Tag Archives: time management

“Flexible working: Confessions of a wanderer…”

I am not very good at following the rules… I never have been. I was much the same at school, at university and every other organisation I have been involved with.

And I am not very good at being told when I should be working, when I should take my breaks, when I should be here or there.

I ended up in trouble in school quite a few times because of this!

Nowadays I start work at anytime between 7am and 9am in the morning, depending on what is happening at home, and how much insomnia I had the night before. I am very much a morning person, so 90% of my productive work for the day usually happens before lunchtime. I don’t really trust myself with anything too complex as the afternoon progresses, and I leave all menial tasks until late in the afternoon, when I am good for nothing else..

Because my concentration span is relatively short I tend to take multiple breaks throughout the day. Sometimes my breaks are longer than my work periods! I usually work hard when I am working, and occasionally I even get myself into “the zone”… I give myself a specific task to complete in a certain timeframe (e.g. do presentation A, write letter B, sort out blood cultures X, Y & Z). I keep my emails switched completely off when I am doing specific tasks like this.

I finish up (in the lab) sometime between 3.30 & 5 pm. After the children go to bed in the evening I usually sit down for 20-30 minutes and clear/sort my emails. People seem to like sending emails between 5 and 6pm so there is usually a little cluster waiting for me… I adhere to a “Zero Inbox” policy.

Most of my strategic thinking for the microbiology laboratory happens whilst driving to or from work, or in the middle of the night!  This type of work needs an absolute minimum of interference.

I am very productivity focused as opposed to hours focused. I make no apologies whatsoever for the time I spend or don’t spend in the office/lab.

I am very fortunate in that my role allows me to be hyper-flexible with regards to work hours. I am extremely grateful for this. It may even partially explain the career path I have taken. But I am also aware that not everyone that works in the laboratory setting has this kind of freedom.

I am a strong proponent of flexible working hours for all laboratory staff, wherever the system can allow it. Any opportunity for flexible start and finish times, flexible breaks or off-site work should be both encouraged and embraced.

We are no longer at school…


“The Sick Microbiologist”


It has been a tough couple of weeks, as I have been suffering from a nasty viral infection. I have been teetering for several days along the borderline between being able to work or staying in bed. Rightly or wrongly, I have been struggling into the lab, and for that I thank (or blame) my parents for instilling a strong work ethic in me.

Nevertheless it has very much been a case of energy conservation over the past couple of weeks. To facilitate this I have been doing the following:

  • Taking long coffee and lunch breaks. Getting out of the micro lab early.
  • Keeping the number and content of emails to an absolute minimum.
  • Ruthlessly declining all options and requests for ‘voluntary’ work/projects.
  • Keeping a low profile (for infection control reasons!)

And funnily enough, despite my compromised health, I have been keeping up, and quite easily as well.

It is amazing that we manage to ‘squeeze’ into an 8 hour working day what we should really be doing in 3 or 4, maybe even less…

Maybe I need to be sick more often…



“The Clock Watching Microbiologist”

Time management can be difficult in microbiology. There is so much going on, and so much to know. It can be easy to get lost in time warps and suddenly find that yet another Christmas is not far away! I wouldn’t say I am the best in the world at time management, nor do I always practice what I preach, but here are a few things I try to adhere to in order to free up a bit of time for myself. I am essentially quite a lazy person, so I put in a fair bit of time facilitating this personality trait!

Be very selective re voluntary work: A lot of people are too busy simply because they take on work that they strictly do not need to do, particularly from sources external to their core work/job. I try and only take on work where I am very interested in the issue or which would be really beneficial to me. The rest gets politely declined.

Pick and choose your policy reviews: This is not dissimilar to the above. If you are on any committees related to your work you will be asked, with relative frequency, to review some policy or other. I would always ask myself “Am I the person on this committee who is the most suited/appropriate for reviewing this document? If not, I don’t. I also believe that if you are going to take the time to review a policy then you must always feedback and try and improve on what is there already. Otherwise it is wasted time.

Only check emails 3-4 times per day: Morning, lunchtime and late afternoon. Switch your mailbox off completely in between. Get rid of email alerts completely. Someone else’s important is not your urgent. I also believe in the mantra that the more emails you send, the more you will receive, and thus the more work you will end up with.

Zero inbox policy: This works very well for me. I go through each of my emails and either delete, file in a folder or put into my outlook calendar and schedule whatever time is needed to do the work from the email. My inbox has almost always only single figure number of emails present, much less stressful…. I have seen too many people while away hours and days trawling through historical emails in their inbox. It’s a bad habit to get into.

Multiple breaks: I tend to work hard for half an hour and then take 5-10 minutes break, throughout the day with the exception of lunchtime where I get out of the lab/hospital for half an hour. I hardly ever work late.

Delegate: I try and delegate work wherever possible, in a diplomatic manner, and without pushing my luck too much! This is one I sometimes find difficult, but I have improved a bit over the years.

Prioritise: I always set myself a goal of doing one thing per day related to my own goals (not other peoples), which I then prioritise as far as possible over everything else. Otherwise you end up following other people’s agendas (for them), not your own.

At the end of the day it is not time management I have a big problem with, it is energy management. I do a fair bit of stuff outside of work, looking after 5 children, training for ultramarathons, learning French etc. Sure I often have a free hour or two in the evenings, but usually the only thing I am fit for is drinking beer and watching TV!