Are you constantly looking for ways to squeeze more lab hours out of the day? Here are some timesaving tips that can help.
Figure out Where Your Time Goes
Not sure where you are losing those valuable hours? Use a website like Toggl to help you keep track of your time. This will make it clear to you what you are spending most of your time doing each day.
Make a Plan for Timesaving
For timesaving, plan ahead and manage your priorities. Make a reminder list and check things off as you complete them. Whenever you are short on time, work on the things on your to-do list that you can complete the quickest – get a few of the 5-minute tasks off your list. Plan a schedule for the day to keep you from caving under pressure to help others’ with their experiments, at the expense of your own experiments. Try using a website like Simplelology, to help you budget your time, stay on track, and keep up with your priorities.
Organize Your Lab Space
Alphabetize your reagents to save valuable time during experiments. Label cabinets and drawers in the lab to help everyone manage time more efficiently, particularly with new lab members as well as rotation and summer students. Rearrange your lab equipment and group items close to each other that are used for the same experiments.
Prepare for Experiments Ahead of Time
Print out your protocol and plan your approximate day/time for your experiment. Doing this helps you remember other commitments that you need to include in your daily plan.
Make a list of the reagents you need and pull aliquots of those reagents ahead of time. Nothing is more frustrating than being in the middle of an experiment and realizing someone in the lab used the last of a reagent! Pre-make reagents and aliquot things in bulk for upcoming experiments – just keep expiration dates and storage temperatures in mind.
For your most frequent experiments, make an electronic template form to record your results and print it just before your experiment. Then, paste this into your lab notebook every time you conduct this experiment.
Take Advantage of Forgotten Time
Do you ever arrive at seminar 5 minutes early just to realize that everyone else is running about 5 minutes late? Keep an article or reminder list with you when you attend meetings, so you can make some progress during this unexpected free time.
Update your lab notebook during microscopic imaging while you are waiting for the microscope to finish acquiring your images.
Read part of an article, update your lab notebook, or plan out your schedule for the next few days during short centrifugation cycles.
Keep up With Things
Block out periods in your calendar for necessary things, like writing (grants, manuscripts, dissertations, and theses). Set time aside and stick to it! Otherwise you might end up giving up those hours to assist someone.
Do not wait until you are writing up your final manuscript, grant, or dissertation to input papers into a reference program. Oh, the nightmares that this creates! Once you know how to use a program, such as Zotero, then simply use the icon in your Google toolbar to add relevant articles to Zotero. You can always remove them, if you decide you do not need them.
Keep up with your lab notebook daily. If you mentor allows it, you create an electronic lab notebook to aid you in filling in the details of your bound notebook.
Helping others is a two-way street, especially at lab. If someone asks for your assistance, do not hesitate to say “Sure, I can take an hour to help you this morning, if you can help me for an hour this afternoon.” This politely lets others know that you cannot give up your time, endlessly, without having some assistance in return.
The Sweet Sound of Automation
If your lab can afford equipment to help automate some processes, put in the request to order it! For example, there are incubators that measure and analyze cell death or growth processes, such as ImageXpress® and IncuCyte®.
If there is an analysis that you perform frequently in Excel, carefully record the steps and create an Excel Macro, to automate future analyses. The caveat is that once a macro is created in Excel, all of the data must be inputted into Excel in the exact same format as the one in the macro. Data cannot be shifted by even a single cell, otherwise the macro will not work properly!
Keep Data Organized
Label computer filenames that give you as much information as possible at a later date, so you don’t have to open each image to determine the contents. Do not leave spaces or include periods in the file names, because this often generates fragmented computer files at a later time point. However, do include the date, treatment group, and specimen number. Use underscores instead of spaces or periods.
Do you constantly find yourself flipping back-and-forth between tabs, windows, or programs while working on data analysis or while writing and referencing papers? A great tip for timesaving is to purchase a second computer monitor and have both screens side-by-side. If you frequently read articles, then flip one monitor long ways so that you have more screen space in the vertical direction to read articles.
Incorporate these useful timesaving tips into your work habits to see if they help you streamline any processes in your lab, and hopefully save you some time in your schedule.
Image Credit: Jun Seita