Saturday, April 12, 2008

Multi-tasking Madness

"I hate running PCRs to type mice, because I could have been doing X experiment instead."

No I could not have done X experiment instead. I have two hands and one head and unless I can master the usage of my toes, its one thing at a time. The typing of mice (or testing of serum for tissue culture, restocking of boxes, running of FACS samples) is as essential as anything else, despite being boring as hell. This feeling of "I could have been doing something else, obviously more useful or constructive" is a fallacy, and a stressful one at that.

I feel such a strong impulse to multi-task all the time, but often its the multi-tasking that slows me down. I am naturally a quick mover and I tend to dart around doing things, keeping myself busy. This tendency goes to the extreme in lab, where I don't feel occupied unless I have three threads running. And guess what? I make mistakes and have to repeat things, which adds to my not-inconsiderable work load (I have a particular PCR jinx).

There is this drive today to get things done, faster and better, now instead of soon. Lab work is easier and research is more competitive, so it's easy to see how this has come about. Is it constructive though? If something takes a certain amount of time to do, what is the point of rushing it or wishing it along faster? Or, inserting other tasks into the gaps? One does get more done eventually, but at more cost to oneself. And is that really efficient in the end?

I have discovered that I do not like operating at full stretch all the time. Sometimes I really enjoy it, I am in the zone and buzzing. But the rest of the time, I think my research would be better served by my working with more discipline. Unfortunately, when one can work in the zone, one starts to expect it of oneself always, and that is just not realistic. So I am going to run PCRs and DNA gels, and only those, this Saturday and look out of my window at the sunny trees.

(I might reshuffle my papers, read a few, trackback a few references, no matter.)
(And yes, its Saturday, I know)


EcoGeoFemme said...

I agree. When I'm working full time in the lab, I really can't work any extra hours on anything. I get tired and then switch labels or spill things. Being "really efficient" doesn't get you anywhere if you have to do things over again.

Veo Claramente said...

Exactly, its like you're chasing your tail, or more like you're trying to find it, such a waste of time.

Mad Hatter said...

I totally know what you mean. Sometimes the multi-tasking works and I'm hugely productive, and sometimes everything crashes and burns. And doesn't it seem like no matter how you plan your experiments so that each one can be worked on during a gap in another protocol, it always ends up with all four channels of your timer going off at the same time?

I also sympathize about the mouse genotyping. I do tons and tons of it too. At least some of mine can be done by FACS. Why can't someone invent a system where wild-type mice are always black, knock-outs are always white, and hets are grey?