3 Surefire Ways Clinical Trial PMs Can Tame Their Inbox

by Erica Manning
Clinical Trials Project Manager

Email is a great thing: it allows busy clinical trial project managers to juggle multiple schedules, protocols, and teams in different time zones all over the world and still keep projects moving. Email chains keep a repository of time-stamped information and show documentation of discussions and decisions.

The downside? Volume! The number of emails clinical trial project managers receive on any given day is immense. Finding information in countless chains of conversations can be tedious, time-consuming, and full of pitfalls. These negatives are universal and are not unique to the clinical trials industry.

Inbox management is not intuitive

Unfortunately, not many of us have taken a class on effective email inbox management. We’re handed our inboxes and told to jump in. Managing high volume in boxes of 100+ emails a day is not innate. Yet, we are expected to successfully manage these inboxes as a basic requirement of our jobs.

Fortunately, many business consultants are aware of this gap. There are lots of books and concepts to choose from. For example, Merlin Mann is famous for advocating the “inbox zero” approach. The idea is to tackle your emails with the goal of keeping your inbox empty. However, critics have called his method inefficient, and even Mann admits his inbox is never at zero. Oh, well.

Let me save you a little time and share the basics of what works for me. But first, let me ask you a question…

Why is your inbox pulling you under?

For most people, feeling overwhelmed by email is a symptom of common routines:

  • Going through your inbox and choosing what to do based on feelings
  • Skimming over the same email multiple times
  • Reading new emails as they come into your inbox

All are unproductive and waste your valuable time.

What’s the solution?

Adopt a new way of thinking – YOU ARE IN CONTROL of your inbox. NOT the other way around. Here’s what I recommend.

1. Stay focused

Turn off notifications that tempt you to read emails as they come in, change your focus, and pull you from other important tasks. Go to your inbox when you’re ready – NOT every time it beckons you.

2. Implement a schedule

Check your emails only at designated times throughout the day, based on the nature of your projects and personal work style. My optimal rhythm is:

  • Once after each meeting block


  • Every two business hours

…whichever comes first.

You may find a different rhythm is more productive, such as once every hour or just twice a day. Whatever you decide, batching your email review is best. It helps you stay on track.

3. Define each email, then act!

Your emails will likely fall into one of four categories:

  • Action
  • Delegation
  • Information
  • Trash

This means for every email; do one of the following:

  • Complete/schedule a task
  • Forward it on to someone who needs to complete a task
  • File it for future reference
  • Delete it

A flow chart view

Author David Allen is an efficiency guru. If we apply his email tips from his book “Getting Things Done,” your review process of each email might look something like this:

Clinical Trial Manager Email Workflow


Once all emails have been reviewed, you will be left with just the tasks to do on your calendar. You can work on your tasks for the next few hours until your next scheduled inbox review.

The ball is in your court!

I encourage you to give this a try. When you have eliminated time-wasting behaviors, you’ll find your job as a clinical trial project manager to be more productive with a smoother workday, even with all these emails.

What methods have you found to get control of your emails? Please scroll down and add your tips in the comment box.


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Sayali June 30, 2022 - 1:24 pm

Very Nice Article…Thank You!!

Sayali June 30, 2022 - 1:25 pm

Thank you very much for the post. Very informative!


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