put into each task if you’re mono-tasking is, gets you to speed in the end.

Kenneth Vogt (14:56):
Right. And the second study I’ll comment that later we’ll, we’ll skewer that one really bad. Okay. But let’s move to the second part of this study. The next thing is multitaskers. They don’t use memory very well, which is interesting. So do you think that a high, you know, a high multi-tasker would be methodical and organized because they have to hold so much stuff in their head at the same time. So they would be good at memory, but actually they’re not. What has have happening is they get overwhelmed by data. They get too much going on now. Now I realized that among, among scientists and among, you know, among intelligent people, even many, many people in, in this group are good at holding a lot of information in their head, but everybody’s got a limit. And so when you’re trying, what, what, what ends up happening is you don’t have the chance to properly compartmentalize this information now.

Kenneth Vogt (16:00):
And that becomes very important when it comes to accomplishing complicated tasks, individual complicated tasks, you gotta be able to tell what is information and what is noise? And I know there’s a, there’s a bit of a, you know, a popular meme about how men are better at compartmentalizing and women, full whole things in mass. And you know, I, I’m not going to get into, get into that, that particular hornet’s nest right here. But the fact is that there’s a certain amount of compartmentalization it’s needed to get your jobs done just as there’s a certain amount of crossover needed between compartments to get your job done. Those are all fine. But the fact is that the multitasking individual, the high multitasking individual does a worse job at compartmentalizing memory does a worse job at accessing that memory. So they’re slower to recall information. So when they need it, it’s not necessarily there. Or at least it’s not there on time.

Nick Oswald (17:08):
Wait. So is this study suggesting that, that people multitask because they’re bad at these things then?

Kenneth Vogt (17:16):
No, that, that’s the other thing that is kinda interesting about it. It seems like it is, it is an acquired. I can’t, I can’t call it a skill. It’s an acquired deficiency. Yeah. It makes you worse at things. So the fact is some of this stuff, you know, you may look at those things at the beginning that we talked about filtering memory management and task switching, and you think, yeah, I’m really good at those things. Or at least I used to be a multitask. Yeah. You’re actually hurting yourself by multitasking. And maybe you can stave you know, some of the, the negative impact, but it’s coming at a cost and you never know where that cost is going to show up. It could show up in energy. It could show up in health. It could show up in, in efficiency. It could show up in how well you do the job.

Nick Oswald (18:07):
It’s interesting actually, because the, the, the sort of outcome of these or the consequence rather of these efficiencies then would be things like overwhelm procrastination, all sorts of things that people are, you know, feeling harassed, feeling like you never get to the end of your to-do list. All the things that a lot of people in modern day describe the top as being their situation is being

Kenneth Vogt (18:34):
Right. Well, modern society is to a certain extent, demanded multitasking of people. They’ve described it as good they’ve made you seem like you’re smarter and more fit if you do this, but it’s not true. At least you can act

Nick Oswald (18:50):
The mono-tasking is going to be the new thing, the single thing. Okay.

Kenneth Vogt (18:55):
Okay. So let’s, let’s hit a third point about this that they found most high multitaskers don’t switch well between tasks. Now, that sounds counterintuitive. You think somebody that is used to doing multiple things at once would be able to switch well between tasks, but they don’t. It actually, it takes time. They have to like power down from one task and power up to the next, next task. And even though that might be happening in a few short seconds, if you’re constantly doing that, if you know, if you’re doing that multiple times an hour, multiple times a minute, it really starts to add up. Now, the second study really digs into that part of the topic that it was entitled. Why is it so hard to do my work? The challenge of attention residue when switching between work tasks and again excellent study that came out of the Leonard Stern School of Business, New York University.

Kenneth Vogt (19:51):
And I’m the level link to that below, but that this notion of switching between tasks being constantly, and if you’re doing one task, there’s no switching. There’s no cost. Whereas if you’re doing two tasks, if you switch back and forth, you’re gonna, you’re paying a price, every switch. And if you’re doing three things, you’re probably switching more. So you’re paying more of a price. So it’s costing you event by event. So I can give you an a couple examples of that. My simple thing might be making dinner if you’re making dinner and it’s just, you know, I’m, I’m making some meat and I’m making some vegetables, okay. There’s, there’s two things going on there, but it’s possible you will burn the steak because you’re paying attention to the vegetables. That’s one thing that could happen because you’re doing multiple things at once. If you could do just one of those things at a time would be great, you know, but Hey, this isn’t, McDonald’s where there’s one guy on the, on the grill and one guy on the, the French fryer, right?

Kenneth Vogt (20:50):
So w you, sometimes you have to do more than one thing at a time, but you know, the difference than just, Hey, ma sit down and make a meal and having the whole family over for, for a holiday meal. And you’re, you’re making six different dishes. It’s chaos, right? It’s uncomfortable. And you make, and sometimes we make mistakes, but certainly it takes a lot of energy and a lot of effort. And it actually would go easier. If, if grandma bought the pot, brought the pie and uncle brought the turkey and neph nephew brought the, brought the stuffing. It’d be a lot easier to get things done that way. In fact, if you’ve done things like that, where everybody brings something else just to assembly and go, it’s, it is simpler. Now I’m not arguing here that you shouldn’t make a nice family dinner sometime. But I am pointing out that you can see that that is a cost. And there’s a reason why you don’t do that every day, because it’s hard. And it does, you can, there’s some benefits from it in the short run, but not on a continuous basis on a regular basis. You, you make simpler meals because it works better.

Kenneth Vogt (22:04):
Okay. Here’s the fourth one. And this one, this one really gets me high multitaskers. Don’t prioritize well, like, Oh, that one just, just stabbed me to the heart. As I thought I was really great at that. Cause I was, I was really planned a lot, but the problem is the study observed that the multitasker may not realize the priorities that they’re applying to their multiple tasks. For instance a favorite multitasking scenario is talking on a cell phone while driving now. Here’s the, here’s the thing that’s weird about that you think that driving would be the primary activity, whereas the phone call would be the distraction, but what other studies have found is actually it’s the opposite. The phone call is the priority, and now the driving is a distraction to your phone call. Now isn’t that scary?

Nick Oswald (22:58):
That’s hands free. Yeah. It’s not. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt (23:00):
Yeah. Even hands free , because remember, we’re just talking about your mind here. We’re not talking about the activity of your body. So my attention is on my phone call, not the 18 Wheeler who’s hit the brakes in front of me or the kid that’s running in the street.

Nick Oswald (23:19):
A lot of driving is just a kind of ingrained behavior, you know? And so it’s quite easy. You could see, you know, you’re still holding the steering wheel. You’re still doing all the stuff that you’re meant to do, but it’s that small, it’s the, it’s a more subtle cognitive shift of attention.

Kenneth Vogt (23:38):
Right. And the issue with driving, isn’t the standard driving. It’s when something changes in the environment that you weren’t on, you know, somebody, somebody runs the light or you know a child’s ball rolls out into the street, or somebody slams on the brakes. You know, those are the moments when you need to be fully competent and aware. And if you’re just allowing your, your automatic system to turn the steering wheel and push the pedals, you don’t know what kind of outcome you’re going to get.

Nick Oswald (24:08):
Yeah. And the interesting thing about that, well, not to get too far down this rabbit hole, but the interesting thing about that is that you know, because you get away with it most of the time you think it’s okay.

Kenneth Vogt (24:19):
Oh yeah. I wrote it. There’s been some interesting books written about that. This idea of we get, we get false feedback, we do something, something that isn’t a good habit to have, and yet we get a good result. And so we use that now as proof, but taking the setting, all the studies and all the research that’s been done into that aside for a moment, I will refer to a Yiddish proverb. And it’s very simple. It says, this for instance is not proof. Well, we’ve all done that, you know, and anecdotal data that we would laugh because of it, because it aligns with what we’d like to believe. We try to trap that out. Like it’s like it’s data.

Nick Oswald (25:02):
Yep. So much wisdom in that small, small sentence.

Kenneth Vogt (25:06):
So just to, to hit it again, here, all the here, all the bad assumptions that here’s what happens when you are a a serial multi-tasker, you are easily distracted. You don’t use memory. Well, you don’t switch well between tasks and you don’t prioritize well. And I realized right about now you’re reeling. It’s like, ah, that’s just, that just doesn’t describe me. I’m I’m not like that. Well, I hate to break it to your folks, but you are like that. It’s what happens. And so how, how do we get out of it? Is this is the question. So if you will please cut along with me for a minute and say this before you just throw this all away and say, no, this is baloney. I refuse to believe it. Let me give you an alternative, a different way to look at things. And perhaps perhaps you will see a way that will give you as good or better results than your multitasking ways.

Kenneth Vogt (26:09):
So I’m going to present this as exploitation versus exploration. And I, I was talking to Nick about this earlier, and I really wanted to be careful about this because Nick is a huge proponent of exploration in the lab. And, you know, not just signing up for whatever the grant writer wants you to get for results. So I want to be clear here. I am not, I am not going to battle with Nick on this. We’re going to be talking about some very specific here. So when I talk about exploitation, what I’m talking about is when you get results, look for the opportunities and those results, as opposed to seeking a certain objective. Let me see where else, where else I might want to go with that. You know, if, if you, if you want to explore rather than exploit, multitasking, even if you aren’t good at it, it might feel good.

Kenneth Vogt (27:21):
It might be satisfying if you just kind of want to go out there and see what’s going on. Yeah. Go ahead and multitask and look under every leaf and behind every twig. And, and, you know, you can do that. It’s just not a terribly efficient way of approaching things. If you have an objective, whereas if you’ve entered into something with an objective and, and I think we can agree that even when you’re doing basic research, you still have objectives. You know, there are, there are things that you want to know as a result, or at least you want to know that you haven’t yet got the answer. So it’s still important to have some clue what it is you’re shooting for. Right. and if that’s the case, if you are, if you are driving towards something, it is going to be easier for you to monotask. You’re going to, if, when I say easier, I mean, it’s going to be easier to do the tasks. It’s going to be easier to do multiple tasks is not granted. You’re not doing them in parallel. You’re doing them in series, but you’re getting them done and you’re getting them done efficiently. And you’re getting any, you have clarity on each one as you’re, as you’re marching through it. So having said all that, Nick, is there any qualification you want to give there?

Nick Oswald (28:37):
I’m trying to get my head around that. My take home from that is that you’re saying that if you want to, what you’re calling exploration is basically messing around just dabbling. Multitasking is great. If you want to get stuff done, exploitation, as you’ve called it here, then mono-tasking is the way to go. Is that, is that right?

Kenneth Vogt (29:00):
Yeah, that’s right. And so,

Nick Oswald (29:02):
I mean, again, it doesn’t clash with what I would call exploration, which is not so much about, you know, looking for things other than, you know, it’s more about not being path by what you think is going to happen in your life and an experiment rather you know, it’s easy for us to try and it’s the difference between getting result and asking a question and that’s not what we’re, that’s not the sort of explanation we’re talking about here. You’re just using that as a term for not directly, not directly trying to get something done, but just messing around with it, you know, dabbling. Yes.

Kenneth Vogt (29:42):
And so this may give you a little hope here, if you really, really, really love multitasking. It’s fine. You can still multitask, just don’t do it with anything important. It, you know, you want to go out and explore the woods. Go ahead. It’d be great. Yeah. Take some time for that and, and satisfy that, that, that need your soul. But when you’re back at work, when you’re back in the lab, it’s time to monotask.

Nick Oswald (30:09):
I mean, what, what is really striking me here is the is the extreme downside, the extreme damage that multitasking does to your, your efficiency. So it’s not a benign thing is actively destroying those those according to that, this study anyway that you’ve mentioned, these studies, it’s actually breaking down the fabric of your ability to get things done. Right. Which is really serious actually. And so then, and so then we should be looking at the way that we that we do things to, to take ourselves back from it. So it’s nothing doing that for me. When I was in the lab, I was, as you said, very big on multitasking, making sure that every minute counted and by counting, I meant every minute I was doing something that was moving me towards the goal that I wanted to get to the, get the experiments finished, I’ll get these three experiments finished set up today or whatever.

Nick Oswald (31:13):
One thing that strikes me that I used to do was to, for example set up two experiments in parallel. So I’ve got two experiments to set up. There are some incubation steps of five minutes or a few minutes or whatever, and one, and so I’ve tried to start protocol in between those steps, just to get a jumpstart, there’s obviously a fine line. You don’t want to, you know, if there’s, if there’s over long steps between you know, incubations are gaps in the protocol, then you know, that’s probably a fine to start the next experiment. But if it’s short switches like within minutes, then that’s probably something you want to stay away with, stay away from other probably the mark for me, the sort of determine what, what would determine whether I should be doing the other the second experiment at the same time, looking back on it now, the tenant would be whether it’s still peaceful to do the next one, whether it’s still calm or do I feel harassed by doing the next one? Because it seems to me as well. It’s like, if it’s okay, playing is, is okay for not tasking is okay for play, but as soon as you do it for work under pressure, then that’s good. That’s surely going to make this whole breakdown of the fabric of your,u

Kenneth Vogt (32:36):
Yeah. Sooner, sooner or later, it’s going to blow up in your face. And, and that’s, that’s the problem. Now I realize that some of you are thinking back to my Yiddish proverb, but you’re thinking a little bit, for instance, you know, Nikola Tesla, all he did was both task all day long. Well, yes, that was that’s true. And honestly, he, wasn’t a very happy individual. Now, if you are bent on really being a change, the world, stand out in mankind person and you want to defy this. I’m not going to stand in your way, but for most of us, even those of us who do want to make a difference in the world, it’s more important that I be good at my job efficient at my work focused at all times, I will do better work than this moonshot kind of stuff. I’m not arguing against moonshots just saying everybody shouldn’t be doing moonshots, so no know where you are and know what you’re, what you’re willing to commit to. If you are willing to take the, take that chance, go ahead and understand a lot of people. There are a lot of people that were just like Nikola Tesla. You’ve never heard of because they never made it. So, you know, decide, decide for yourself, choose for yourself what you’re going to be. But for most of us, it’s going to be, you know, I’d rather be efficient rather than harried.

Nick Oswald (34:02):
Yeah. I mean, for me as well, one rule of thumb was for me, but I guess that’s probably what made me harried. It was that I would try not to leave any gaps. So I would always be trying to do something as I said. And so that would be, I mean, I’ve got, I’m pretty sure I’ve got articles on bitesizebio talking about when you have a five minute step, like a centrifugation or something, what you can do in that time, it’s like read a paper, you know, you’ve got five minutes, got, you could read a paper, you could clean up this. You could do, you know, actually it’s probably just as useful to, or actually important to just allow that time to just, just let your, you know,

Kenneth Vogt (34:48):
Right. You could, you could do something important, but not urgent

Nick Oswald (34:52):
Can do something important. Like let your main wander and just let you, you know, you let yourself connect up some dots, you know rather than forcing yourself to keep going down these lines all the time of, of, to do lists, you know, give yourself some air to breathe. I I, I suspect, I don’t know if that’s part of the study, but or there are other ones like that, but I suspect that if you look at mono-tasking vs, multitasking, then is going to be more productive to do the mono-tasking, but also people will be happier.

Kenneth Vogt (35:25):
Yes. Yeah. That this study talks more about that. The other, the second study just talked about the practical concerns about how you just lose ground every time you switch tasks. But but very, very convincingly does. So, so

Kenneth Vogt (35:41):
I wanna,

Kenneth Vogt (35:43):
I want to point out something interesting here. Nick has has distinguished himself in the world by Bitesizebio is a known entity. People know about it. I can’t tell you many times. I’ve, I’ve talked to people who are scientists and said, Oh, bitesize. Yeah. I would have never got through my PhD with that. And that’s great. I will tell you, Nick also happens to be an expert on cloning and slime molds,

Kenneth Vogt (36:10):
But you probably don’t know

Kenneth Vogt (36:11):
His name associated with that. Why? Well, because, because this, this is what’s happening here. He was multitasking back in the day and it wasn’t getting him that, that fame in his field, right. When, when he got, when he switched over to doing something where he was more, more mono focused more is getting done and therefore more, more accolades come, his way more fame comes his way more success comes his way and it’s, it’s going to be true for you too.

Nick Oswald (36:55):

Kenneth Vogt (36:55):
And and, and he had such hopes for it too. That’s the, see, this is the other thing, whatever you’re working on right now, I know you believe it’s important, right? Whether or not the world will agree with you remains to be seen. So if you’re going along and you’re getting things done in an orderly fashion, you will find that your career and your opportunities will be on an upward climb. It will be an upward spiral. What you’re doing right now, maybe five steps away from the thing that really catapults you to the top of your field or to whatever it is you’re trying to personally achieve in your career. And you can’t even see that five steps away yet. You don’t know what it’s going to be, but you want to do good work. Now that’ll take you to the next step. You know, if right now, all you’re doing is cleaning test tubes in the lab because you’re, you’re low man on the totem pole, fine.

Kenneth Vogt (37:53):
But one day your skill and speed and quality in test tube cleaning is going to lead to you doing other things. And, you know, it’s, it’s always good to look at what you’re doing now and say, how can I do this the best I can now I noticed I’ve I’ve commented on efficiency several times in here. And I don’t, and we’ll talk about efficiency on, on another, another broadcast. But I’m not saying efficiency is the final goal. It’s a worthy goal. It’s part of the picture. But as Nick mentioned earlier, sometimes just being able to stop and ponder for a moment and wonder and think about things in contemplate is highly, highly valuable. It’s inefficient and worth it.

Nick Oswald (38:43):
Well, the other way around harassing yourself all day is not fun. It doesn’t really get much, but that’s what you tend to w and my experience of multitasking. That’s what, that’s what it was your got. Like, I was my own worst boss. Sure. On to make myself get, get more done, get more done, get more done. And, yeah, it’s interesting.

Kenneth Vogt (39:04):
So at the beginning of this, I commented that some people feel, and I felt, I felt I was a good multi-tasker. Nick felt he was a good multi-tasker. Why? Because we believed we were special in some certain way. So I want to look at what this study said about the varying special groups. You might find yourself to be in and think, well, this doesn’t apply because I’m , suck listened to this list. And it’s brutal. The study found no significant deviation in results, based on agreeableness, conscientiousness, creativity, extroversion, intelligence, neuroticism, openness, or the big one gender that’s right. Men and women are equally bad at multitasking. I know that hurts. Hey, so, you know, we’ve noticed that being smart, doesn’t help being well-adjusted, doesn’t help, you know, we’re just running out of excuses for this. Now, how about this? Maybe it’s a generational thing because you know you know, these kids these days, right?

Kenneth Vogt (40:26):
Well, it’s just not that while there’s an enormous desire among the, you know, the gen wire’s the genX-ers the teenagers, the 20 somethings to attempt to multitask. They’re no better at it than the baby boomers. Motivation doesn’t improve results. Peer pressure doesn’t improve results. Now it may be true that the younger crowd may work their smartphone better. However, when it comes to actual results, technological superiority, doesn’t make up for the fact that our brains operate basically the same way, whether we’re 25 or 55. And yes, I know there are some neuroscientists out there. So yeah, there’s lots of differences, but I’m talking about functional difference when it comes to multitasking. There’s no difference.

Kenneth Vogt (41:12):
So we’ve already talked about some of the things you might do about this. And I like to think let’s join multitaskers anonymous. So you were a recovering multitasker. What are you supposed to do? Well, the first thing you do is you plan for mono-tasking. So it’s like what Nick was describing. If you had multiple experiments to set up well, think about what’s the order of these things should be done. And when, when are the, there are going to be sufficient gaps to start say the second experiment. And so you look at how you can get multiple plates spinning, but you’re really not. You’re not spinning those plates. You get a plate spinning and you leave it and you go to the next plate and you get that one spinning and you focus from there. Another thing you can do is close down your input sources.

Kenneth Vogt (42:03):
And I will use the example of online, and we’ve all done this, you know, you look at your browser and there’s 12 tabs open and you know, there’s Facebook and there’s Twitter and there’s LinkedIn, and there’s 12 other webpages that you’re going to get to. And at the same time, you’re, you’re surfing the web and you’re watching TV and you’re listening to the podcast. And, you know, I stop it, just start to shut down the input sources, which input sources are needed right now and all the rest, let them go now. And you know, we all have our little tricks for doing stuff like that. Cause I mean, I realize you may get, like, I got this open, so I don’t forget about it. You know? All right, that’s fine. So most browsers, for instance, will allow you to open multiple windows, open a separate window for that one and drag it over there.

Kenneth Vogt (42:51):
And I’m the window that is in the front that you’re looking at. Only have opened those, those tabs. You need open for what you’re doing right now. You know, the others are still there. They’re not going away. They haven’t been lost. You’re fine. And you can do that same thing. I mean, it’s, it’s like you don’t have to be very old to remember when there was a time when there was no such thing as a DVR. And in fact it was such a big deal to have a VCR. And it was expensive because he had used tapes. And, but we, we were willing to spend the money because it changed the game. So, you know, make use of the technology that’s available to you get good at the technology that is useful for you. And, you know, again, watch it about wasting your time, getting good at technology that is just entertaining to you, but not particularly useful. Not that you shouldn’t be entertained some of the time, but there’s, there’s a point here where we spend so much time looking around and looking around and looking around, we don’t get anything done. And, and that is another, that’s another implementation of multitasking that we’re surfing the web while we’re supposed to be writing a paper, you know,

Nick Oswald (44:05):
That’s interesting because what was just crossing my mind there is that surely another personal experience, another symptom, another consequence of, of getting into the habit of multitasking is underestimating. The time that it takes to do that really takes to do something. And so you , then you can try and cram either the, try to cram things into too small time period, or you procrastinate and then try and cram them all in case you’re setting yourself up for a stressful time and a less, less productive time as well. So getting used to that, you know, getting used to the idea that, of, or exploring the idea that you’re underestimating the time it takes to do something, you’ve got the experiments to take up. Maybe that’s going to take you all day to do it, and you can’t get it all done in the morning, but by going more slowly methodically, then you’ll get, you’re more likely to get them right the first time, rather than, than messing one or two of them up and having to do them again the next day.

Kenneth Vogt (45:18):
That’s right. But I was, there was a book I read back in the eighties by someone named Mark McCormack that was entitled What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School. And one of the things that he said is, you know, about how long it takes to do things when you plan your day. So plan accordingly. And I, that would just cut me to the heart because I realized, I didn’t know how long it took me to do things. I hadn’t bothered to really pay attention to how long it took me to do things. And thus, I was, I was never getting everything done I wanted to get done. And when I finally faced the truth of that, that was knowable information. Well, I changed my behavior. You know, that that was a long time ago, man, almost 35 years, but you know, truth is true. If it’s good, if it’s good information it’s useful let’s put it to use. So at the end of the day, the less you multitask, the more you will accomplish. And I’m certain that you care more about accomplishing than multitasking. So let’s focus on that. Cause accomplishment can become habit for me.

Kenneth Vogt (46:37):
So is there anything else you want to add today, Nick?

Nick Oswald (46:40):
No, I think that was another tour de force there right to the right, to the heart of what is going on for a lot of people, not just in the lab, but in the modern day workplace, you have so many inputs that it’s just so tempting to try not to try and cram all of this in . And, but I think that, I mean, again, these, all of these episodes, you know, things that we’re touching on, they kind of crossover each other. This is also about, you know, the flip side of this that are going slow. If you told me previously, you know, it’s that sort of idea of just giving yourself the time to accept that the space and the focus to excel at what you’re doing rather than trying just to, you’re not factory. So can’t just churn stuff out.

Kenneth Vogt (47:31):
And, and we, the, the, the regular people of mankind, we need you to excel at what you do,

Kenneth Vogt (47:38):
Please do.

Nick Oswald (47:41):
Yeah. Okay. I think that’s a, that’s a wrap for today. Enough for people to think about. Okay. So I think before we head off just a reminder of that you can join us if you enjoyed this episode and you want more of the same then obviously you can find other episodes at bitesizebio.Com/Thehappyscientist, but you can also get more you know, more variety of ways to focus on this on these topics at club. And we’ll see you in there. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt (48:21):
And please, if you have something you want to hear about, you want us to talk about, you mentioned it there and we’ll reply to you. Yeah.

Nick Oswald (48:27):
Tell us what’s bothering. You can consort over here. All right. Thanks again, Ken. And thanks to everyone for joining us and we’ll see you again.

Outro (48:46):
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