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En-route – making the most of “off-lab” time

I will start off by saying that I am a public transportation user. With the increasing price of fuel and the distance I am traveling to the lab everyday (over 100km one way), public transportation is the best choice for me and for those who want to do more with their time. Sounds weird? Maybe. Read on and see why.

Don’t waste time

Time on the road, whether it is a mere 15 minutes or a 2 hours ride, is wasted time. If you’re driving then you indeed waste time and there is no way around it; you may want to hear a podcast of an article (limited to several journals) but in most cases people use this time to make phone calls if they are driving, something I would not recommend (it is widely acceptable that driving and talking on the phone increase the risk for car accidents).

So, if you’re using public transportation, here are some tips on utilizing time on the road.

Tools on the go

If you hanging a lot on the road, you want a good and light backpack with a light laptop which fits your computation (and screen!) requirements. Most people utilize mini-laptops (10’ screens) or the now trendy iPad for surfing, editing documents and light image editing. If you’re working with graphical interfaces you might want to consider a larger screen, around 14’ the minimum, so it will be comfortable (and thus faster) to work. Yeah, it will be heavier, no doubt about that,

But the gained comfort well worth it.

Make sure you carry only what you need – every pencil, small gadget or an adaptor will make your burden much heavier. The rule of small numbers works mostly here so cut on the stuff you put on your shoulders.

Work in, work out

Review your expected experimentation for the coming day. Perform calculation and write ALL details of your experimentation. Then you can print or use your iPad on the bench and follow your written protocol. Check this new feature from Biodata in this regard.

Going back home? Excellent! Work on those images, polish them and discuss your results in your notebook. Check the literature for aid in assessing your results and what to do next.

This is a good time when your experimentation start to sink and resolutions can sprout. This way, your lab notebook or ELN will be always organized with your current progress.

Batch process

Sometimes you will have to fill reports, write articles, perform computation analysis etc. In such cases, plan your day that you will do just “wet” work when in the lab and leave the “dry” work for the en-route periods. This way you will maximize your efficiency.

There will be times when you will have to both process your data and both write your article – what to do first? That depends mainly on your state of mind. Writing an article in many cases requires a certain state of mind (“muse” if you like) while documenting your experiments is more a mundane work which doesn’t requires creativity. Listen to yourself and act accordingly.

The bottom line

Fact is that I am working approximately 3 hours more then I would have if I were to use a private car. Think what you can do in 3 hours per day.

Do you have any ideas how to make the most of your en-route time?


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