Summer is finally here again. The trees are full and green, the flowers are blooming and the birds sure seem happy about it. Did you notice, or were you too busy at your lab bench?
One of the most common answers I have heard over the last 6 years of graduate school (I know, it’s a long time, I’m leaving soon!) is “I have to work.”
What are you doing this weekend? I have to work.
Want to come to pizza for dinner on Friday night? No, I have to work.
Coming to Pub Club? I would, but I have to work.
I could go on, but I think you get the point! I have made a point of carefully guarding my evenings and weekends during my time here, knowing that my brain needs time to relax to maintain and maximize my focus and creativity at work. I heard recently that your brain works differently when you are focused on a problem vs when you brainstorm. While focusing is obviously an essential component of thought, it can often lead to traffic jams and frustration. You may have heard it as “the forest for the trees” analogy. Sometimes we become so focused that we develop a mental “tunnel vision” and can no longer see the bigger picture, and often the answer lies in the forest outside that tunnel. Thinking creatively, on the other hand, allows our brain to access more of our knowledge to come up with innovative solutions and new ideas. Alternating between the two types of thinking can be a powerful and effective way of making progress with a difficult problem, ultimately making your time at “the lab bench” more productive.
This morning I did a quick search to find a reference for this. As I have a day full of bench work to do, I didn’t have time to find it, but I did find a couple of other interesting articles, one by Frank Addante, Founder and CEO of Rubicon Project and one by Paul Hammerness, MD and Margaret Moore in The Harvard Business Review under Time Management. If you would like to read the full articles, click on the titles below:
5 Daily Habits That Will Boost Your Creativity and Focus
Train Your Brain to Focus
The common theme between the two articles is that our brains need down time in order to operate the most efficiently. While we may view taking time away from the bench to go for a walk as a waste of time, our brains keep working during this time without us even realizing it. Sheng Yang knows this, as sitting outside of his office I have often seen him leave his computer and go for a walk. He uses this time away from his “bench” to gain a better perspective of something he is working on. Again, I could go on, but my lab bench is calling so I better get to work.
I leave you with a challenge: this summer, get to know “the other bench.”
Here’s one from a private little spot off the beaten path in the Plant Biology Garden at MSU. How many of you have been there?
When you find a good one, snap a selfie of you at your “other bench” and share it with the rest of us @ThePubClub, #myotherbench (or you can email it to Bethany at firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t Twitter!). With these we will be building a summer gallery on “The Hub” and don’t forget to take a pic at your conferences or vacation! You never know what new, ground-breaking discoveries you may find exploring the beautiful outside world. Perhaps in taking a minute to smell the roses (we have a beautiful rose garden here at MSU), you may return to your lab bench or writing that much more inspired.
Have a great summer, can’t wait to see all “The Other Benches!”
One thought on “Getting to know “The Other Bench””
A couple of quotes from above link to Harvard Business Review: Train Your Brain To Focus:(Read all, gets better as it goes) “What can I do? Go for a walk, climb stairs, do some deep breathing or stretches. Even if you aren’t aware of it, when you are doing this your brain continues working on your past tasks. Sometimes new ideas emerge during such physical breaks.” & “What can your team do? Start meetings on positive topics and some humor. The positive emotions this generates can improve everyone’s brain function, leading to better teamwork and problem solving.”