9 Ways to Make Your Day Productive in the Lab


1. Plan ahead

For an efficient and productive day at the lab, the first and foremost thing to do is plan your day. This may be done at the end of the previous day, or in the morning at work. Jot down your tasks with a little detail, set deadlines and mark out the priority for your tasks. If you don’t follow the plan, you still have an idea of what needs working on and where you are at. A good idea is to have a short team meeting first thing in the morning and discuss the plan for the day. Even if you haven’t documented a plan, you will have told the team what you intend to do, which holds you accountable. The team can then give a clear picture of what may need priority, or where progress is lacking. This will help motivate you and ensure that the day is filled out well.

2. Track your time

Keeping track of how much time you are spending on tasks is helpful. Jot down on your plan how long it has taken you and where you are at, and this will in turn help you to plan more effectively and will motivate you to work faster and minimize down-time. By noting how long something has taken, you are taking ownership of your time and procrastination is minimized. Important but boring tasks such as cleaning up your workspace or keeping equipment clean will be done sooner if the time is set out in writing.

3. Contingencies

When planning, it is worthwhile considering what could go wrong or where you could possibly be held up. Write this down and provide a solution for yourself. Briefly going over contingencies as a team at the start of the week or when discussing the day ahead allows you to have a ‘plan B’ if something is not quite right, e.g. if the microscope is broken, or if the pipettes are being used. If you think of possible contingencies, you can minimize down-time and maximize efficiency by being able to fill out that space with small but important tasks such as cleaning or reorganizing the workspace.

4. Delegation / divide work

With the large workload one usually finds in the research or testing lab, it is advisable to divide the work among colleagues such as your lab technician. Tasks such as pipetting, sample collection or labeling can be time-consuming and can be delegated to someone with spare time. Doing so will help you continue with more important work and in the meantime provide work for others.

5. Cleanliness

Keep your workspace and equipment clean is vital. These tasks which are admittedly boring and time-consuming do contribute in the long term to the success and integrity of your work. After your work, it is vital to take a minute (literally) to clean up where you have been working. Instead of procrastinating, do so and it will help you be efficient in your work for the next task and the following day. If you do not feel like washing the glassware or wiping the bench, at least do it before you go home, so that the next day is a fresh start.

6. Cohesion

Working together in the lab is essential. It will boost morale and help the whole team be productive. Provide help when questions arise and give tips when there are none. Again, a team meeting in the morning for 10 minutes helps eliminate concerns and will allow the team to unite.

7. Organization

Keep your lab systematized and organised. This may involve visual management such as colour coding equipment, samples, designated work areas or consumables and making sure each has its place. A messy lab not only degrades productivity but degrades the integrity of your work and can lead to contamination and fragility of data. Using the 5S system helps keep your lab up to clean, sorted and productive, using workflow as a motive.

8. Productive times

Knowing when you work best will help you work the most efficiently. If you are an early bird, it may be best to come to work early and get as much done as you can while you are wide awake. You may also only be able to work with minimal distraction and noise, so it might be advisable to come later and work later, or come early when and leave earlier, so you get some time to yourself. Knowing when your mind operates the best thus helps in planning and being able to work to the best of your ability.

9. Divide your time

Breaking your day up into blocks of time with short-term goals helps to keep you motivated. By giving yourself half-hour or even 10-minute goals, you can work most efficiently, e.g. get 10 samples in the centrifuge by 10:34am. This will keep your work in perspective and allow you to work more solidly.

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