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Episode 55 — How to Do Labwork with Minimum Stress

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#55 — Is your lab a pressure cooker? You’re not a pot roast, so such an environment is not for you. But can you do anything about it? Fortunately, yes! This episode will unpack the many tools at your disposal to make your workday and your career far more serene and productive.

Also check:

Episode 11 — The Art of Going Slow

Episode 12 — Managing Your Energy

Episode 20 — The Multitasking Myth

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/Outro (00:08):
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 Bitesizebio.com/happyscientist. Your hosts are Kenneth Vogt, founder of the executive coaching firm, Vera Claritas, and Dr. Nick Oswald, PhD bioscientist and founder Bitesize Bio.

Nick Oswald (00:39):
Hello and welcome to The Happy Scientist podcast from Bitesize Bio. If you want to become a happier, healthier, and more productive scientist, you are in the right place. I’m Nick Oswald. And with me is the Mr. Miyagi of Bitesize Bio, Mr. Kenneth Vogt. In these sessions, we’ll hear from Ken mostly on principles that will help shape you for a happier and a more successful career. And along the way, I’ll pitch in with points from my personal experience as a scientist, and working with Ken today, we will be discussing how to do lab work with minimum stress. And I think everyone would want that. So let’s hear about it, Ken.

Kenneth Vogt (01:16):
All right. So we live in a world that is full of stress and Western society, especially is just, is just enamored with stress and American society may be the worst example of it. And I, I know that because I’ve lived in a couple different countries and I found out that not everybody lives like that. Not everybody thinks stress is required to be successful. Now one could argue that the, the Western philosophy and even the American philosophy has been tremendously productive and as tended to succeed. And you might think, well, is it because of the stress? And I will say that it is in spite of the stress and it is not required. And it is, it’s not that it’s not just required for success. It’s, it’s not a automatic component that has to be present that you can’t do anything about. You can definitely do something about stress and in the lab specifically, there are some things that, that trigger stress, but you can control those triggers and you can be mindful about what it is that caused stress to kick off in the first place.

Kenneth Vogt (02:45):
And so we’re gonna, we’re gonna take apart some of those things, we’re gonna talk a bit about, about how you look at stress and how that impacts, how you experience it. And then we’re gonna talk about how to fix that. So at the beginning, you know, what are the causes? What, what is it that is making your job and your career stressful? Well, I’d say at the top of the list is something that is quite desirable and it is your objectives. Well, your objectives are demanding. They are, in some cases having to be invented anew, they’re your, your objective is to do something that’s never been done before. Well, what a surprise, that’s stressful. On the other hand it, it doesn’t have to be there are other ways to approach it, but, but for the moment, let me at least give that to you.

Kenneth Vogt (03:45):
That, you know, what you signed up for a hard job, you chose a difficult industry, you chose a demanding field. So those are some of the reasons why you may find some stress. Now, the, the next thing that, that, that, that might lead to is well, is expectations. The expectations that come with these choices and these, these extraordinary objectives that you’ve taken on can be quite high. And in some cases the urgency to come up with solutions creates, creates stress, cause you know, I mean it literally can be life or death in, in your business. So you deal, you, you are dealing with living things and in some cases, those living things are human beings. So, you know, the expectations on you can, can be high.

Kenneth Vogt (04:46):
Another factor that comes into into play, is time. Sometimes the need for solutions is, is very urgent and, and you need it now. And the heat is on for you to get things done quickly. And you know, that time might be because the time pressure might be because of, of urgent problems to be solved, but the urgency of problems can, can happen for all kinds of reasons. It might be that you have to get it done within a certain budget. So, you know, money and other resources are impacting how much time you have, cause you’re gonna run out of those things in a certain amount of time. Sometimes it’s the cost of whatever the problem is, is so high that there just has to be a solution now there may be maybe impacts on many things. So it, it becomes it, the time pressure is there because if you would just solve this, it’ll solve 10 problems.

Kenneth Vogt (05:54):
So again, all of that can create, can create stress. Now, then there’s the structure of how it’s all put together. You might find yourself where like, you know what, I can handle the objectives. And I signed up for the expectations with eyes open and I’m very clear on how much time is available, how much, how many, how much resources available and money, the stress I’m being caused is by the management that I’m dealing with. And whether that’s, you know, your, your PI, your lab manager, or, you know, executive management of, of, of a company or of higher ups in the university, you know, what I’m being stressed out by is the management structure, the weight of that on me. And finally, another thing that could cause stress could be your colleagues. It’s like, you know, I’d be doing just fine. If these people next to me, weren’t all wired.

Kenneth Vogt (06:47):
You know, if they weren’t all running around to their hair on fire, if they weren’t pressuring me for their own purposes, for things that I think aren’t that important, you know? So that’s why I’m stressed. I’d be fine if it wasn’t for the people I work with so when you look at all those things and you think, well, how could I not be stressed in the lab? Look at all of that stuff. But a lot of it will come down to how you choose to how you choose to see these things. So I wanna talk about the difference between stress and pressure, stress and pressure are not the same things. They sometimes people look at those words as synonyms, but they’re not exactly. And, and I’ll, and I’m gonna use some definitions to, to clarify that. So I’m not saying the word itself is important one way or the other.

Kenneth Vogt (07:45):
You might use the word pressure when you mean what I mean by stress, or I might use the word stress when, when it means something that sounds like pressure to you, but let’s, let’s break down the two concepts. So pressure is something that’s exerted externally. So, you know, you can be, you can get pressure from your boss. You can get pressure from, you know, a grant committee. You can, you know, you can get pressure from the people working around you or, or the experiment that’s in front of you. That’s different than stress. Stress is something that’s developed internally. And the reason, you know, that’s true is because in the same setting where there’s the same pressure on one, two people, one person can act stressed and another person is not stressed at all. What’s the difference. The difference is how they’re choosing to see it.

Kenneth Vogt (08:52):
Now that might come down to in cases, it’s someone who’s more experienced and they know that, okay, in this situation with this, this kind of pressure, the sky doesn’t fall, it’s all gonna work out. It’s fine. Whereas somebody who’s less experienced might be all, all shook up and, and deeply concerned that things are gonna go really bad and they’re stressed. So, you know, you might look at this and say, well, one of the solutions to stress is to get experience that is to learn how to deal with these things, you know, in any particular setting. So if you find that, you know, I could deal with a lot of things, but mainly I hate it when, when budget review time comes around, cause you know, that money, stress is really that that really bothers me, but it bothers you. Other people who manage that part of it well.

Kenneth Vogt (09:46):
That that part doesn’t stress them. They might actually be more stressed in the lab than they are when they are. When they’re, when they’re dealing with spreadsheets on, on the finances so it, it comes down to what you will accept internally and what you will then label as stress. And a lot of it does come down to how you choose to label it. Something, you know, arose by any other name is still arose kind of thing. If you’re calling everything arose by golly, it’s gonna be arose. So it, it is up to you to decide. You may not be able to do anything about certain external pressures they’re gonna happen. Now. That’s not to say you can’t stop some external pressures. You probably can’t. But, but when there’s a, some external pressure that you can’t do anything about it, it behooves you to figure out, okay, I gotta figure out how to make this not be an internally stressful experience.

Kenneth Vogt (10:51):
And, and you can recognize that stress, stress, it can be a negative force and is often experienced that way, but it doesn’t have to be stress, stress can be a positive force. It can motivate you. You can realize that, you know what? I don’t like feeling like this. I’m gonna get this experiment done. I’m gonna get this paper complete. I’m gonna do whatever it is. That’s stressing me. I’m gonna get this removed from, from, from my experience so that I, I feel different about it. That’s I wanna make a, a bold statement here. That pressure is always a positive force, always. Whereas stress is not guaranteed to be so, but see, but pressure pressure is just it’s, it’s an accelerant. It’s a motivator. It’s it’s when it’s when the power gets turned on, you know, if there’s no pressure nothing’s gonna happen, you know, if, if it doesn’t matter, whether you do your experiment or not, if it doesn’t matter whether you start the project or not, if it doesn’t matter, whether you finish the project or not, nothing happens pressure for something there to happen.

Kenneth Vogt (12:04):
There is a good thing and it will get you places. Now, if you immediately take pressure and say, and translate that into, and therefore I must be stressed. Well, you’re really making it hard on yourself and you don’t and you, you can choose to do otherwise. Yeah. I remember when I was, when I was young, you know, being young man first started a job. Now my, my father had always been a very stressed person and I’d been, you know, I’d watched this all my life. And my observation was that that’s what it was, was to be a man. A man was somebody who was stressed. And so I got a job and, you know, certain demands were made and I started to, you know, I have a little bit of problem with my stomach and I, and I, and I actually liked it like, ah, I’m being, I’m being stressed.

Kenneth Vogt (13:02):
And, and that means I’m a man. And I mean, that was a very detrimental way to think. I mean, I could have ended up with an ulcer, you know, I coulda, I coulda had a lot of problems, but at some point I, I just like, wait a minute, this is not required. I like my job. I don’t have to hate what I’m doing. I like it. I don’t have to be stressed by this. And yeah, there’s deadlines and, and there’s things that have to be created that didn’t exist before. But that’s fun. That’s interesting. I can come up with, with creative solutions. I, you know, and I really like that. So, so it, it really behooves you to take a close look, are you experiencing stress or are you experiencing pressure? And if you’re experiencing pressure, you know, it’s good. And if you’re experiencing stress, you still give a, a choice to make, is the stress beneficial or is it detrimental? And if it’s detrimental, find a way out if it’s, and if, but if it’s beneficial, all right, then use it. You know, it’s, it’s a powerful weapon.

Kenneth Vogt (14:10):
So what are you, if you find yourself in a position where you’re stressed and, and it’s bad now, what, what are you gonna do about it? Well, there’s a, there’s some, some things that you can do, and I’m gonna give you the short, the short answers right now, but I’m gonna point you to the longer answers too. So you can delve deeper. If, if something speaks to you here, one of the things that, that that Nick, especially his spouse early on in, in the podcast, was that you ought find a way to go slow. That is slow things down. You sometimes the stress is happening to you just because of the timeframe, just because there’s this, this screaming urgency that’s just in your face. And if you can slow down and be a little more contemplative and take a little, a little longer, look at things, you may find that stress will just evaporate.

Kenneth Vogt (15:13):
And we talked about that at length in Episode 11, which was entitled ‘The Art of Going Slow’. And we’ll put a link to that in there in the show notes here, something you can look at, if you wanna look at that more closely, but it just for, you know, the short principle is you can decide the pace that things happen at. So start using your agency. When, when you have some control over those things, you can go slower. And that may be enough to, to de-stress the entire situation. Another thing you can do is manage your energy. If you’re finding yourself, wore out where everything is being taken from you, that’s very stressful. But if you control your energy better, that is you don’t push yourself past your limits. You take appropriate breaks. You, you engage in divergent activities at times just to give your, your mind rest.

Kenneth Vogt (16:16):
You’ll find that a lot of, lot of stressful situations just go away. And again, if you wanna look more deeply into that, we did a whole episode on managing your stress. There was Episode 12, I’m sorry, ‘Managing Your Energy’. Not managing your stress. We’re talking about that now. But you, you can manage your energy and you can be very, very effective at it. It’s not, you might think that that’s, I don’t have a choice there, but you, you definitely do. And it, and a lot of these things coming out have just, just exercise it. When you tell yourself I can’t do X, well, you’re not likely to do it, but if you give yourself a chance, say, you know what? I could try to do X, at least, you know, I’m not, and I’m not saying trying is all that valuable, cause it’s not, but, but it’s a first step.

Kenneth Vogt (17:07):
You know, you could do better than try. You can actually do it. You know, you can, you can recognize that there are moments when I’m like, all right, this is, you know, I’ve, I’ve got myself stoked up. I got a proper amount of sleep. I’m not over caffeinated. I don’t have too many things on my plate. I have the one task in front of me. I’m not trying to multi-task 12 things at once. I’m gonna do better you’ll and you will do better. And, and you’ll, you’ll find it’s a lot less stressful. Another thing you can look for are what I’ll call social solutions that is, can you get some help? Can you ask for additional resources? Can, can your colleagues pitch in, can your boss give you some mentoring? There, there are lots of ways you can go to other people and relieve your stress.

Kenneth Vogt (18:00):
And you know, sometimes relieving your stress is having a beer after work with a colleague and just like, Ugh, man, what a day? You know, and that’s all you needed. You just needed to vent a little or whether, and maybe that’s something you do when you go home and you’re significant other and just discuss your day. It’s, it’s valuable. Sometimes you can be distressed by helping other people because you start to realize, you know, my little problems are not all that big. And whether that’s helping, helping a child with their homework, which hopefully you’re more than qualified to do. But you know, it could be other things maybe, maybe you choose to volunteer your time to do certain things, and you can find yourself regenerated by that. And you can find a lot of stress relief by that. And then the, the one, the one final thing I wanna comment on is stop multitasking.

Kenneth Vogt (19:00):
Multitasking is costing you so much stress. And again, we did a whole episode on this too. ‘The Multitasking Myth’ was Episode 20, where we discussed a a Stanford University study on multitasking. That just absolutely slayed multitasking left, right. And center in every way you could look at it. And I know some folks are thinking I have to multitask. It’s the only way that it’ll work. Well, I’m here to tell you, not only is it not the only way that it will work, it’s not working very well. You can do better. You can do better. It’s not just other people can do better. People in general can do better. You personally can do better if you stop this addiction to multitasking. So, all right, well, I’ll climb off my saltbox about that now. And so is there anything that you’d like to add at this time, Nick?

Nick Oswald (19:56):
I think that well, aside from mul the, the multitasking thing, which is really important, you know, and, and an obvious way to change the behavior, the, the way, the way for me is if you just keep trying to slow down then that, that just pulls you away from generating stress on yourself. It pulls you into quadrant two as well. From the previous podcast as well. And it just stops you. I mean, I, I think, you know for a lot of people in science, you know, you have this kind of, I don’t know what it’s called, is it high achiever syndrome or something like that, overachiever or something like that, where you just expect too much of yourself, you expect to be able to handle, you know, multiple multitasking going on. You expect people to finish things quicker than they can be done.

Nick Oswald (20:52):
And so on. And the amount of friction that generates is huge. This is me. This is, you know, again, me looking at my experience in the lab and of other people in the lab. And I, I would just say that those two things that, that go slow, slow, and the stop multitasking thing are just really powerful ways to look at at how you’re working and, and to adjust, to reduce the stress, and then especially look at it with Accordant the accordance thing that you talked about in the last episode, if you haven’t listened to that episode, go back one and listen to that. And you can look at ways to reduce what you’re, you know, the reduce the actual amount of work you’re doing, or, you know and by taking away things that are not needed. And then I think you’re on the way to to be more productive and less stressed which can go hand in hand.

Kenneth Vogt (21:49):
Sure. And, and one thing too, we were talking about here, you may not have to change anything at all, other than the way you’re talking to yourself about it. Are you telling yourself that things are stressful or are they just pressured? You know, is it, is it coming externally or is it coming internally? You may not be able to do a lot about the external stuff, but you can do a great deal about the internal stuff and take charge of that. Take responsibility for it. Take ownership of how you think you don’t have to do it because that’s how your professors did it. That’s how your parents did it. That’s how your friends did it doesn’t matter. You can take a different road it’s up to you.

Nick Oswald (22:37):
Well said. I think that’s a, a very good way to look at things, Ken. So if you want to look at those episodes that that Ken suggested that would, that would go alongside this one Episode 11, ‘The Art of Going Slow’ Episode 12, ‘Managing Your Energy’ and Episode 20, ‘The Multitasking Myth’. You can find them at Bitesizebio.com/thehappyscientist. And just jump to the the episode number. Or if you look at this episode, which is Episode 55, you will find links to those in the show notes on that page. So, yeah, that just leaves me to say thank you again, Ken, for another great episode, I we’re really getting into some very practical discussions. I think about how people can, can action you know, take action to, to make their lives better, make themselves happier in the lab and make themselves better scientists at the same time. So I think this is proving pretty useful. So thank you again, Ken, and we will see you all next time.

Kenneth Vogt (23:49):
Okay. Bye.

Intro/Outro (23:56):
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