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059: Simple Tricks for Time Management – The Focus Funnel (R)

In some jobs, one day at the office looks a lot like the next. You could look through your calendar and optimize your meeting schedule and to-do list without much thought.

But working in a lab is different: your projects are in constant flux, experiments lead to other experiments, and you need to balance bench work with meetings, mentoring, and writing.

That busyness can lead to inefficiency as you tackle the items on your list one after another.  Worse, you’re forced to plan overlapping activities to fill the ‘downtime’ during incubations and time points.

This week, we encourage you to take a step back, look over your list of competing priorities, and ask some hard questions about what’s really important.

You might find you have more free time on your hands than you ever imagined…

Throw it in the Focus Funnel


Managing your time in lab goes beyond just making each experiment efficient and effective; you need to choose what tasks to take on, and which to let go.  That’s where the Focus Funnel from Rory Vaden’s Procrastinate on Purpose comes in handy.

Just take your to-do list, and ask the following questions:

  1. Does this task actually need to done? If not, eliminate it.
  2. Does it involve a repetitive task that a computer could do?  If so, automate it!
  3. Can someone else do it just as well as I can? If so, delegate it.
  4. Does it need to get done right away? If not, procrastinate.

If you answered no to all of the above, you’ve got a task that is important and requires your attention ASAP.  Now’s the time to set your pomodoro timer, and get the job done.

As you work through this mental checklist, you’re sure to find activities that are best eliminated, automated, delegated, and procrastinated.

Skip the fifth repetition on that Western blot that just won’t produce a pretty hot-dog shaped band. It’s okay, they’ll still publish your paper.

Make an Excel template that runs all of your favorite statistics after a qPCR.  It’s better at math than you are anyway.

Train your local undergrad to split your HeLa cells.  I promise you can get more if the first few batches get contaminated.

Wait until after you talk with your PI to finalize those PowerPoint slides.  You know he’ll find something to criticize – why not make it something you were planning to fix anyway?

The Focus Funnel can’t get you out of all of your work, but it will help you put each task in perspective and help you maximize the time you spend on the things that matter most.

The Pirates of Alcosynth

This week, we’re sampling the Hornigold English Style India Pale Ale from Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough, NC.  It derives its name from a piratical source which we reveal on the show.  The brewmaster at Mystery is none other than Erik Lars Myers, author of North Carolina Craft Beer & Breweries, so you know he knows his stuff!

We also learn about Professor David Nutt’s research on synthetic drugs without the side effects.  He’s created a compound named “alcosynth” that has all the fun of alcohol without the hangovers and liver damage.  He believes psychoactive substances have been part of human culture for millennia and will continue to be important for the foreseeable future.  Why not use science to make them safer?

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