If only I was more organized…

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

One of my favourite (but often failed) New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized and better schedule my time. Now this is obviously not a SMART resolution, and to be honest I’m not the most un-organized person, but every year I wish I was a little more on top of things and procrastinated a little less. This is especially true this year as I’m hoping to submit my thesis and there are mountains of work to be done!

So how I am going to be more organized? Well Aleks wrote a while ago her top tips for productivity and I like a lot of them, but I thought I would add a couple of my own.

1. Write it down
My memory is not what it used to be, so if I don’t write it down chances are I’ll forget about it. Equally important is where I write it down. 100 scraps of paper scattered between my desk, lab bench and forgotten in tissue culture are not super useful. Instead I have my calendar, a dedicated “to do” list notebook and my clearly written lab book, so things get recorded multiple times. Also I write lists, lots of lists. And I include the smallest things, because there is nothing sweeter than crossing something (anything) off my “to do” list.

2. Overestimate how long things will take
This might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s one of the better lessons I’ve learned. When I sit down to organize my tasks for the day I always schedule an extra 25% of the time for every task, because it always takes longer than I think I will. Why is this important? Well, for me, scheduling longer periods for specific tasks allows me to be less stressed about finishing it on time. And if I’m not rushed, I’m less likely to make a mistake and have to start over. Plus this way I can actually accomplish what I set out to do, instead of pushing things off onto the next day and never actually getting around to it.

3. Focus on one task at a time
Leaving a task unfinished and starting another one, only to abandon it and return to the first task, is one of my worst habits. It eats up a ton of my time. If I can force myself to finish a task completely I can get more accomplished, the effort is more consistent, and I’m less likely to forget or misplace things. Now obviously if I have a protocol with an hour incubation time in the middle, I’m going to find something else to do while I’m waiting (maybe something that only takes 30 mins) but in general I’m going to try and stop jumping from one thing to another.

4. Organize as you go
This is the hardest one of all for me but it would be the most useful! If I could only update my lab book every day, or place my sample back into the properly labeled box, or label my western blot that minute, I wouldn’t have to sift through piles of data, trying to remember what I did or where I put something. Spending the extra 5 minutes to record things properly would save me hours of searching, re-organizing and trying to recall.

5. Get a good night’s sleep
Unfortunately I suffer from mild insomnia, but on days when I’ve gotten a good night sleep I find I’m more productive and less scatter-brained than on the days I rely a little too heavily on caffeine to keep me going. Heather wrote a piece with tips for better sleep habits; many of which I’m going to try and implement in the coming months.

So this year I’m going to recommit to getting organized and staying on top of things. And if you have any other tips for me, let me know! I need all the help I can get.

One response to “If only I was more organized…”

  1. Kyle Khoury says:

    I find it increasingly more difficult to handle #5 ‘get a good night’s sleep.’ However, I listened to a podcast recently that really helped me out. As a type A personality I find it hard to relax as it feels like wasting time. What’s also true is that relaxation is required to recharge and actually be able to focus on getting things done.

    I’ve made in a switch in the way I look at relaxation and instead look at it as recovery. I now deliberately schedule ‘recovery time’ in order to let my brain reset. It’s paid off huge. I recommend stopping all productive work at a certain hour and watching or reading some fiction to release your mind and get a good nights sleep to recover for the next day.

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