Laboratory research consumes considerable time, but there are many ways in which you can minimize the amount of time you spend there and yet be efficient.
If the thought has ever occurred to you that you spend too much time in the laboratory, it might be a matter of relief to you that there are many researchers like you. This is because researchers are engaged in many research projects or tests. However, it is important to find ways in which you can change or alter your routine in the laboratory and thus save considerable time. To do this, the most important factor is planning; if you don’t plan your research activities in advance, you are likely to spend too much time on activities that could be completed in a fraction of that time.
Crunching time in the laboratory is critical for a scientist because time is at a premium and expectations are that several tasks must be undertaken and completed in quick succession or even by multitasking. If you have wondered how your colleague is able to manage time in the laboratory much better than you, you would be well advised to keep the following steps in mind while planning for, or undertaking, tasks in the laboratory.
DEVELOP A SYSTEMATIC PLAN OF ACTION
Tasks in the laboratory generally center on experiments and equipment.
In the context of experiments, decide the steps of each experiment in advance. To accomplish this, must have a checklist ready so that you have sequence of tasks that are to be completed in course of your project. This must be prepared for experiments that you plan to undertake within the next day or two, or better still for experiments that you plan further in time (say, after week). There are two basic methods of maintaining a to-do-list. You could either decide to record the experiment steps on a whiteboard for easy reference, or you could take advantage of digital aids like Google docs or maintain memos of events on a Calendar app on your smartphone or computer.
In the context of laboratory equipment, it is very helpful if you have a future plan of action ready because that would help you ascertain when you need a particular laboratory equipment, and then book the time for use of that equipment well in advance. Your advance planning will help you strategize regarding the time for which you need to book the equipment. In this regard, it is always safer to add some extra time so that you have a buffer in case your experiment goes awry and you need to repeat the steps, or you might need to test again to verify or confirm you results. For instance, if you already know that you require the Anemometer for a minimum of four times over a month to accomplish your scheduled experiments, you could plan for using the machine at least 5-6 times; that would give you the required buffer in case something unexpected happens.
However, while booking time for use of laboratory experiments, you should not be selfish. There might be other researchers who need the same equipment for their studies. In other words, you must honor the generally accepted etiquettes of laboratory practices and book your time with a machine without affecting any other researcher’s work. That will help you develop good communication channels with fellow researchers and even leave room for collaborations in a future study. Ensure that you are forthcoming in your decisions by informing colleagues about your plans. That practice would be sure to draw a reciprocal action from your colleagues, thus building a mutually beneficial laboratory practice.
PLAN YOUR SCHEDULE
Planning in advance is one of the most exceptional ways to avoid extra time in the lab. Take a few minutes at the end of each week to plan for the following week and identify the highest priority tasks. Similarly, at the end of each day, take a few minutes to review and adjust your plans for the following day. These simple methods will give you the most productive start each day and make sure that you are on track to meet your goals.
WORK WHEN LAB IS RELATIVELY FREE
The probability of coming across a busy lab is extremely high. Hence, if you plan your schedule to work in the lab when the place is less active, you will be better placed for a hassle-free work experience. Early mornings or late evenings, or even weekends, can be suitable to utilize time efficiently.
LEARN TO RELAX WHILE WORKING IN THE LABORATORY
Good music can perk up your mood instantly and thus will drive your mind to perform the task more efficiently. After all, a peaceful mind works better. The soothing music will create the right environment for you to work efficiently. It will also strengthen your focus level by keeping you away from the outer world.
TAKE BREAKS WHILE WORKING
Working continuously for 8 to 12 hours without a break could lead to a tense mind and an exhausted body. According to a survey, overworking can reduce work efficiency and even have adverse effects on your brain functions. Hence, go for some short breaks at periodic intervals to energize your body and brain.
Some experiments might involve lengthy procedures and long waiting periods of several hours for the test to show results. You can utilize this interval by taking short breaks. You might decide to have a quick bite or an invigorating, or go for a walk, or just step outside the lab to break out of the work routine, albeit for a short period.