Top 5 Tips to Increase Productivity

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Ah, grad school. Aka the years of your life where you’re learning how much you don’t know, pushing your personal and professional boundaries, and managing an outrageously busy schedule. Grad school schedules come with deadlines. Deadlines for abstract submissions, funding applications, and course work, on top of lab meetings, data collection, and social endeavours. Here are my top 5 tips to increase productivity, to maneuver these deadlines and actually get work done:

1. Make a list

This tip is probably the most cliché of all, but couldn’t be left off of this list. The fact is: it works. I find it much easier to prioritize my tasks when they’re all laid out in front of me. I can see what needs to be done, estimate how much time each item will take, and start working from there.

Make your list before you start doing any work. Include even the smallest tasks, because it’s a great feeling to check items off, and any progress is good progress!

2. Set a timeline and stick to it

When I’m working in the lab, I tend to pick a task to work on until lunch time, and then take my lunch break. Then, I pick another task (potentially the same one, if it’s larger), and work until the end of the day. I always have a time when I know I’ll be leaving the lab, and I stick to that timeline. This helps me set aside blocks of time for each task I need to complete in a day, and knowing how long I’m going to be working on something helps me stay focused and be more productive.


I now live in the lab

An actual piece of lab equipment I once used

If (and this is a very likely if) your experiment involves lab work in any way, you can look forward to the joys of using lab equipment.

Laboratory science is not like working in a wood shop; you usually don’t have the option to just sand off a little more to cover up your blunders. Lab experiments should be done to a ridiculously high standard. Everything is calibrated, tared, titrated, compensated for… and then re-checked.
As the differences you are looking for are often so slim, the tiniest bias in one way or the other can efface results, or worse, give you false ones.
Standard operating procedures are the holy scriptures of lab land. These documents provide a step-by-step explanation of a rigorous, standard way of doing many types of experiments. Because they are ‘standard’, many other researchers will use them as well. Sharing methodologies is not just a short-cut from developing your own; it means that your results will all be comparable later on as you used the same procedure. (more…)

The thief of time

    My favorite time of the year, the holidays, have come to a close. The holiday period for me symbolizes spending time with family and friends, cooking and eating together, laughing and creating memories. It is a time that I cherish and look forward to. Just prior to the holiday break, however, I realized that to this list of fun activities I had no choice but to add work-related tasks such as reading articles, continue the writing of a manuscript, design experiments, analyze data, further establish the specifics of my research project(s) and keep up with my writing for this blog. I thus left the lab the last day with a sentiment of happiness in view of the upcoming holiday “break”, but it was slightly encumbered by the long list of tasks I armed myself with. As any grad student most likely did at one point or another, I came to ask myself whether the holiday break represents a break from work, or a break from the lab to do more work (e.g. reviewing the literature).  (more…)

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