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059: Simple Tricks for Time Management – The Focus Funnel

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…

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015: Simple Tricks for Time Management: The Pomodoro Technique

Scientists aren’t like other workers.  There’s no 9 to 5 time clock with lunch and two fifteen minute breaks.  When you’re running an experiment, you have to make a plan days in advance, juggle each step and incubation period, and stay nights and weekends to hit your time points.

That’s hard enough without the constant ping, beep, and ring of your computer and cell phone as internet distractions swirl around you.  How are you supposed to get anything done?

timer credit: mlpeixoto
In this version of the Pomodoro Technique, Darth Vader chokes you with ‘the force’ every time you check your email. It only works once.

Josh and the Giant Peach Tomato Timer

This week on the show, Josh shares a few simple tricks for maximizing your productivity and minimizing distractions.

It’s tempting to keep up with your friends on Facebook and take that call from your SO, but the research shows that as a species, we’re pretty bad at multi-tasking.  What can you do to bring focus back to your experiments so you can publish that next paper in record time?

First, you need to know where your time is going.  Josh explains how to keep a time-log to document your starting point.  Do you spend 40 minutes each morning flipping between email, Twitter, and  Have you been taking leisurely ninety-minute lunches in the pizza place in town?  And how much time did you spend debating with the guy two labs down about which Game of Thrones character is the most devious?

Once you know where your time is going, you’ll have a better plan to manage it.  Josh uses the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused for 25 minute sprints.  That’s less than half an hour, but by eliminating distractions, you’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish.  Tune in to this week’s episode for a full description of how to get started, and why it’s so important to use your time well.

If you want to try it out, you can get a “real-world” tomato timer, or just use an app.

I don’t know anyone in Stockholm.  You must have the wrong number.

Also in this episode, we give some love to the recent Nobel Laureates in Chemistry.  Aziz Sancar, Tomas Lindahl, and Paul Modrich won for their work on DNA repair mechanisms, and each one got an early morning call with the good news.  

We celebrate with TWO delicious beers from a listener in Madison Wisconsin.  She shipped us the threateningly labeled Ambergeddon from Ale Asylum (Madison, WI) and a fall-tastic Oktoberfest from Summit Brewing (St. Paul, MN).  The beers were excellent, and Josh realized his dream of receiving free beer from a listener.  

See kids, dreams DO come true.