Laboratories are prone to disorganization. Small spaces where several people are working on individual projects each on their own schedule often result in a certain level of disorder. However, if labs become too disorganized, several negative impacts can occur. For example, poorly organized labs can incur significant costs from wasted or lost materials, duplicate or late orders, and experimental errors. When a lab is kept orderly, however, efficiency is enhanced and the potential for costly accidents is reduced. To keep one’s lab running smoothly, it is important to prioritize organization. These effective tips for making your lab more organized will help you run a more efficient and successful lab.
Label all samples
Research shouldn’t be a guessing game. It is important to know exactly what each sample is when conducting an experiment. An easy way to keep track of them is by labeling all samples as well as the drawer or shelf where they are stored so you can easily find them without having to read every single label.
Many lab workers have experienced the frustrating scenario in which their ability to find a specific sample is hindered by a sea of poorly labeled test tubes. In such a situation, using a sample whose contents are uncertain can be dangerous and lead to inaccurate results. As such, there is really only one option: throw out the unknown tubes. Doing so, however, is highly impractical as it wastes both time and money. Taking the extra effort to properly label every sample in your lab will be highly beneficial for your lab’s success.
When labeling your samples, make sure to use as much detail as possible. To ensure you’ll be able to easily read them, either write using a lab-grade marker or print the labels out. For labels used on bottles filled with solutions, general-use paper labels may peel off. Thermoplastic labels are preferred for solution-filled bottle. If the tube contains harsh solvents, a chemical-resistant label may be necessary.
Utilize vertical space
In nearly every laboratory, space is limited—especially in small labs that use large equipment. In such cases, counters can quickly become cluttered and disorganized. The optimization of all available space in one’s lab is essential to minimize disorganization.
One way to enhance your lab’s organization despite a limited amount of room is by utilizing vertical space. In many labs, vertical space goes overlooked. Shelving, stacking equipment when possible, and taking advantage of dead space under tables can all help free up precious surface space on counters and prevent clutter from piling up.
Designate areas for general supplies
Designating areas for general supplies can prevent you from wasting time tracking down items you use on a regular basis. For example, items such as pens, scissors, or wipes that are frequently used throughout the day should each be placed in an easily accessible, designated spot. After using the item, try to get into the habit of immediately returning it to its predetermined home. In doing so, you won’t have to spend several minutes each day trying to remember where you put your pen.
Implement a laboratory information management system
A common issue that laboratories experience is ordering too many or too few supplies. While duplicate orders waste a considerable amount of money, unexpectedly running out of supplies can halt productivity and delay experiments for several days or weeks. To prevent such unfavorable situations from occurring, consider implementing a laboratory information management system (LIMS).
LIMS will keep track of workflow and inventory at the same time. As supplies are being used up, the LIMS will track inventory levels and alert the user when an item needs to be restocked based on predicted workflow or reagent level—all without having to remove items from storage to account for them. Therefore, you’ll be able to replenish the item before you run out. The system will help prevent situations in which lab operations are halted because a necessary item is unexpectedly out of stock.
In addition to ensuring that your lab always has the right amount of equipment, LIMS offers several other organizational benefits. For example, LIMS allows you to monitor the life span of your inventory and track when samples are about to expire. In such cases, you can free up space by eliminating expired inventory and avoid hindering the accuracy of experiments by accidentally using a faulty sample. Plus, by using a LIMS, you can track the location of samples down to their rack, row, and column to avoid losing any important tubes.
Digitally document information in a central place
Keeping centralized, digital documentation can greatly enhance the efficiency of your laboratory—especially in larger labs. Without digital, centralized documentation, it’s easy for information that is recorded on paper to get scattered throughout the laboratory. When access to such information is needed, one may have to search in someone’s desk, through large stacks of paper, or scour other areas in the lab. Plus, if the person who has the information isn’t in the lab when you need to access it, you may be out of luck. Not only does such an inefficiency cause longer lead times, but it also wastes grant money that could have been on far more pertinent tasks than scouring your lab for documents.
By storing information in a centralized location digitally, anyone can easily access the documents whenever they need to. In cases where varying levels of accessibility are necessary based on role, many software options offer the ability to assign certain levels of access, rights, and permissions to each department. Examples of tools that are helpful for keeping a centralized digital record of information include Google Drive, Lab Archives, Microsoft Office O365 OneNote, and other electronic lab notebook systems.
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