May 2, 2014

The Hours We Keep

These last few weeks, I have been thinking about how much time I spend in lab and how much of it is truly productive (while I sit at my computer typing this… while at lab).  As a graduate student in my first year, I spent a lot of time in the lab, and I insisted that I would be there longer than my boss.  Further, I’d try to stay longer than anyone else – I wanted to impress people with how dedicated I was to my work.  As my graduate career progressed, I found this schedule was frustrating for many reasons.  First, I felt like I was wasting time in lab when I could have been at home doing something more productive, especially on days when I didn’t have that much to do.  Additionally, I found myself wasting time in lab doing things that weren’t either necessary or my job, such as cleaning up common areas or organizing my bench for the tenth time.  Sooner or later, I stopped with this crazy schedule and found balance.

How I avoid wasting time in lab
At the start of one’s scientific career (and at it’s midpoints, such as starting graduate school, a post doc, or a faculty position [I presume]), it’s natural to be excited and constantly working… and actually enjoying it.  As time passes, that excitement wanes.  Experiments fail, labmates annoy you, you are drinking too much coffee…  The shine wears eventually.  When the lab no longer glimmers like it once did, it’s easy to find distractions:   talking with virtually anyone, browsing the internet, playing games on your phone.  The opportunities to waste time are endless!  What’s worse is that academia (at least in all of the labs I’ve seen) is very free-flowing and less strict about staying on-task. 

Probably the biggest time-waster is Facebook. Logging in and browsing is so easy, and the temptation to watch everyone else’s lives is too easy with Facebook.  It stimulates the mind just enough to not feel like you’re wasting time… until you’ve wasted your time already.  Plus, it is kind of fun.

Of course, there are several other time-wasters:  Reddit, imgur, CNN, BBC, Netflix, Hulu, Youtube.  And the cat memes abound!  How could anyone hope to get anything done when there are videos of kittens!

For exactly these reasons, I’ve banned myself from using any of these websites on my computer at work.  If I want to view any of those sites, I need to do that at home, on my time, on my personal computer.  Mission accomplished:  no time wasted.


Not exactly.  It’s still really easy to take really long coffee breaks, to walk to the bathroom using the really long route, or to take a long phone call in the middle of the day.  The best way I’ve found to avoid these situations:  fill my schedule.  During the day, I’m not running around with an experiment:  I’m running around with five or six experiments.  Why not?  These experiments pay for my salary and (hopefully) will lead to a promising career filled with accolades and a sky-high salary. 

My method breaks down into two simple pieces:
1.      Stay busy.
2.      Ban distractions

Following these two simple guidelines takes a lot of effort.  Signing into Facebook would be incredibly easy right now.  My fingers are so close to the F key on the keyboard…  But no.  Later.  Or maybe not.  Who needs Facebook or any of those other distractions anyway?  I’ve got hobbies that I enjoy that can take up my time.

Cute kitten pictures…  Those are a little harder to avoid.

No!  No distractions!

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