It’s Monday morning. You arrive in the lab armed with a large coffee and feeling rested after a non-lab weekend. You check your email and calendar and peek into your PI’s office. Today will be a rare non-experimental day, a day that some love and others dread: a day to clean up and get ready for busier days! If you’re like me, you both love and hate these quiet days.
It can be therapeutic having a more chill day at the lab, where everything is routine and minimally stimulating. No experiments or writing a fellowship application. But it probably won’t be a day for which you’re going to go down in history!
Let’s look at how you can make the most of quiet days like these and how to survive them if they become too mind-numbing!
What to Do with Your Quiet Days
Enjoy the low pressure of these days! You can regroup and recuperate while still being productive (more on this later!)
Use this time to clean and tidy up. Make your space less cluttered, more organized and totally disinfected. Clear out your fridge, your sections of the -80°C, and your shelves. Get rid of anything that’s expired or unlabeled.
Take a look at your stock solutions and see what needs to be replenished. Get dishware ready to be autoclaved and stock up your tip boxes.
Make a list of everything you need to order and then go shopping. Ask your labmates if they need anything for extra credit! For more tips on keeping you labmates happy, see our BitesizeBio article on just that.
Take the time to get some reading done, too. I’ll bet you have a bunch of tabs and bookmarks that you’ve been meaning to get to.
Catch up on your emails. Take the time to send a thank you and quick catch up email to anyone who got you where you are, perhaps your PhD supervisor or a university professor who gave you a reference.
Start writing down some plans for your upcoming experiments and catch up on your lab book! Maybe you have a paper you’ve planned for the future so now could be the time to do some groundwork.
If this list makes you feel bored already, we’ve got you covered!
How to Stay Productive and not Pass out from Boredom
Use the time to catch up with labmates if your down days coordinate! You might both be stuck in the tissue culture room, but use the time to fill each other in on your work and life outside the lab. If you don’t know the person you’re stuck next to for the day, now’s your chance! Flex those socializing and networking muscles!
If you’re stuck at your lab bench adding tips to boxes, make the task more interesting by adding the tips in a pattern! This sounds odd but you’d be surprised how satisfying and therapeutic this can be!
When you really need time out, there are some great apps/websites with paid or free audiobooks. Give Audible (paid) or Librivox (free) a try. My personal favorite audiobooks are: Harry Potter 1-7, Sherlock Holmes, anything by Agatha Christie and The Lord of the Rings. Sometimes I just listen to Disney soundtracks though! (warning: side effects of catchy songs include dancing and solos into your pipetman!)
One lab I worked in didn’t allow the use of headphones or speakers. If this is the case for you, print the transcripts of podcasts or any publications you need to read. Then read a few lines whenever you’re waiting (e.g., for a centrifuge to be done spinning, for your dye to take, or your cells to settle on their slide).
Try meditating! Focus on your breathing and try to lengthen your breathes. Try in through the nose for 4 slow seconds and then out again. Use your stomach. Your lower abdomen should inflate, followed by the area just below your ribs and finally your chest. Keep this order for breathing out too. Focus on the different muscles in your body starting at your toes and working your way up to see where you’re tense and then let go of that tension. Find some stillness and calm. If you decide this is something you’d like to try every day, try this free meditation challenge to work the habit into your day. There are loads of guided meditations and also zen music on YouTube too.
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