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Time – it’s probably one of the things we all wish we had more of. It can be easy for it to slip away, especially when in the midst of a busy lab environment. So just how do some scientists manage to get so much done in a day?

It might actually be easier than you think. By making just a few small changes to your routine, you could see some surprising savings in time as a result – which will help you increase your productivity, increase your outputs and just do more with the hours you have.

Sound good? Great! We’ve pulled together some top time-saving tips, so you can focus more on the specifics of your research. Take a look at these 6 simple ways to save time in the lab:

1. Organise your workspace

First things first, you need to optimise your setup. An uncluttered bench space will do wonders for your efficiency; you’ll be less likely to make errors, and clearing things away as you work saves you doing all that work later.

Make your equipment easily accessible. Small, frequently-used items like pipettes should ideally be within reach, on your dominant side so there’s no awkward reacharounds (a waste paper bin should be placed on this side as well). Solutions should go on the other side.

Only have what you need in front of you – there’s no need to have several boxes full of tools if you’re only likely to use one. And make sure your notebooks/laptops/tablets are accessible, but far enough away that they won’t get damaged should you spill something.

2. Go paperless

If you haven’t already ditched the paper, now might be the time. Digitising the lab won’t just lend a helping hand to the environment, it’ll save you tons of time in terms of data management. Electronic notebooks (ELNs) let you quickly import data and notes, all properly indexed, all in the same place – at the touch of a button. So much faster than physically putting pen to paper!

The Cloud is another trend you should consider embracing if you’re looking to cut down on time. As everything is stored online, you’ll be able to access data wherever you are, as well as being able to share protocols with ease (no more buried emails or discarded hard copies).

3. Label your reagents clearly

Mislabeled tubes are a source of great frustration, and there’s nothing that’ll drain your time faster than running around the lab trying to locate the correct one for your experiment. Not to mention, it can be potentially dangerous if you’re working with unknown substance, so it’s crucial to label your reagents clearly ahead of time.

While you’re at it, label the shelves and cupboards too – that way there’s no confusion as to where anything can be found at any time.

4. Record everything

It might interrupt your flow somewhat in the moment, but it will undoubtedly save you time in the long-run. Writing down everything associated with your experiment means you’ll not only have a clear plan of action, but you’ll also be able to future-proof against poor processes and errors.

Detailed protocols are a must, with step-by-step actions for each of your experiments and lists of the reagents used. If something goes wrong, or you get an unexpected outcome, make a note of it. You’ll then be able to use this information in future, which will save you the time of making the same mistake again. And if everyone in your lab followed this process, your bank of knowledge would grow even further as would your efficiency.

5. Plan ahead

Gym members will likely know this frustration; the equipment you need is always in use by someone else, and you spend longer waiting for it to free up than you do using it yourself. Sound familiar in the lab, too? To avoid delays, it’s best to plan ahead.

If you’re using shared equipment, be sure to book your time on it in advance – and factor in any extra time you might need if your experiment doesn’t quite go to plan. You could also plan around the different stages of your experiment; if you need to run a reaction for 90 minutes, why not take your lunch break then? Look for ways to minimise your downtime in order to maximise your output.

6. Take regular breaks

Speaking of breaks, have you had one today? If not, it could be one of the things slowing you down. Working long days in a lab environment can take its toll, both on your body and your mental capacity. And when you’re tired, you’re more likely to make mistakes – which of course, will take time to fix. Make sure you take breaks often, so you can recharge and regain focus.

With these handy time-saving tips, you can hopefully start to form some habits that will have a long-term positive effect on your time-keeping.

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