Spending time waiting …

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The first step in DNA extraction is to lyse the cells so the DNA is released. These samples are ready to go into the water bath to kick-start this process.

I’ve been doing a lot of DNA extractions this year and with that comes a lot of time waiting for the water bath to heat my samples and the centrifuge to spin. A normal DNA extraction protocol means I’ll spend over an hour just waiting for things to happen. This time really adds up over multiple experiments. These waits can come in timeframes as short as 1 minute, so there’s not enough time to get really invested in anything.

I could spend this time checking social media, but there are some things I do to make myself more productive and feel like I’m being efficient. In a short wait (up to 5 minutes) these tasks can include:

  • Reading through the next steps in the protocol
  • Preparing the materials I’ll need next – getting out the right tubes, labeling them, aliquotting a reagent and changing the pipettes to the right setting can all save time
  • Popping out of the lab for a drink of water – spending hours in the lab can mean I’m dehydrated by the end of the day, so I use these short breaks as a reminder to have a drink
  • Sticking protocols and other printed materials in my lab book – I keep a roll of sticky tape in the lab so I don’t have to spend time updating my lab book once I’m done in the lab
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    Benchtop autoclave ready to be loaded with materials to be sterilised under high temperature and pressure.

    Checking through my chemical solutions and see if there is anything that needs to be discarded or needs a GHS compliant label

  • Starting an autoclave cycle – hopefully it’ll be done by the time I’ve finished my DNA extraction and I won’t have to stay late to unload it
  • Emptying my benchtop rubbish bin – working in a PC2 lab means overflowing rubbish bins are a hazard so I do this multiple times a day

Some steps in DNA extraction have a slightly longer wait time, but still not enough to dig deep into a paper or data analysis. During a longer wait of 15-30 minutes I:

  • Load the dishwasher – clean-up is the lab duty that always needs to be done, your lab mates will thank you for it
  • Make a plan or write a protocol for an upcoming experiment – doing this in my lab book makes it much easier when I have to write up my methods for my thesis or publication later
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    Bacteria are grown on plates that contain essential nutrients. These plates have just been poured and the molten agar is cooling and drying.

    Collect the materials needed for the next day – from the storage area in the lab or the on-campus scientific materials store

  • Prepare a chemical solution I’ll need in the next few days – this could be a single reagent or a complex media with multiple components
  • Pour agar plates – the molten agar needs to cool after pouring, so it’s good to line up this waiting time with finishing off a DNA extraction
  • Complete a chemical risk assessment for a new experiment and/or make a GHS compliant label I’ll need when I make up the chemical solution
  • Edit the photos I’ve taken of experiments – that way they’re ready to print out and stick in my lab book or put into a presentation

So as you can see there are always a lot of little tasks that need to be done for a successful project and to make the lab run smoothly. Using the snippets of time that would otherwise be wasted means I have larger blocks of time to use for more intensive work that requires lots of concentration. And it makes me feel more productive.

What do you do with your 1-minute spins? Got any good productivity hacks for me?

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