Have you ever been so consumed with managing lab supply ordering that you felt like you lost sight of what it means to be a lab manager? With only so many hours in the day and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting normal routines, it can be easy to lose track of your daily responsibilities.
In the world of lab automation and remote tech tools, being productive has never been easier. To set yourself up for your most productive and efficient year yet, try out a few of these productivity hacks for lab managers:
The quickest way to put yourself on track for increased productivity is to schedule your day. Schedule your lab time, schedule your meetings, and schedule your breaks. When you can view your day, week, and quarter holistically, you can show up to work each day with a clear sense of your responsibilities.
Failing to create a schedule for yourself leaves the possibility of not meeting your goals or letting responsibilities fall through the cracks. But your schedule does not need to be followed to a T to be successful. Surprises, speed bumps, and scheduling conflicts are natural occurrences. Instead of being a blueprint, think of your schedule as a roadmap to follow— it helps to ensure you are hitting all of your destinations, but a detour or two every now and then doesn’t throw the entire trip off.
Here are a few scheduling tips to help you become the master of your own productivity:
- Remember to include realistic start and stop times when planning experiments, to ensure the lab isn’t rushed or underused.
- Schedule your daily responsibilities as well as major milestones that cannot be missed, like equipment maintenance, employee training, and any monthly deadlines.
- Plan out every step of projects and experiments in advance to ensure the proper equipment, lab supplies, and materials are available when they need to be.
- When scheduling your week, put the most difficult task as early as you can to avoid rushing or a pileup at the end of the week.
- Schedule your breaks when you can; being productive won’t be useful if you are also burnt out or overworked.
- Write the next day’s schedule at the end of each day; this will set you up for success from the moment you step back into the lab in the morning.
As laboratories around the world have adapted to remote and hybrid work in the wake of COVID-19, many have found success through the use of remote tech tools.
Here are the most common tech tools used by lab managers:
- Lab Inventory Management Software - helps purchase supplies while maintaining an auditable trail of all inventory records, eliminating inventory inaccuracies, and forecasting stock reordering.
- AI Software and Video Live Streaming - replaces manual experiment monitoring, allowing you to move your lab into the remote or hybrid structure,
- Shared Documents - stores all lab goings-on in a living, shared document to create a system of accountability in your lab that is easily accessible by anyone, from anywhere.
Use open communication to create an inclusive and trust-based professional environment. When a lab is hybrid or operating on lab shifts, it can be easy to let communication best practices slip. Hold a lab meeting or huddle at the beginning of each week to get all team members on the same page. Take this lab meeting as an opportunity to introduce any new COVID-19 safety protocols, outline the ongoing lab projects, share what each team will be working on in the week to come, and as a safe space for lab staff to ask for help if they need it. Only when every member of lab staff feels heard can you be truly set up for success.
Lab hacks are the little things you can do throughout your day to make it run smoother. Thanks to the folks on Reddit over at r/labrats we have compiled some key lab hacks that you can start implementing today:
- Make stock master mixes
- Restock supplies and reagents during down periods
- Always backup your data in multiple locations
- Create a naming system for data files, and stick to it
- Use spreadsheets for everything, including for calculating reagent quantities in a master mix, managing lab inventory, andscoring employee performance reviews
- Redesign your lab to support natural workflows and to avoid bottlenecks (taking the time to implement this hack will save you time every day in the future)
- And of course, become an active member in online science communities, such as r/labrats
Training new employees can feel like a huge task, but taking the time to train new employees thoroughly will save you time and headaches in the future.
Here are our tips on how to get the most out of your training sessions:
- Provide trainees with constructive criticism in a positive manner.
- Utilize repeat-backs to ensure trainees are being communicated with effectively.
- Teach trainees every aspect of lab life including time management, communication, collaboration, and organization best practices.
- Take it slow; overloading trainees with too much information too quickly can lead to burnout or confusion.
- Integrate trainees into lab culture.
Set realistic goals for the training period, and be prepared to tailor the training schedule to match each individual trainee’s strengths and weaknesses.