Most of us are too familiar with the site of an overly packed bench strewn with tip boxes, trash bins overfilled with hundreds of tips, and eppendorf racks placed one on top of the other. Even though there are successful scientists whose benches look like they’ve gone through a war, it is clear to us all that order and cleanliness have a major impact on both experimentation success and improving work efficiency. That said; imagine leaving a mess behind when you are going on a vacation or to a major conference for a week. How will people find stuff on your bench if they need to? And let’s face it – it’s much more pleasant to come back to work when your bench is clean, organized and spacious.
Make it a Habit
I admit, at first I had a hard time arranging and organizing all the “stuff” on my bench, I always seemed to have better things to do. I am not to be blamed - it’s the second law in thermodynamics that drives the disorder in our workplace! Thus, what I have done is to make a habit of cleaning and organizing my bench at the end of each day and before the end of the week. By making it a habit to organize my bench regularly, I don’t have to invest much time before I leave to a conference or vacation, as my lab space is already neat.
Organize and Document
My cleaning and organizing habit isn’t limited to the bench itself, but also to the shelves and refrigerators in which samples are stored. Arranging these storage locations has the benefit of (a) removing expired buffers/solutions making it is easier to find the fresh solutions that I need for my experiments and (b) that you update your storage documentation (like the storage module in Labguru). In this manner you can control the current status of your solution stocks and identify those solutions that need preparation for your next experiment (which is easy to determine by clicking on the “home” tab within Labguru to reach your calendar with your events and tasks). Avoid putting your science on hold because you are missing or can’t find the reagent you need for your experiment.
Keeping your bench clean and in order is very important, but at the lab level, you and your lab mates should remember that there are communal areas and equipment that need attention, maintenance, calibration and a general wiping from dust and dirt. As one can expect, these areas are the dirtiest and thus are the source for most contaminations and other faulty experimentations. Therefore, I would recommend you and your lab mates team up (and the lab manager should be persuaded to help too!) and together clean the lab from top to bottom, wiping dust, arranging the storage areas while checking instrumentation and maintaining it. You can take advantage of this laboratory clean up to charge up the social aspects of the lab, something that can be hard to do with everyone working all the time and barely having time to sit and talk. In our lab, for example, we have a tradition of doing a BBQ right after cleaning the lab – this is the fun part after the “lousy” cleaning part (Have I mentioned I hate cleaning??).
How do you keep your bench/lab clean and ordered? Do you have any further suggestions for keeping your lab organized??