We all want to be productive, right? But this is quite often easier said than done, especially in a laboratory. There are always little tasks popping up throughout the day, consuming too much of our time. You find out that the antibody you need has been used up since you checked yesterday. People have questions that need answering. These seemingly small things add up, leading to a less productive lab. But, with our 10 tips, you will be better prepared to be productive. We have written this from a day-to-day perspective, but it can also be translated to longer-term planning.
To start off, simply plan your day before it starts. The easiest way to do this is with a to-do list. This allows to you have a visual overview of your day and feel accomplished along the way when ticking off completed tasks. By having an overview, you can organize your time better and make sure you do not forget small tasks that you otherwise might. Planning out your day in writing rather than only in your brain lets you free your mind for more important objectives. A well planned day lets you set out your goals for the day as well as the steps and tasks to achieve those goals.
Keep a log of how much time you are spending on certain tasks. This will help you understand how your time is being taken up during the day. You can make this easier for yourself by noting time taken next to the items on your to-do list. This can then help you to schedule your time and days since you have a better idea of how long those tasks will take. If one task is taking longer than it should, you will have the information to be able to make it much quicker. Also, do not procrastinate important yet boring tasks like cleaning the hood and set a specific time to do each. Use labfolder’s to-do list app built into our ELN to better manage your daily tasks.
Spare time does not mean time out of the lab. Rather, it is the time in between experiments or while you are waiting for the microscope to become available. You are likely to have small jobs to do alongside experiments and data analysis. While you’re incubating the membrane with the secondary antibody, you could prepare those buffers you will need later. There is always something that will need doing, so make sure you are not losing valuable time.
It is important to know which times during the day in which you are more productive. You could be an early bird or a night owl, and it’s best to work at the best time for you. If you function best in the morning, get to the lab first thing and get the day going immediately. If you work best later on in the day, schedule lighter tasks for the morning and save things you really need to concentrate on for the afternoon or evening. Knowing when you’re at your best will not only increase your productivity, but also the productiveness of the laboratory.
It’s hard to work in conditions where your workstation is covered in supplies, half-empty beakers, and scattered papers. It gives you very little room to perform actual work in an efficient amount of time. That’s why it’s imperative to return supplies when you’re finished using them, create a proper filing system for any papers and notes, and clean any beakers that fill up space. You can also rid yourself the need for using paper by transitioning to using an Electronic Lab Notebook. Keeping a clean working station will help you increase the productivity of your work.
The only thing worse than not being able to find the exact material you need to run an experiment is eventually finding out that you are out of stock of said material. It’s almost infuriating. For managers and group leaders, it is imperative to create a system of labeling and accounting in which team members can easily find necessary materials, and are notified if a certain material is out of stock. You can do this by using labfolder’s Material Database feature. It allows you to log the materials used in the lab and update their status whether they are in stock, out of stock, or ordered. This helps create a system to keep better track of materials. And in turn, productivity will increase.
In addition to keeping your supplies organized, you will really help yourself by organizing your data and keeping daily records. Entering your data as soon as you can after conducting the experiment will help you keep on top of it. Using an electronic lab notebook for this makes it easy to have the data from one experiment all in one entry, in the right folder and available to the right people. You also have templates and protocols at hand in your ELN, which can be inserted into entries and shared with colleagues when needed. This is what labfolder can help you with, as our ELN has superior data management.
This step might be more relevant to the group leaders and lab managers. The idea is to divide up tasks based on skill and time of your team members. It can seriously boost both teamwork and productivity. It’s also best to avoid checking over team members shoulders and micro-managing their every move. Make sure that everyone in the lab is sufficiently trained and encourage everyone to help one another with queries which will mitigate this. It will lead to a more productive laboratory as each member is doing the tasks that best suit their skills
This point leads on from the last, in that it relates to working together in the lab. Helping one another when there are questions is one thing. Offering to help others or giving tips can really raise the morale and productivity of both the group and individuals. It should never be competitive in the lab, you are all working towards the same, or similar, outcomes; it makes sense to support each other. Using an ELN can help this collaboration. Labfolder has numerous apps and settings to enable effortless teamwork.
Another task that we often want to avoid is cleaning up after you have finished your experiment. Who wants to wipe the bench or clean the glassware, really? But it has to be done. If you really cannot bring yourself to do this right after you have conducted the experiment, at least make sure you do it before the end of the day. Then, preparing and setting things out for your work the following day can really improve the start to it. It will mean one less chore to do before you can get down to work!
Following these ten steps can help increase the productivity in the lab in the short term. This, in turn, will help you be more effective in the long run. It is imperative to take these steps to heart and use them effectively in the lab. If you can master using these tips, it will help your laboratory not only be more productive, it can allow it to be more effective at generating quality data to be used for publication. Productivity is the key. If you are a lab manager, we have a blog post talking about ways to improve lab management, as this will increase lab productivity as well.