How to: make the most of your time

We keep talking about all the things we do in training and how everyone’s training is so different and busy.  So this time, I decided to write about how you can organise your time and still manage to have a life outside the program. These are little tips that help me stay on track and organised (by no means is this the only way to do it).

Keep on top of all your work:

First things first, the STP is such a fluid programme. The competencies are there to guide your training but they can be interpreted differently depending on the departments’ needs. It is very easy to get sidetracked and try to do too much. Try to manage your time correctly so you spend enough time on competencies/ office tasks and don’t fall behind in your training.

Schedule your time:

Try and give yourself realistic time goals for your tasks/projects. If you have to do more than one project at a time split your week in a way that you assign whole days to different projects. I find it is easier to assign mornings/afternoons or whole days to specific tasks than trying to do an hour by hour schedule as things usually take longer than you think and your schedule suddenly becomes a mess. Here are some little organisation tips I find useful:

  • Trello*: I like keeping a trello board for my competencies or projects. If you are doing a solo project or involved in a collaboration, having a visual board with everything you need to do can be very useful.  Trello can help you do that. I prefer the Kanban method where you split your tasks in; TO-DO, DOING, DONE. Helps me see what I have to do, but also gives me a great sense of satisfaction when my DONE column keeps growing.
  • Set your goals: Taking into account all the software development methodologies bioinformaticians have to learn about in first year, be a bit more agile. When working on a project, split your work into weekly sprints, agree on work with the rest of your team and get it done, or if not, reflect on what didn’t go to plan and continue.
  • Get a diary: I find it very useful to have my little diary around me at all times when I am in the office. I can have my schedule up and make notes at the same time which for me is very helpful. And best of all, I can have my weekly to-do lists. Writing down my goals for the week and what needs to be done really helps. If you don’t want an actual diary, get an app or use outlook/an online calendar. Make sure you always schedule your meetings and write them down to avoid running around like a headless chicken when you’ve forgotten something.
  • Monthly training schedules: Since second year is way busier, I had to make sure I stay on track with my tasks. Below on my very “wonderful” desk (hidden in a windowless corridor called the U-bend… I know right??), you can see all my organisational attempts in one go. My monthly schedule for December was colour-coded depending if I was in the office or not. I have made a new template for next year (download here if you need one)- I’m planning to laminate it and use with whiteboard markers to attempt using less post its.  My schedule helps to keep on top of all the things I have to do and makes sure I devote enough time according to the demands of my current projects.




Ask for help:

I have said this before, but asking for help is a skill you need to have in the STP. Make sure you schedule your monthly Training Officer meetings. I usually decide what I think I should do, write it down and have a short meeting with my TO asking if he thinks it is a good idea and I am on the right track. If you are stuck, just knock on their door and ask if they know how to help you. There is nothing worse than wasting your time being stuck on something that someone else can easily steer you back onto the right track.

Get a hobby:

Time in the STP can get stressful. First year to second year seems like a giant leap. Suddenly you are more trusted, you are working on what you signed up for instead of random competencies and you have a lot of work to do. You need to start thinking about your research project and how it will fit in with your knowledge and schedule. Forgetting to have lunch shouldn’t be a regular occurrence. Having a way to de-stress and take your mind away from work is essential. Lunchtime gym sessions do it for me, but make sure you schedule in times that you forget about work and just focus on other things that make you happy. Three years is a very long time to be constantly stressed.

Take a break:

Make sure you take regular breaks. Tea breaks, lunch breaks, go for walk breaks, loo breaks, gym breaks any type of breaks that will take your eyes off the screen for a couple of minutes and give you a chance to breathe and recharge. Make sure you make full use of those 27 wonderful NHS annual leave days and go see your family, go on a trip and go have fun.

And on this note, it is time for STP Perspectives to go on holiday. We are signing off for Christmas. Thank you to all our readers, 2018 has been a good year and we are so glad that so many of you find our little blog useful.  Keep the e-mails coming, we love reading them. As always, let us know what you want to know about the STP and we will be happy to help.

Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year, see you in 2019 with more tips on applications and even more insights on our training.

* By no means I’ve been paid to promote Trello, I just find it very useful and sharing is caring. 🙂

Author: Adriana

I am a Clinical Bioinformatician based at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and a Regional Training Lead for Health Education England. I am all for increasing genomics awareness in and out of healthcare and interested in bioinformatics and genomics and general healthcare science.

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