1. Have common buffers ready to go at all times
Nothing is more frustrating than having that great idea for an experiment and noticing much to your despair that you’re down to the last couple of milliliters of a badly needed buffer.
What now? You probably don’t feel like spending half an hour or more preparing new buffer, so your experiment, and your highly desired results, get put off until the next day. Even worse, if the experiment needs to be run over-night you might not get your data until the day after that, simply because you were missing the simplest of ingredients.
To avoid this bottleneck, make it routine to always have plenty of your most common stock buffers and reagents at hand. For example set a schedule to perform an inventory check every Monday morning. If you have less stock than you need to make enough buffer to run 5 of your most common experiments, it’s time to make a new batch.
Having common buffers and reagents ready to go at all times will greatly improve your efficiency in the lab by allowing you to quickly get something started.
2. Plan and prioritize your time with a realistic to-do list and weekly reviews
Running multiple projects can be overwhelming and can make it hard to know where to start and work efficiently. By breaking down the work into smaller parts, setting clear goals and preparing a to-do list for the next day in the lab, things will become more manageable. The trick is to prioritize the most important tasks, and keep your to-do list realistic.
By the end of each week, review the progress of your projects, identify loose ends and set goals for the upcoming week and plan accordingly what you need to do to reach those goals.
3. Develop standard protocols and keep them organized
Strive to prepare detailed standard protocols with materials needed (including source, i.e. company and catalog number), estimated time-frames for completion etc. for all procedures or experiments you run on a regular basis. This will not only make it easier to perform common tasks such as preparing buffers, aliquoting antibodies or labeling an antibody, but will save you time by allowing you to refer to a protocol number or name in your lab notebook instead of having to enter the whole procedure each time. Standard laboratory protocols reduce variability, and improve the quality of your work by performing each task in the same way.
Don’t forget! Keep your standard procedures organized. File them under categories such as buffers, protein labeling, purification, concentration determination etc. This will help you to quickly pull out the protocol you need instead of spending half an hour digging through the pile of papers sitting on your desk.
4. Update your laboratory notebook daily
More often than not many researchers scribble procedures and results on loose papers and keep them on their desk for weeks. After some time, though not as long as you might think, the material not recorded in your notebook will have amounted and become disorganized to such degree that it becomes a daunting task to finally organize it, which will cause you to leave it on your desk for even longer. The danger of not continuously (daily!) recording your experiments and ideas is that important details that might prove crucial for success gets lost.
Make it your mission, every day, to organize and enter all information into your laboratory notebook.
5. It can be tough, but get to the lab 15 minutes earlier, and leave 15 minutes later!
It’s all about having a slight edge! 15 minutes extra in the morning and the afternoon will result in countless extra hours spent in the lab over the course of, for example, a PhD. That is probably many more hours than most of your peers. In the end it will translate to more knowledge and published articles. This is the slight edge you will need to compete in today’s competitive climate.
Use the extra time each day to update your notebook, write a realistic to-do list for the next day or answer your E-mails.
Have any tips how to become more efficient in the lab? Leave a comment below.