My challenge began around a ago, when my PI invited me to manage the lab, while at the same time, I was developing my post-doc projects.
At first, I said no, but after considerable thought, I decided to accept the new task. Apart from the new routine, it also came with a lot of new responsibilities and opportunities of learning. I was not just in charge of my own projects, but I was in charge of writing animal protocols, collaborating with other peoples’ projects, and keeping the lab running smoothly.
I think the hardest part is to have everybody work together in the same page. That is the hardest and the most important part. A lab where people collaborate and have their own tasks should have the routine under control, so nobody will be overwhelmed.
I started sharing common tasks, and dividing my time for each project. I could do experiments from different projects on the same day, but I make sure I am focused on reading and studying only one project a day. Then, I work on the animal projects when I had extra time, sometimes a little bit every day. Some successful people usually say they don’t even check their email before starting any experiment, but I think checking your work email is an essential part of anyone’s life, but you don’t have to do it so very often.
Organizing your routine is essential, you can easily spend more than 70 hours/week in the lab and by the end of the week you have no data, while other people concentrate and focus efficiently in some experiments, working 45-50hours/week, and have a lot of data. I heard that people who have kids are more productive, and I have noticed that in my own lab. Usually, people with kids follow the child schedule for their routine, getting in the lab earlier, and also leaving earlier. They cannot stay one more hour to finish some experiments because they have to pick up their kids from school, so they organize their day really well, fitting experiments in the waiting time of other experiments.
So, actually there is no secret, and you don’t need a kid to be more productive, you need to have a clear idea of your project’s goals, so you can easily define the experiments.
Once you know the goals, you can think and figure out the next step, so by the end of the day, you already know which experiment you will need next day. Lab meetings come in hand at this point, because they help us to better understand the projects path, but if your lab doesn’t have lab meetings weekly, you can discuss with other students or post-docs in the lab to keep your ideas running and to have a good set of data in a short period of time.
So, to multi-task, you have to prioritize experiments, organize your day, and delegate tasks if possbile. Being pro-active is a great quality in any scientist.