Time Management

It's been a crazy busy week for me in the lab! Since I work for a contract lab, our workload can be pretty unpredictable. Our workload is based on when our clients have work ready for us. And apparently, they all decided to send us samples at the same time. But I'm not complaining, it's good to know there is a need for our services. So now that we have multiple projects happening at the same time, we need to make sure our time and resources are being used as efficiently as possible. So, I would like to talk about some time management techniques I use to keep myself organized.  

Macro scheduling 

The first thing I do is make a macro schedule. I take major deadlines and milestones that I need to meet and put them into my calendar on Outlook.  Sometimes these are hard deadlines, and sometimes they are general goals.  These events can always get moved around as priorities change (and they always change.)  For my work, this generally includes experiments, instrument maintenance, and reporting deadlines.  For the experiments, I don't get too detailed in the outlook calendar, as I don't want reminders popping up every 30 minutes.  This schedule is something I may update every few days if I need to, it's more of a general reminder of the things I need to accomplish.  This is my personal Outlook calendar so I add things like doctor's appointments, music rehearsals, and book club meetings.  It is important for me to prioritize personal events too, otherwise, I won't do them and I find my mental health suffering.  We all need to decompress sometimes!

Micro scheduling

This is where I get pretty detailed in planning my daily events.  I don't do this every day, just on days where I need to multitask several activities. I keep this schedule in a personal notebook. It's usually handwritten so I can get the gratification of checking off each task (little things make me happy.)  I try to do this in the evening before I go home for the day.  So the next morning, I already know what I'm going to do for the day.  This is where I will write down specific details about experiments that I'm performing that day and approximate times it should take to do them (always overestimate if you can!)  Here is an example of how I would prioritize my day with 2 projects requiring simultaneous bench work:
In my scenario above, Projects 1 and 2 start with the same kind of procedure, so those are done at the same time.  This of course saves some time, but make sure to ALWAYS label all of your samples to prevent a mixup. If I have an incubation, I can and should be doing something else during that time to be as productive as possible.  If I have a busy day like this, I would hope to have the next few days where I could catch up on data interpretation, because that is generally a long process.

My next biggest piece of advice for managing multiple experiments simultaneously is to write out every step of each experiment ahead of time.  If you work in a GMP/regulated lab, this would be known as using a batch record.  If you work in an R&D or academic lab, this would take the place of your lab notebook where you document all of your research (either paste these into your notebook or keep in a 3 ring binder.)  Some companies have moved to fancy electronic notebooks, which I haven't used yet, but I believe you are still able to write out procedures ahead of time in them.  I no longer work in a GMP lab (we operate as "GMP like") but I still find it extremely helpful to have all steps of my procedures written out ahead of time, so I can check off each task as it is finished (yes, I really like checking things off.)  It also allows me to make sure I have all of the materials needed for the experiment ahead of time, and really makes me more familiar with the procedure before initiation.  My worksheets outline major instructions in my Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and generally include a space for me to check off that I accomplished the task, or have an open space for me to fill in information.
I have my worksheets checked by another person against our SOP's prior to initiating the experiment. It may seem daunting to write out all of your experiments ahead of time, but it becomes easier the more you do it.  Most of my procedures are very similar, so after I have written out a few complicated procedures, they can easily be used as a template for the next project.  I also find that an hour or so of preparation at the beginning of a project can save a lot of time in the middle and end of a project.

If I am able to stay organized, I'm still able to produce very high-quality work quickly, and keep my sanity.  Of course, there are days where nothing goes right and I have to ignore my entire schedule.  These are things beyond my control, and I try very hard not to dwell on them.  Focusing on the things I can control is much more productive and much healthier!

What tools do you use to multitask?  How do you prioritize your never-ending list of activities?  I'm always looking for better and faster ways to do things!

Also, unrelated to the topic, you can now follow me on Pinterest!


Popular Posts