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Episode 39 — The Difference Between Efficiency and Optimization

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In this episode, which was recorded live, you’ll discover more about what it takes to go from being merely efficient to optimized. Have you ever been accused of being a control freak or an obsessive in the lab? Sure, you just want to get things right. But there is a better way.

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.

Nick Oswald (00:00:12):
Hello, and welcome to the happy scientist podcast. And today this is live on Bitesizebio. This is the place to be. If you want to become a happier, healthier, and more productive scientist. I’m Nick Oswald, the founder of Bitesizebio.com. And today we will be drawing again on the immense wisdom of Mr. Kenneth Volt. Ken is my friend and mentor. He’s the Bitesizebio team’s Yoda, and he’s the founder of the executive coaching company, Vera Claritas today. And in all other Happy Scientists podcast episodes, you get to benefit from his words of wisdom to help you increase your performance, enjoyment, and success in the lab. Today, we bring you the second in a three part live series called Jump-starting your career as a happy scientist. And in this installment, we will be discussing something that is very applicable in the lab. The difference between efficiency and optimization, since this is a live session, we can take your questions and discuss them as part of the show. You can enter those questions using the questions box that should be visible to the left of, or below the presentation window. Also be sure to check out our downloads page, where you can find lots of downloadable goodies and that competition again, to win a very rare, happy scientists. T-Shirt the demos page link is right below the questions box. Okay. Without further ado, let’s bring in the man, the Yoda himself, Ken, how are you doing today?

Kenneth Vogt (00:01:42):
Doing great. I just realized the happy scientist t-shirt is so rare that I don’t even have one.

Nick Oswald (00:01:47):
You don’t have one. I don’t have one either

Kenneth Vogt (00:01:52):
Well today we’re going to talk about the difference between efficiency and optimization. And I know at first flushed, you might look at that and go, those are synonyms, but they’re really not. They’re really quite different. And so we’re going to, we’re going to dive into what the difference of it is and why one is far more important than, than the other and, and why you should care about this at all. But before we do all that, let’s go to the next slide. And I want to issue a warning, right from the beginning. This is not about how to be a proper control freak. And we’ve had an episode on that, that topic itself before. So I won’t go into great, great detail on that, but, you know, yeah, it was entitled the, the siren song of control. So you can go back and check that up, but the point isn’t here, here, isn’t for you to just be in control of every little detail so that things can be efficient or, or more optimized. That’s not, it it’s in control. Won’t help you be more efficient and won’t help you be more optimized. So right now, even if you’re clinging to that, give up on it, it’s not, it’s not what this is going to be about today. We’re going to talk about how you can get the most out of your activities and out of your lab’s activities. And it’s not necessarily just about you personally. It could be about anything that you have charge up. So there’s a lot to look at here and a lot of people stop at the point of being efficient and that’s an improvement over not being efficient, but well, let’s go to the next slide. This is, this is something that’s, that’s been popping up. I believe in the stem fields. And I, I was pondering that from, from the standpoint of well, which part of the stem fields are having the worst time of this. And I think actually science is having the best time you go to the other end of the spectrum to mathematics. Oh man, I remember hearing a term from a mathematician friend of mine when he talked about proof being elegant. And I thought, wow, that’s a beautiful word for this. And in math, who’s taught to be anything beautiful, but yeah, he was all about it being efficient. What’s the shortest number of steps to get from, from your, your hypothesis to your conclusion. That was all that mattered was how fast could you make it, make it happen? And that’s a real limitation. And it’s interesting too. And now I’ll reference, it will be a future episode in the stem fields of mathematicians of my very unscientific population. I don’t know any, any women who are mathematicians. I’m not saying there aren’t any, but they are predominantly men. And I know a lot of engineers, that’s my background and they are definitely mostly male. And a lot of tech technologists are mostly male, but scientists seem to be a little different. I actually know quite a few female scientists and I don’t know, Nick you’ll probably have a better feel for that than me. What, what do you think about women versus men in stem fields?

Nick Oswald (00:05:13):
Oh, goodness. I mean, I don’t really have certainly all of the engineers I’ve ever worked with domain. There are, you know, but there are quite a lot of women in that I’ve worked with in science, but as regards to proportion, I would not like to hazard a guess, but not enough probably.

Kenneth Vogt (00:05:30):
Well, the reason I bring it up is because, you know, there’s obviously a different approach between the feminine approach and a masculine approach. Inefficiency tends toward the masculine outlook and it’s, it’s got limitations and that’s hard for the men of us out there to, to admit that there’s limitations inefficiency and women are going to be more, are going to more lean toward optimization as we discuss what these things are. But, but this is for everybody, everybody can do this. So, you know, don’t, don’t feel like you’re typecast. So if we start off, when we move to the next, next slide, you know, the question is, what is efficiency? What exactly are we talking about here? So on the next slide we will, we will see exactly what it’s about. It’s about time. It’s all about time. It’s whether it’s clock time or calendar time, it’s how fast can you get something done? And if you can do it faster, you’re being more efficient. That is the outlook. And okay, getting something done faster. Is that a bad thing? No, not at all. In fact, it’s it’s a very, very good outcome in most cases. But the problem is if we go to the next slide, it is faster, automatically better. Well, the answer is no, because if it’s just faster at the expense of other things that are also important, then that’s not so great. It just, and if we think of some examples like that, we’ve all had situations where we’ve had fast food is fast food, the best cuisine you’ve ever had. Now I realize some of y’all love your Big Mac’s and Whoppers, but nobody is looking at that going, yeah, that’s the best hamburger I’ve ever had in my life. It’s it’s just not now. It’s great that it, that, that you got it quick and boy o boy in 60 seconds, you can go from no hamburger to hamburger. That’s, that’s fantastic. But but it is not the full answer. If you really care about, I want to eat well, I want to eat healthy. I want to eat food. I enjoy. I mean, you can come up with all kinds of other ways that you might want to look at it. So another thing that, that is a problem with things being faster is it, it sets us on this path that we mostly don’t want to be on. So let’s go to the next slide and that is being busy. And now I know we have people that’ll hear this all over the world, but a big part of the audience here is American. And this is, this is terribly true in America. We are proud of being busy. We, we, we brag about how busy we are and, and you know, that is, that is true to a certain extent in, in other areas too. But it’s real, it’s really an epidemic here in the United States. And it, you know, if somebody says, Hey, how are you doing? What is our typical answer? Our typical answer is to tell them how busy we are. Oh man, I’m slammed. I’m just, I’m just, I’ve got so much going on. We can’t wait to tell people how busy we are. And how often have you felt like you had to excuse the fact you weren’t busy? Oh, well, you know, I I’ve been meaning to ramp up on this other project or, well, I just had a little downtime while I’m getting prepared for this. You know, busy-ness is overrated. It’s, it’s not that great. And all of this, this attitude about business has made us focus on efficiency. We’ve cared about time, a whole lot because of this, this attitude of busy-ness. But we move on to the, to the next slide.

Kenneth Vogt (00:09:35):
The fact is time is only a single measure. There are lots of measurable things out there that matter things that we care about, and you don’t have to search that hard for that. I don’t think most of us would say that the only thing that matters is that something is fast and you’re involved in operations procedures in your lab, that in many cases are very complicated or can and could be very expensive. And of course, efficiency is going to matter, but it won’t be the only thing that matters. There’s, there’s always other things that, that we could be looking at. So let’s move to the next slide, the problem with efficiency then as it has blind spots, it misses out on all of these other things that, that might matter in, in whatever your process is, whatever your operation is, whatever, whatever it is that you’re working on. And, and it’ll be up to you to define what those things are. Now, this whole notion of efficiency versus optimization is covered very well. And in an interesting book, I read at least 30 years ago, and it’s called The Goal it’s by Eliyahu Goldratt, The Goal two words. And it’s funny, it was a business book. It was. So it was about this notion of efficiency versus optimization for a manufacturing company. And what made the book really interesting was it wasn’t written like a typical business book. It’s a novel, I mean, an actual novel, it’s a story with characters, but it’s a business book. Now. I know a lot of you is going, yeah, that’s great. I’m not in business, I’m in the lab, but something that, that we’ve talked about over and over again in this podcast is that we want to borrow best practices from other industries and, and other areas. And this is definitely one of them, you know, manufacturing is not the only place that can make use of optimization. It’s also true in finance and it’s certainly in the lab. Optimization gives you all kinds of new opportunities. So let’s hit the next slide.

Kenneth Vogt (00:12:03):
So the point is, what is optimization here we are, we’ve talked about efficiency, okay. Efficiency is about, let’s call it optimized time. That’s great. So for the next slide, then we’ll look at the idea of what do we want to optimize? You can decide, you can choose what is good, what, what it is that matters to you in a certain setting time may well be one of them. And there’s nothing wrong with time as, as one of your choices, but what are your other options of things you might care about, let’s go to the next slide? So on top of something being faster, you might like your, your process, your operation to require less material. Maybe it could use less equipment because equipment is expensive and usage of equipment is expensive. How about less personnel? What if it took less face or required less funding? Or this is an interesting one. What if you needed less managerial approval? Would that make your process a little easier? Where you don’t have to go get, say so from somebody, these are just some ideas of things that might matter to you when it comes to optimization, you can take any process you want and decide, you know what, I’m going to look at this process purely from the standpoint is how can I avoid having to talk to the boss, awesome. Or how can I use, how can I use less expensive equipment? How can I take up less lab space? How can I do this with less money, whatever it is that matters to you, you have a way of then looking at that and you notice the word less keeps showing up there. It, because generally that’s what it’s talking about. The optimize something means to use less of something and a professor means less time, but everything here is how can I be more, more efficient with something other than time? And that’s where optimization comes in. And this list is not, is not necessarily everything you’re getting. You’re going to look at things and see other possibilities.

Nick Oswald (00:14:20):
One thing, one thing I noticed about that list Ken, is that it’s it’s all business side, if you like, as in, it’s not personal. And for me, it’s quite interesting. So I didn’t know exactly what you were going to say here and you just unpacked a whole lot of stuff that I I’d forgotten about that I went through a whole efficiency drive myself at one point in the lab. And, you know, it’s about a lot of the times during the day in the lab you’re managing yourself. And so most of the time, actually, when you, you know, when you’ve been doing the actual work, it’s about managing yourself and your own time and so on. And that idea of efficiency being just about optimizing the time that that really rings true for me, where you’re you’re trying to drive more results if you like from, from, you know, within, you know, per unit of time, one of the big the big costs here in that you know, not material or equipment or personnel, but our personal costs is stress, and that then reduces your efficiency. So you max out, that’s what I find out. You max out a level of, you know, time-based efficiency that you can reach. And and then it starts to become you know, diminishing the turn. So maybe one, maybe another set of of measures you could look at here are personal ones. How can I do this with less stress? And how can I get the same results with less stress? How can I get you know, the same results with you know, more, more time for reflection and so on, which will then improve the overall overall result as well. That’s what I found in, you know, and my efficiency drive was I didn’t leave myself time to just really look at what was happening. And the result is you know, w what my results were telling me and, and things like that. It was just barreling from one experiment to the next, without taking proper time to step back and really look at the bigger picture and things like that.

Kenneth Vogt (00:16:37):
I like it. So let’s move to the next slide. And we’ll talk about that in a little more detail. The, the point here is what are your objectives? And I, I like this point of what is the personal what are your personal objectives here? How do I make this process easier for me now I don’t just mean easier like you being lazy, but I mean, like if you have a process that’s just demanding your constant attention. Maybe you need to have a way to have, be able to have some relief for your, your attention at, at certain intervals. Maybe you need to have certain things set up in such a way that they don’t need your Hawk eye on it the whole time. Maybe you need to have your process have less physical steps for you. So that, I mean, literally you might be wearing yourself out physically, and sometimes you might think this is funny. You think, man, I, I practically sit at a desk all day, or I, you know, I sit in a sit at a bench all day. I don’t really, I’m not really working that hard, but you find yourself at the end of the day, exhausted, and you forget how much physical stuff you actually are doing. Then there’s the other side of that is how much, how much of you is wore out physically because of the mental exertion. And is there a way that you can reduce the requirement for mental exertion in this process? So, you know, you can, you can decide what kind of objectives you have there. There’s no, there’s no requirement here. You can make it, you can make it as optimized as you want in any way you want. And you don’t have to really explain that to others. Other than, you know, are you getting the result? And that was another thing you mentioned a moment ago, Lynn, all right. Nick, that your result really matters. That that is, that is where, that’s how you determine what to optimize by. Okay, what do I need to optimize? So as to get the result I’m after, whereas efficiency might not get you the results you’re after at least I may not be as strong a factor in this, as you might, might automatically think

Nick Oswald (00:18:43):
That’s an interesting point. So you’re, you’re looking to get you know, more results per unit time, which is, or more meaning more meaningful results. Let’s see more insight per unit time. You can take it to that.

Kenneth Vogt (00:18:56):
Yeah. Or, or whatever unit you want to have an effect, but go to the next slide. This is, this is another important point about this. We’re talking about something you can measure. You have to decide what’s good and find a way to put a number to it. And, and I hope anybody in the stem field is going to be happy to see numbers. Numbers matter. Numbers are way we regulate things. How do we tell whether something is good or bad, or with whether we’re moving forward and moving backward? And, you know, we’ve all had the situation where we’ve had a feeling about a number, you see a number and you’re disappointed, or you see a number in you’re excited. You know, numbers can, numbers can be way more than just a, you know, a cold set of arithmetic. They, they can, they can generate a feeling, they can generate an emotion. And, and ultimately when it comes to your, to your your objectives, you’re going to have an emotional feeling about that. You know, we feel good when we accomplish something and we get to where we’re going and we feel good when we get answers, you know? Cause I realized in science, you, you do have, you have the unusual field of, of often you, you don’t get the result you were looking for, but what was important was you got a result. That was the thing you met that mattered to you more than anything else. So you know, this is a constant learning curve,

Nick Oswald (00:20:21):
So there’s a, so there’s a, there’s a kind of limitation, but there’s another pressure here or in science regard, you know other than what you think is good, you, you know, you might think you know, I have to, I would really like to do X number of experiments in a week, or I would like to you know uncover the answer to this question by, you know, sometime in this quarter or something, but you have, you, you know, the overall pressure and signs, the overall measurement is the whole publish or perish thing to get more funding, you need to publish to get more, to get published, you need to get results that mean something to get results that meet, need something you need to get more results. Right. And, and then that, that that pressure is ingrained into the whole culture of science. So you have peers and superiors who are pushing you to get more results essentially you know, to do more. And then, and then, you know, culture of business and obviously it’ll vary lab to lab, but as a general statement of what the stress is, and it’s not just in scientists, it’s everywhere, but that, so I guess some people listening to this, they’ll be thinking, what does it matter? What I think, what does it matter? What I define as, as good, if I’m being pressured from the outside to to deliver a metric or to deliver a result essentially, and a paper or whatever, by the end of the year, it must be there or not. So all has to be a pig. Panic. How, what, what would you say about people who feel that, that their, you know, their measurement doesn’t matter? It’s what the, the sort of prevailing, when does,

Kenneth Vogt (00:22:15):
It’s still your measurement of what it’s going to take to get that result you want, because that result will make you happy that satisfying management, you know, getting the paper published on time. That’s that is going to be part of what will make you happy. You know? So, I mean, I understand that sometimes we wish we could just, you know, I would just like to head down this rabbit hole because I just find that really, really interesting, but nobody wants to pay me to do that. It’s like, all right, that’s fine. You, you are, you are here as a job though. It’s, it’s a career you’re going to have to do something to earn your pay and you can get satisfaction from that. And maybe sometimes you get to go down the rabbit hole and maybe sometimes you don’t, and maybe you won’t go down those rabbit holes anytime soon, maybe that’s something you’ll do after you retire or, or something you’ll just decide. Nope. That’s just not as important to me as some other things you got to choose. Now, if, if there’s just a burning, burning need, you just have to go there. Well, then you got to really reassess your career. How do I align my career with this kind of focus so that I can do that? Because at the end of the day, often we’re looking at this going, man, I’m not allowed to do this. Yeah. It’s not, you’re not allowed to do it in science. You’re not allowed to do it at this particular job. So, you know, you have to, you have to weigh, how important is it to you versus how important is it that you keep this particular position?

Nick Oswald (00:23:47):
So I guess that this is a fairly hot topic and for the people who are listening if you have any views or questions about that, please put them into the questions box there and we can deal with them. Towards the end, we will bring, bring your views and questions into the discussion towards the end.

Kenneth Vogt (00:24:11):
Definitely my personal background is software engineering, and I promise you, I have seen so many exciting things that I really wanted to personally develop, but I made some choices in my career. And those things remain undeveloped by me. And in some cases, other people developed them and I didn’t, and some of those people are very wealthy these days, you know? You know, I mean, I can look back at all that with regret, but I don’t, because I think about something that Ray Daleo said, he said, you can have anything in life that you want, but you can’t have everything. And I found that to be true, you know? Yes, you can have anything you want. The problem is you’re not willing to give up other things to have it. That’s how people hear that. And they push it away because it will all, I can’t have anything. Yeah, you can, you can have anything if you’re willing to forego other things, you want freedom. Yeah. You’re going to have to forego having a family. You want to have, you know, you want to live a thrill seeker life. Well, then you’re going to have to take some risks. You know, this there’s, there’s a price to pay for certain paths. So, you know, you just have to decide. So now, assuming you’ve made your choices here and you’ve got, you figured out what you’re going to do and you do want, and you, and you see what matters and what you want to be more efficient about. What’s the first thing you’re going to encounter. When you start to implement, once you hit the next slide there, you’re going to come in and you’re going to come upon bottlenecks. And this is, this is a normal part of a process.

Kenneth Vogt (00:25:52):
There’s going to be things that you’re doing various steps. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t hard to get this together. And it, wasn’t hard to get somebody to do that. And all of a sudden you get to this and it’s a problem every time it’s for whatever reason, it takes a long time or it’s expensive or requires all these people, or it needs approval, or, you know, whatever other measure that you’ve got there, it’s hard to meet that measure. Those are the areas that, that we’ll call bottlenecks. And when, when it comes to a bottleneck, that is where you need to put your focus. You might be looking at man. I was so concerned about being efficient about other things, other parts of this that didn’t give enough attention to this. And that’s what everything has got to build around. You gotta, you gotta make bottlenecks your premadonnas. They get all the attention. If this is, if this is the part of the process or things bogged down every time, this is the part of the process you want to build everything toward. Is there anything I can do to steps before this, to make this part of the process easier? Is there anything I can do to be better prepared for this part of the process? Is there anything I can do to make it faster, to make it less expensive, to requirement, less resources, whatever, focus on your bottlenecks and, and, and engineer everything around that make sure that that’s where you put all of your energy and it’d be worthwhile because at the end of the day, you’re going to see other parts where you feel like, you know, this part’s easy and it seems like we’re wasting time there. You know, it seems like, like it’s this parts to ha you know, it happens to leisurely. And then this other part is this mad struggle, well focused on the part. That’s the mad struggle. And don’t worry so much about that, those other parts.

Kenneth Vogt (00:27:45):
So if we go to the next slide, this opens up another thing that a question I may pop into your mind am I, am I allowed to not focus on that part? That seems all leisurely. Yes. If your focus is on the whole, if you’re focused on the whole, and then you see the whole process, you know, that, you know, we all heard the phrase of, they can’t see the forest for the trees. Stop looking at individual trees for a moment, at least, and look at the whole forest, make sure you see the whole thing. See the whole process. Just the whole process makes sense, because if you put all your attention into how to make step number three, super optimized, you may realize I put all this energy and effort into that. And it really didn’t affect the whole that much. Cause it wasn’t all that important. So, you know, make sure you take that moment to step back and observe the whole. Now, as you’re, as you do that, you’re going to see different phases of your process. Look different. Some of them look frenetic and some of them look very leisurely. Some of them look demanding and some of them look like they aren’t that important. And some look simple and somewhat complex, but this way you get to see it. Now, when you see something that’s simple or leisurely, or it doesn’t seem to take much, you might look down on that and you might think, wow, there’s something wrong here.

Kenneth Vogt (00:29:18):
We hit the next slide. You might see that part of the, of the process and think that I’m losing efficiency there. It’s not, it’s it there’s too much idleness going on at this, at this simple step. But you know what? You get to have moments of idleness. In fact, you should, you should have moments of idleness and you need to make use of them. And, Nick you were alluding to this earlier. You need to have kind of time. You need to have time in the midst of, of doing things where you’re not running with your hair on fire, because that’s when you’re going to see things. That’s when you’re, when you’re going to get new ideas. That’s when you’re going to have an opportunity to, to, to to act on your hunches and use your intuition and, and, and even notice your intuition is that when, when you’re super busy and, or you’re super engaged, sometimes it’s hard to see that stuff. And, and so we want you to make use of that, that idle time and not look at it. Like it’s a flaw because it’s not a flaw. Any process should have some slow spots and should have some, some openness in it. And, and that, and if you’ve got no openness and no slow time, you need to look at your process. Again, it’s not optimized. What what’s happening there is you’ve made it efficient. Well, you’ve made it efficient at a great cost. You will find out when you start looking at it through the terms of optimization, when you start looking at other measures, you’ll realize all I did was make this fast and that’s, that’s not going to be a good thing. I think that

Nick Oswald (00:30:58):
This is a good point, is that you know, I’ve wrote a question down here to myself, what is the most efficient way to do science? And I don’t just mean time-wise or what is the optimal way to do science? Let’s see it in the, in the language you’re using here. And again, it’s, you know, you need to let it Ebb and flow. You need to treat your brain as like an athlete with their muscles. I feel like, you know, they’re, you know, if they’re a sprinter whatever, you need lots more than your leg muscles to sprint, but, you know, I mean, you would never work them hard all the time. You have to or to come in and out so that you, you don’t just get your, you don’t just burn yourself out. You also need to sharp, you know, do the old sharpen, the saw thing where you, you start, you, you don’t just go headlong doing experiment after experiment, or, you know, be busy all the time. You step back and look at how you’re doing. The experiments are, look at what, you know, maybe you need to go and do a course on, on microscopy and learn how you use the, use the microscope better, and that’ll get you more efficient or, you know, there’s all sorts of different angles. But I, I do think that again, at least in my experience, the prevailing windows get in the lab, spend longer hours in the lab by, you know, bashing away. But again, you find yourself sometimes doing the you know, the same thing over and over again. You know, this experiment didn’t work out. Let’s try it again. Keep going, keep going, keep going and try it again and again, but you’re getting nowhere. If you step back and figured out where it’s going wrong or figured out if there’s a different way or figured out whether you need more training or, you know, just to put some specifics on it, then, you know, that’s a way to optimize rather than trying to be, just be more time efficient to allow you to jam more experiments into the day,

Kenneth Vogt (00:32:57):
Right. And process to have that time And do that kind of assessment.

Nick Oswald (00:33:02):
Exactly. It’s really underrated. I, I think I wrote a bite-size article about it many years ago, but about just sit down and just be, don’t feel try not to feel pressured by the whole unit results thing. You sit down and just allow yourself time to, to not do anything in particular, because sometimes that is when your, your best ideas come, but allow yourself, ask yourself questions, like as well, like is there a better way to do that? Can I research a better technique? Can I get some training, you know, do I need a rest or, you know, stuff like that, treat yourself with respect to your brain with respect treat your your drive with respect. Don’t, don’t burn all on a mad rush to get a mythical number of you know, a set of results that, you know, might not be obtainable by the sheer brute force approach that you’re maybe employing if you’re like me, or like, I was, we used to have a thing we used to have or I used to do in the lab I was so proud that I would have the idea that, you know, this is in the early two thousands when multi tasking was the thing. And yeah, an episode on that too. And there is. Yeah. And I, you know, you get often protocols, protocols of like shock centrifugation stats. You load your tubes up in the centrifuge, turn it on, wait two minutes or something like that. So I used to have a stack of papers, scientific papers that I would read while the centrifuge was on. I thought this was a great use of time. It’s not because the switching cost is so high of switching from focusing on an experiment to focus on the paper, to switching, to focusing back again on the experiment and you’d leave yourself no gaps to just realize what you’re doing, or, you know, think about other, you know, just let ideas drift in or whatever. That’s just, it was the worst idea ever. But lots of us in the lab I was in were quite quite enamored by the idea of, of, you know, just forcing more more doing and to each each hour that a lot of us got caught up in that thing. Wasn’t fun. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt (00:35:28):
You put yourself in the centrifuge,

Nick Oswald (00:35:31):
Well, yeah, exactly. That’s what it felt like after a while.

Kenneth Vogt (00:35:36):
All right. So let’s move to the next slide and we’ll take another, another approach at this. Also we’ve talked about idleness, but you know, things do have to happen. And so there is a certain amount of throughput that has to happen. Step-By-Step so, you know, obviously you got to put your attention there and get a think of it in terms of flow. How do I keep this moving? And that was a perfect example. That centrifuge time would be the perfect idle moment to consider your throughput, how do I make this? How do I make things flow a little better in this process? And, you know, you might be doing things that are literally growing that’s, that’s a peculiar and wonderful part of life science that, that a lot of other people in stem don’t get to touch. You know, there’s no, there’s nothing is growing in, in software engineering other than data, but you know what I mean, you’re growing plants, you’re growing cultures. You’re, you’re, you’re doing things with something that’s alive and it’s got its it’s got its own, it’s got its own thing going on. And, and so if you can, if you can dovetail with that and you can see parts of your process that are, are using that natural energy and, and you can engage it, then that’s just an amazing thing. I mean, I’m, I’m jealous of what y’all get to do. And, and it’s, it’s, it’s amazing to watch the miracle of it. It’s the same time too. I mean, I go back to just high school science class and watching cells multiply under a microscope and that just blew my mind. And, and you do that, you know, times a thousand every day. So, you know, make sure you’re paying attention to that. It’s all part of, it’s all part of what you’re doing. And part of it is, is the, the living thing that you’re creating when I to push the analogy a bit, you know, you’re building something here that, that is taking on a certain kind of energy because you’re putting energy into it and something is going to come out the other side. So, you know, if you, if you, if you make good use of that power, then you will find you will get more efficient.

Nick Oswald (00:37:55):
It’s interesting. It’s interesting. It comes back to similar. No, everything comes back to us, kind of similar fundamentalism, a big part of what you’re talking about. There is just appreciating what you’re doing and that’s slowing down slightly. No, you don’t slow down 1% just enough to let you let some air in so that you can not let some light. And so you can, you can appreciate what you’re doing.

Kenneth Vogt (00:38:21):
That was, that was a very important point here. I’m not telling you to just shut down everything. This idea of you could slow down 1%. It can make all the difference.

Nick Oswald (00:38:31):
It’s a good psychology, psychological trick in a way I do that when I’m running, as I I’m feeling like I’m getting tired, right? I’ll slow down 1% and you didn’t really slow down. And you just felt, you just gave yourself the space to, you know, it’s almost a mind that slows down rather than anything else. You don’t lose anything really by doing a 1%. That’s a good little exercise.

Kenneth Vogt (00:38:57):
No, and of course all this, it’s just like what you’re talking about there, you you’re comparing it to another part of life. Once you’ve learned something, you figured out a pattern that, that works. You can apply it anywhere, anywhere in your life. And, and by the way, things you’ve learned in other parts of your life by all means, bring them into your career, bring them into your work in the lab. And you know, that’s where I have also talked about if we see things in other industries and other areas of knowledge, bring them in. If you can, if there’s, if you find that something’s applicable across the board or at least can cross over into your area, use it. You know, th there’s a bunch of great ideas that have already not only been thought of, but have been implemented in the world. Well, why should we have to reinvent the wheel all the time? We don’t, we can bring them to bare now. So if we go to the next slide, the whole point of all of this has been an optimized. Scientist is a happy scientist. The point of getting optimized is it’s going to make you happier as a scientist. You’re going to be better at your job when you’re happier, you’re going to have a more fulfilling career. The rest of your life is going to be is going to go better. Everything will flow better. It’s this? See what this is becoming optimized is an optimizing step. You, you, you get optimized by optimizing. So it’s, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. So get yourself engaged in it. Ah, yes. Another, another woman on our screen, who’s in science and engaged and happy, and we want, we, we want to see, we want to see all the women in science, happy. We want to see all the men in science, happy. Let’s all be happy with what we’re doing here. It’s, it’s a wonderful field and there’s a lot of opportunity and you can have a great life thanks to science. So that about wraps it up for me, Nick, unless you want to add something.

Nick Oswald (00:40:59):
Yeah. So, well, first of all, now’s the time to put your questions in. If you have any comments on this I just jotted down this wheel thing of what does optimize science look like, or what does an optimized scientist look like? And you know, the, the, the points on the wheel are if you’re getting things, you know, are you getting things done? Are you resting? Are you contemplating, you know, giving yourself time to contemplate? Are you giving yourself time to train? Are you giving yourself time to read? Are you getting yourself? Are you managing to get published? And so too often, we focus on the getting things done and publishing via getting things done. And it’s only one part of the, you know, so you’ve told one you’re off to one side of that wheel, if you like, and you’re not attending to the rest. And that sort of map might be a good way to help yourself get back to center. I think we’ll put it in a, in a, in a graphic might be a way for you to help you to get yourself back to center. Am I giving myself enough rest? No. Okay, well, that’s that I I’m off too far off to one side of the one side. So I need to sacrifice some, getting things done time for a bit of rest. Am I doing enough reading? No, I need to sacrifice. Or if you’re doing, maybe you’re resting too much and you’re not doing getting, you know, getting things done time, you getting paid enough, getting things done time that will make you happy that because you won’t get the result you want, but I can see that being a kind of kind of like just like a map that you could use to to figure out where you are and, and what you need to be doing more of. It’s not exhaustive, but obviously, yeah.

Kenneth Vogt (00:42:46):
And if you need some inspiration for that, I can definitely recommend that book. I mentioned earlier, The Goal, it’s it it’ll give you some ideas. You see somebody who had to actually do this in a real working environment, and yet had a life going on at the same time. And he did make some trade-offs like that. He, he had to make some choices and, and he was surprised that some of the places where the choices showed up. So again, you know, check it out yourself. It’s a good, it’s a good little S side read for somebody it’s not a hard read. It’s, it’ll also satisfy a certain amount of desire for some light reading. Cause it’s, cause it’s you know, in a novel kind of form. So, you know, it’s a lot easier than reading some of the papers you guys have to read.

Nick Oswald (00:43:36):
Yeah. I think what we’ll do is we’ll put that that, that one in the show notes for this episode, which you can find along with all the other episodes at bitesize.com/thehappyscientist, we were trying to figure out what episode number that says, but you can find, you can find it you know, look for the title of efficiency versus optimization and it’s in there. So I have a couple of questions to put to you here, so, okay. So busyness, busyness is expected in my lab. How do I overcome that?

Kenneth Vogt (00:44:20):
Well, so here’s the thing, are they, is it busy-ness for the sake of just looking good, looking like you’re active or do people actually care whether or not you’re doing something worthwhile? If, if people, if people are just looking for that kind of you know, Lord of the flies, social pressure kind of thing, I, I would actually argue that don’t give into that. The, you, you, you want to do things that, that are worthwhile and that matter. Now there are times you should be busy when there’s, there are important things to get done and you want to stay active and that’s fine, but focus, focus more on, are you working toward your optimized goals? And if it’s not serving your optimized goal, don’t waste your time on it. Don’t waste your energy on it. And if somebody’s, somebody’s were to about to challenge you on that point, that out like, look where I’m at a stage right now, where I’ve got a, I’ve got a moment that I can focus you know, on, on the bigger picture and I’m doing it. And yeah, so it doesn’t look as active, but in other moments, when you’re being active, go ahead and broadcast that you’re being active.

Nick Oswald (00:45:38):
It’s amazing. Some of the cultures you come across and not just in science, but in all sorts of jobs and things in what people think what people think will get them, the results they want. And I came across one was, don’t read anything, you know, you’re in my lab, don’t read anything unless it’s a scientific paper like that make that let limit, don’t read books, don’t read don’t waste time, reading books, don’t waste time reading the news. Don’t waste time on anything except scientific papers. And even as a, even as a kind of, well, not much more than a teenager at that point, that struck me as well. That’s just going to create a very one dimensional mind in a way that, you know, if you, you know, just switching off and reading something else, scifi or watching some nonsense will on TV or whatever, sometimes that just allows you the space to, to think about. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt (00:46:41):
And you’re up against somebody who is efficient and not optimized, especially if they’re your boss. I mean, I realize you may have to have a little longer conversation with a person like that. And point out that look, I want to make sure I get to our end goal. And I know myself, and I know that if I just go a mile a minute without a break, I won’t get it done. I will crack. This is how I keep myself able to keep producing, you know? And, and if you get to the point where you just can’t get that message across to somebody, you may need to find another boss. Okay.

Nick Oswald (00:47:15):
Hmm. Okay. Well, what about if the problem is yourself? So we have a question in here as a woman with an engineering degree who now works in science, it took me a while to set boundaries because I could work through lunch and stay a little late to cross more things off my to-do list. I started to burn out, I get your point about using idle time to contemplate the big picture, but it’s really hard to resist the desire to squeeze a few more things into each day. Any suggestions?

Kenneth Vogt (00:47:44):
Yes. Well, first off, I want to applaud the fact that you were female with an engineering degree, power to you lady. And I, I, I, I think we really need more feminine energy in engineering. I really do. But that aside here’s, here’s one of the things I’m hearing from this, not everybody gets the same kind of juice from crossing something off a to-do list of some some other folks for some folks it’s the highest high there is to be able to cross something off a list. And so they’re constantly looking for that. The problem that will happen there is you get focused on things that you can cross off a list rather than things that are important. And at the end of the day, you just gotta take a breath and go, is this really important? Yes, I scratched off the list. Something, should I feel good about that? Or was it really not that valuable? Did it stand in the way of me getting something more important done? Did I, did I spend all of my time scratching things off the list and not do the thing that mattered the most to me? So one of the things you can start with on that is to, you know, every day, even, yeah, I’m not, I’m not against having lists. That’s, that’s, it’s a useful tool, but every day you look at that list and you look at it, what’s the thing on there I at least want to do. Okay. All right. I’m going to do that first and now maybe you can’t do it first. So one of the thing I at least want to do is go to that doctor’s appointment while it’s scheduled at two o’clock. You can’t go any earlier than that, but, you know, you make sure that nothing will get in the way of that in, and when that moment comes, it is absolutely the most important thing. You’ve got to assess things as to their importance and put them in that priority and stop giving yourself such a pat on the back for accomplishing something that wasn’t important. So now we have two kinds of two kinds of ways to look at things, a task. You know, we can look at it from the standpoint, is it important versus not important? And is it urgent versus not urgent? And we are almost always compelled to do the things that are urgent and not important. And, and that’s the quadrant. That’s, that’s the least valuable. The things that are, that are generating urgency and are not important, how dare they, why are we allowing that? Whereas what you want to be doing first in your life are the things that are important, but not urgent, cause there’s no driving urgency to make you do it. But the importance is the thing that matters. So, you know, first do the things that are important, but not urgent. Then do the things that are important and urgent, then do the things that are, are urgent, but not important if you must. And by golly, if you have things on your list that are not urgent and not important, why are they on your list? You’re just using it. So you can have the thrill of crossing something off your list, get those off your lists, they’re there. And they don’t count

Nick Oswald (00:50:48):
What was the first quadrant near the highest priority quadrant, whether it

Kenneth Vogt (00:50:53):
Would be important, but not urgent

Nick Oswald (00:50:55):
Important, but not urgent. Right? So say say that you only had, you know this person’s list only had important, but urgent and important, but not urgent things on the list. Right? And it, wasn’t a problem of doing, filling up the day with tasks with completing tasks, for the sake of completing tasks. And that instance, you know, the, the fact that she’s said that she was doing, you know, was tempted to do so much, that she was burning out, then, you know, that’s, you know, but

Kenneth Vogt (00:51:33):
There’s another way to have some downtime.

Nick Oswald (00:51:36):
Well, that’s the thing on your list. Yeah. The only thing the thing to realize is that you, you know, you’re burning, you know, it’s like going into your overdraft. There’s no, there’s no point because you will pay for it the next day. And so I guess you see you’re setting boundaries so that maybe you’re starting to realize that that yourself, but it’s that whole thing of, okay, I’m getting things done, but am I resting enough? No. All right. I need to move myself somewhat towards more rest and a better, less getting done that’s

Kenneth Vogt (00:52:06):
Otherwise, for instance, might be, I’m going to set 45 minutes for lunch. I’m not going to violate that. All I’m going to do is have lunch during that 45 minutes and you put it on your calendar. And so what you’re doing is you recognized this is important, but it’s not urgent because you don’t have, if you don’t take 45 minutes for lunch today, the world won’t end, but it’s important. So you do it and you, and you make sure that if you didn’t do it that way, if you, if you tried to multitask during your lunch and all that, you don’t get to cross that off your list. You didn’t do it. You did not take time for lunch. So it doesn’t count. So don’t give yourself the pat on the back that you accomplished it because you didn’t,

Nick Oswald (00:52:49):
It’s all about that kind of as well that you know, that drive is really important, but the drive can, can be your own worst enemy in a way, if it’s too, if it’s too intense or if it’s not it’s not fettered in any way, you know?

Kenneth Vogt (00:53:05):
Well, there’s another part about that too, is that you weren’t born that way. You develop that ability to have drive. And of course, you’ve got a lot, you gained a lot from that. It was valuable. It was useful, but understand that, that wasn’t the end. There’s still more growth available to you from here. Now learn how to use that drive in, in a controlled fashion and not have it control you.

Nick Oswald (00:53:28):
How can you optimize to get similar levels of output with more rest and recuperation time? For example, one kind of box. Yeah. Okay. here’s another question. So do you mean, and this means you Ken do you mean I need to get faster or better at doing experiments and that’s, that’s all. Okay. So I guess we’ve talked about that is not just the whole point of this is it’s not about just getting faster. I’ll let you answer

Kenneth Vogt (00:54:04):
Don’t Only be fast,

Nick Oswald (00:54:06):
Right. Or well, or better. So in one way to do it is, would be to get better at doing your experiments. So that’d be allowing yourself time for training optimization of protocols, for example you know, looking for other alternatives, looking for different tools you know, different commercially available tools are, or non-commercial available tools. So that you, yeah, again, that whole sharpen, the saw thing, who was, that was that Abraham Lincoln. If I had time to, I have to chop a tree, I’d spend half the time dropping down that sharpening the axe first or whatever, not concept. Okay. Two more questions, unless any more come in. I guess we’ve covered this in a way, but what about multitasking? Good or bad? I guess you can direct them to the episode.

Kenneth Vogt (00:54:55):
Yeah, we did a whole episode on multitasking. I would encourage you to listen to it. Cause it wasn’t just my opinion. We’re talking about a Stanford study, a really well done study and they just utterly slade, most tasking. It is bad every possible way you can measure it. Now I’m saying that right now without backing it up. Cause, cause I’d like you to go back and hear the backup to it. But trust me, multitasking is not the way and believe me, I had to be taught that I love to multitask and I I’ve felt so much better since I finally realized it wasn’t working.

Nick Oswald (00:55:38):
Yeah, me too. Actually, that was part of the early two thousands had a lot to answer for, with that asking great thing you did. Okay. one more,

Kenneth Vogt (00:55:47):
Th it came out of some of these questions. I realize for some of you folks out there, you’re already operating at, you know, 98%, 99%. You really, really good at what you do. So yeah, you’re probably not going to get massively better with the next, next little, little trick, the next little tip here, but that’s not the point. Now at the point at the high level you’re at now, the incremental gains are highly valuable because you’re already doing so much that a little bit more of you is really good for the world.

Nick Oswald (00:56:19):
I’m going to, I’m going to just cast a prediction out that for most people listening to this, the way to go as, as doing a, doing a bit less and recuperating and thinking around what they’re doing a bit more on proposal with training a bit more. But that would be my, my straw pool of myself and all the people that I know inside

Kenneth Vogt (00:56:45):
And make a case for that.

Nick Oswald (00:56:47):
Yeah. Okay. One more, which is quite nice. One to end on. What about enjoyment as a measurement?

Kenneth Vogt (00:56:56):
Yeah. I come to think about the the country of Tibet and they’re having a gross national happiness measure, which I just think is fantastic. And yes, absolutely enjoyment should matter. And, and I realize for some of you out there, that’s, that’s really hard. And some of you feel like you don’t deserve it. And some of you feel like it’s not important enough, you know, it’s, I, I have things to get done. There’s, there’s critical things going on in the world that I, that I have to address. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. You can, you can enjoy curing cancer. You can, you know, so, and by the way, if you can please do

Nick Oswald (00:57:39):
So how about people who think that if you enjoy something, it sort of, by definition means if you focusing on enjoying it by definition means you won’t get the job done.

Kenneth Vogt (00:57:53):
I would just point back to the evidence is like, can, can you, can you show me the data on that? Cause I think that’s balogne. I think,

Nick Oswald (00:58:00):
I think a lot of people think that intuitively is not the right word because it’s a, it’s a

Kenneth Vogt (00:58:05):
Received wisdom. It’s not accurate.

Nick Oswald (00:58:07):
Yeah. I mean, the thing is you can enjoy, you know you can enjoy pipetting and they, and a 96, well, tube plate rather you know, boring, if you look at it like that, but in one way, if you look at it as boring, it, another way you can just relax and enjoy, right. You know, anything you can like doing the dishes, whatever

Kenneth Vogt (00:58:28):
Isn’t about how you feel about it, it’s the story you’re telling about it. That’s true. You’re telling the story that it’s boring. You’re telling a story that you hate doing it. Stop telling the story. Just, just you’ll you’ll find that you’ll enjoy more of your life more that way.

Nick Oswald (00:58:43):
Yeah. And I think that whole slow down 1% or slightly more, if you feel that you can, and that helps cause you just stopped the kind of, I don’t know, I don’t know what that is, but it’s a, you know, that sort of driving part, almost like a panic feeling that you, that gets in when you feel like I don’t like doing this, you know, and if you take a step back and just slow down, then, well, you can certainly practice doing that. I think it takes some practice to get there.

Kenneth Vogt (00:59:13):
Yeah. And we’re not saying that you shouldn’t, there shouldn’t be some pressure in your world. There should be. You’re you’re, you know, you’re expected to get things accomplished, but whether or not you’re stressed about that pressure, that’s a different thing. That’s something you have a choice about. Don’t, don’t give in to stress, you know, recognize pressure when it’s there. If it’s too much pressure, do something about it, but if it’s not, then, you know, realize that you get real satisfaction from working hard and from him from doing hard things. It’s a, it’s a great value.

Nick Oswald (00:59:48):
Yep. Fantastic. This is a very interesting, interesting angle on things. So thank you again, Ken, for another great episode there. I think I’ll take that a lot for people to chew on. Again, you can find this episode, the show notes and all the other episodes bitesizebio.com/thehappyscientist all one word. And in there, again, you probably, if you’ve listened to us before we always talk about this watch episodes one to nine there’s some, it might have to listen to them a couple of times because they’re quite heavy, but the they’re really give you some foundational principles that I think will, I would highly recommend to you if whatever stage of your career you’re at.

Kenneth Vogt (01:00:34):
I wouldn’t describe them as heavy. I would describe them as Meaty.

Nick Oswald (01:00:37):
Okay. You always say that to me,

Kenneth Vogt (01:00:40):
They are ripe with value.

Nick Oswald (01:00:43):
They are right with value and they’re worth they’re worth really digging into. And then you can also find us at facebook.com/thehappyscientistclub, all one word, and there you can drop us a line drop your questions or whatever you want to do, invite your friends, invite your neighbors, all that sort of stuff. That just leaves me again to say thanks to you. Can I thanks for everyone for joining us and we’ll see you in the next episode, which is next week.

 

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