10 Steps to increase lab productivity

10 Steps to increase lab productivity

How to increase lab productivity

When you look back at some weeks in the lab it seems like you have achieved nothing and your lab productivity can be low. Your cloning hasn’t worked or your mice just won’t mate. Or sometimes you are just allergic to working in the lab, and before you know it another year has gone by, your funding is running out and you are wondering where you are going to find to the time to finish those critical papers that will make your grant application. Here are 10 simple steps to increase lab productivity.

Start working early:

Although I am not expert and was terrible at working in the lab, I would mostly start work at 10, take coffee at 10 30 and decide to really start work at 11 and most likely I would leave the lab at 9 or 10 that night. Looking back on my time spent in the lab and how much I wasted I definitely feel that I could have done my PhD within a shorter time period, published more papers and have had more of a social life during my PhD and not have been a recluse.

Bad habits in the lab:

Unfortunately for many PhD students it’s too easy to get into the bad habits of working in the lab, staying late, losing tracks or reality and focusing all of your efforts into your work. If you look beyond academia there are now hundreds of blogs, podcasts and books that focus on increasing your day to day productivity and many of the rules within these blogs can be applied to working in the lab.

Finding focus:

One book that I did find inspirational and helped me to focus a lot during my postdoc was the 4 Hour Work week by Tim Ferris, the book is really aimed at releasing yourself from the shackles or corporate life, which is something not too different from working in the lab and finding ways to automate or delegate tasks that aren’t that important. One of my favorite tips from the book and most simplest is when to check your emails a point I elaborate on in point 3.

Great blogs for advice:

Some other great blogs you might find interesting for focusing Zen habits which is a blog aimed at relaxation and focus, something we all need a little help in, Time Managment Ninja might also be of interest when looking to squeeze the most out of the day. Applying some rules to your working week will hopefully increase your lab output and makes those hours spent in the lab more productive. Finally, for some great motivation the Gary Vaynerchuk series of youtube videos are great watches to keep you motivated.

Write down a schedule to increase your lab productivity:

It may seem obvious and you might think it’s a waste of your time, but preparing a schedule for your working week will instantly set goals. If you think planning out the week ahead might be a stretch, writing down what you would like to achieve for the coming day also helps and motivates you to tick off all the goals you have set. With everything there is a caveat, and lists are no exception. Always be mindful that what you need to include is achievable but pushes you to a limit. Just like your experiments there will be errors, so including error bars in your checklist to account for delays or mishaps.

Start using a calendar:

If you can put a calendar and diary in your Phone at alerts you when you need to be carrying out a certain task at the certain time. Having your phone buzz or ring everything you need to making something happens creates focus, urgency and allows you to move onto tasks that are wasting your time or reducing your productivity. What I also like about having my calendar on my phone is that I can always check what is ahead of me during the day and work to keep on track. Including breaks and times that you should be finishing work is also really important and will help create a work like balance that you might be missing with working too many hours a day. If it only takes 15 mins a week to place a appointments in your diary I think it is definitely worth it in the long run and will also make you feel like you have accomplished something that day, even if it is ten small tasks.

Set core hours for working in the lab and increasing productivity:

A very common misconception is that working for long hours means that you are working hard. However, being surrounded by people that work for lengthy periods has thought me that some people are just good at procrastinating and work for long hours just to please there boss with late night lab stories. Arriving to work at 9 am and leaving at a set time of 6 pm will encourage you to pack as much as you can into one day. 3. Set times for the checking emails outside experiments:

Managing emails:

With so many emails about lab meetings, collaborators, conferences and checking to see have the reviewers got back to you, the whole day can be spent without going near the lab. 99% of the time, replying to your emails is not that important but for some reason you can prioritize it over your experiments. Just think, if your PI wants you that badly they will walk into the lab. Therefore instead of wasting time with emails, setting aside a half hour during the day (preferably after 2 pm to allow emails to build up) will remove to constant need to check emails/Facebook.

Set agendas for your lab meetings:

Set an agenda in your meetings. Sometimes meeting with your PI can drag on for hours, talking about impossible experiments or who might be doing similar work that is going to scoop your big paper. Resulting in a day lost dreaming instead of talking action. Setting an agenda for your meeting with your PI will allow you to discuss some measurable goals and track your progress.

Read scientific papers to increase lab productivity:

With the amount of pressure to get experiments done, losing sight of what is being published in your field happens to all PhDs and post-docs. Although you might print the papers you intend to read, actually reading them can be a different matter. Bringing papers to your bench and reading them between centrifuge spins, running blots or waiting for reagents to melt will hugely increase the amount of reading you get done during the week.

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18th Dec 2020 Sean Mac Fhearraigh

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