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4 Ways for Researchers to Maximize Their Time in the Lab

Use these four tips about planning ahead and scheduling your day to get more work done in lab.

Researcher with a pipette in a research lab

Have you ever spent so much time in your research lab that it feels like you live there?

If you have, you’re probably not the only one. Researchers have a habit of working long hours as they juggle a variety responsibilities and to-do lists.

But what if you were able to reduce the amount of time you spend in the lab while also increasing your productivity? With some planning and intentionality, you may be able to do so. Here are 4 tips to help you make the most of your time when you’re in the lab.

4 Tips to Get More Done Each Day in the Lab

1. Schedule efficiently

Experiments. Schedule your experiments as far in advance as possible. In order to do this, you will likely want to break your project down into what needs to get done tomorrow and this week. A lot of people prefer to keep track of experiment schedules on a whiteboard or in a planner, but remember that you can also use google docs or sync your calendar to your phone.

Machines. Mapping out your experiments will help inform you about the machines you will need to book time with, as well as how many times you will need to use each machine. It is also a good idea to build in extra time with the machine in advance in case one of your experiments doesn’t go as planned. For instance, if you know that you will need to be on the confocal microscope at least 4 times in a month to complete your experiments, you should probably schedule yourself to use the machine 5 times.

As you book time with each machine, it is important to consider the etiquette in your lab. Do your labmates appreciate when everyone schedules far in advance? Make sure that you use the system that is in place when you schedule, and this can help improve communication with your labmates.

Daily planning. Take some time at the end of each day to think about what you need to accomplish the following day. If you do this, you can plan to interlace several experiments in one day which can help you make the most of your time. Use your lab timer which has 4 different settings if you do this. Use time at the end of the day to also prepare buffers and reagents and prep for the next day’s experiments. Having these items ready can give you a more productive start each day.

2. Do some of your work when the lab is less crowded

There will certainly be days that you will need to be in the lab at the same time as many others. However, if you are able to arrange your schedule so that on some days you can spend time in the lab when there are fewer people, it may be worth doing. The early morning, evening, or even the weekends may hold the most opportunity for this, although you want to make sure that you keep some free time for yourself.

3. Listen to music or podcasts

Listening to music or podcasts while you work on your research in the lab has multiple benefits. In addition to enjoying the entertainment or educational content, you may find that you are also able to focus more easily by determining your own background noise. Also, having headphones or earbuds will likely keep you from being drawn into random conversations or tasks.

If you’re in need of good podcasts, you can probably find one in your field like this one about neuroscience: On Your Mind.

4. Be intentional about taking breaks

Attempting to work 8 – 12 hours without giving yourself a break eventually wears on a person. In fact, research shows that overworking can actually lessen productivity and have negative effects on people. Therefore, it is important that you allot yourself time for breaks during the workday so that you can clear your mind.

Many experiments have long steps where you have to wait. You could plan to schedule a break during one of these periods. Also, the breaks will probably be more effective if you leave the lab when you take them. Take lunch, or go for a walk. Whatever you do on your break, make sure that you give yourself that time to step away from the lab so that you can come back refreshed.

Next Steps

Instead of trying to implement all of the suggestions at once in this article and risk getting overwhelmed, you will probably have more success if you choose one suggestion that you would like to incorporate, and start there. For instance, is there an opportunity for you to begin scheduling your experiments, machines, and days more thoughtfully? Do you think downloading a few podcasts or music to listen to might help you focus in the lab? Or, maybe you’re one of the many people that would benefit significantly from beginning to incorporate more breaks into your workdays.

Making good use of your time will not only allow you to begin adding new responsibilities like teaching as they arise; it will also enable you to claim back some of your time for yourself.

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