Top Organization Tips for Clinical Research Professionals: Organize Your Day & Your “Outlook”

by | Sep 27, 2023 | Clinical Research Careers, New to Clinical Research, Tips for Research Professionals | 0 comments

You want to be organized. You may have made (or continue to make) a valiant effort to get organized. You may have listened to an audiobook or podcast on organization, and you may follow some of the best professional organizers on Instagram.

But alas, you are not as organized as you want to be. 

Even if you used to consider being organized as one of your skills, your Clinical Research job has ended that. Who has time to organize when your job is so demanding and time-consuming?

However, being organized is vital for maintaining and improving efficiency and productivity when you carry a hefty workload. Begin by organizing your day and your email inbox; we’ve included helpful, feasible tips to help you get and keep organized as a Clinical Research Professional.

So, before you delete “organized” as a character trait on your resume, read this article. Then, get started. What will you organize first: your day, inbox, or desk? (All answers are correct!)

Why is being organized important in Clinical Research?

Being organized is a skill. Even though some people are naturally more organized than others, everyone can work on developing and improving their organizational skills.

Good organization is connected to many benefits in your work and personal life. This skill can increase productivity and improve job performance, leading to more effective communication and a better work-life balance through time and stress management.

Sharp organizational skills are critical for Clinical Research Professionals who work simultaneously on multiple clinical trials. Being organized is the best way to manage a heavy workload, master the ability to multi-task, and successfully stay on top of a seemingly endless list of responsibilities and action items.

This article from MindTools.com discusses the benefits of being organized at work in-depth and provides helpful tips about how to be more organized.

What are the best ways to organize my day?

For most research professionals, every day is different. A CRA, for example, may spend a day at a site conducting a monitoring visit, and the next day, the CRA may work from their home office, uploading close-out documents to the Trial Master File (TMF) for a different study.

Varied schedules aside, starting by focusing on something you do daily is helpful. How you start your day can impact how you carry out your day. Will you stay on track as you tackle the most critical items on your to-do list, or will disorganization cause you to get side-tracked?  

Three prioritization and organization tips to begin your work day as a Clinical Research Professional:

  1. Check your calendar for calls and meetings scheduled that day. Consider what you must prepare for each call, and put those items on your To-Do List.
  1. Check your email inbox at least three times per day – morning, mid-day, and late afternoon or evening. Make sure to acknowledge important emails. A quick email confirmation response will help alleviate follow-up emails, phone calls, and panic messages.
  1. Start tackling your To-Do List and action items. ClinEssentials has a CRA General Task List, Project Manager General Task ListVisit To Do List, and other organizational tools (including digital downloads for many items) created specifically for research professionals like you. 

Watch here to learn more about these three tips to help you prioritize and stay organized throughout your work day.

PRO TIP for CRAs and SITE TEAMS: If you want to boost your efficiency and improve your organization, take a look at CRA Audit Notes. These color-coded notepads with common Clinical Research statements are proven to increase efficiency when monitoring up to 30%. 

What are the best ways to organize my “Outlook” (aka your email inbox)?

Staying on top of your emails can be very difficult, especially when running from meeting to meeting, flight to flight, or exam room to exam room! Trust me, I have been there! Lucky for you, there are things you can do to keep your email inbox organized, even when you are away from your desk!

Five reasons to keep your email inbox organized:

  1. Ensures you are seeing and responding to the most important emails
  2. Easily search for a specific email, emails sent by a particular person, etc.
  3. Helps you prioritize your day
  4. Saves time spent sifting through and searching for emails
  5. Allows you to communicate more effectively

Plus, each of these five reasons leads to decreased stress. To reiterate something mentioned above, a benefit of organization is better work-life balance through time and stress management.

How can you keep your email inbox organized with all the emails you receive each day, week, month, and year? 

This is a valid question! 

How do you feel when you wake up in the morning to 10+ emails from someone working at night or in a different time zone? 

How do you feel when you are presenting in a meeting or conducting a training session, and you keep seeing new email notifications pop up in the corner of your eye?

How do you feel when you step away for a doctor’s appointment and return an hour later and have to play email catchup with the seemingly hundreds of new unread messages?

We all get overwhelmed by emails. But there are ways to set up your inbox to help you be productive despite the email overload. 

Five tips for organizing your email inbox:

These tips are specifically for Outlook, but most can transfer to other email systems. (If you like the concept, you can do a simple Google search to figure out how to make that happen for your inbox.) 

  1. Keep only unread emails and emails that require follow-up in your inbox.
    • “Flag” emails that require an action and you want to save for later.
    • File emails that you want to keep and have already been actioned.
  1. Create folders in your inbox. Choose folder names that work well for you and your role.
    • CRCs: Create a study-specific folder for each study.
    • CRAs: Create a folder for each site in the study.
    • CTMs: You may do a combination of any of the above but also your folders may include Contracts, Data Management, Finance, Resourcing, Timelines, and Vendors. 
  1. Set up your calendar and make it useful for you.
    • Create reminders for yourself, such as Completing Timesheets on Fridays. 
    • Color-code your calendar. Use a different color for Meetings, Reminders, Administrative, etc.
  1. Utilize Rules to define actions for emails that meet specified conditions. For example, an email with a particular subject line will be filed in a designated folder. (If you get a lot of emails with the same subject, this is a great way to clean up your inbox quickly!)
  1. Use Conditional Formatting in your View Settings to color-code your inbox.
    • Choose a different color for emails from your manager and other people to whom you want to provide a swift response.
    • Choose a color for emails that say your name.
    • Be careful that your rules do not overlap!

In this video, learn more about these tips and how to use your email inbox as your secret weapon.

PLEASE NOTE: Organizing your inbox takes time. Consider setting aside a few hours to focus on this organizational task. File, color-code, and create rules that work best for you. Once this task is complete, you’ll realize it was time well spent!

What are the best ways to organize my desk?

Is your desk:

  1. Completely clean except for the item that you are currently addressing. (Everything else is filed away in its appropriate, easy-to-find folder).
  2. Appears clean-ish, with several different piles of papers for what you are working on now – or need to work on later.
  3. Organized chaos: You claim to know where everything is (but no one else would be able to find anything).
  4. A disaster area. Total mayhem. Papers cover the desk, possibly the floor, and any other chairs or tables in the office. 

Sure, “A” sounds great, but very few people actually work this way. It’s good to have a goal, right?

Since Clea and Joanna from The Home Edit likely are not coming to organize your desk anytime soon (we would only be so lucky), we put together a few ideas to get you from total mayhem or organized chaos to clean-ish or completely clean!

5 Tips for Organizing Your Desk

Similar to your email inbox, and depending on the current state of desk disarray, you’ll need to block time on your calendar for this activity. If you are color-coding your calendar as discussed above, this task is considered Administrative.

  1. Go through ALL of the loose papers. File what you can (if you already have file folders, binders, etc.), create piles, and recycle/shred whatever you don’t need.
  1. Determine a filing system that will work for you and your role. Will you create a binder for each study? Will you generate file folders similar to your email folders? Will you do a combination of binders and file folders? 
  1. Clean out your desk drawers and files. Remove what you don’t need.
  1. Make a list of items to purchase: binders, dividers, folders, bins and containers, drawer organizers, labels, etc. Order the items online or go shopping! Don’t forget to save those receipts in case your company will reimburse you, or check your supply cabinet or supply order process to get what you need from your company. 
  1. Put everything in its specific place. 

Now that your desk is organized, it’s all about maintaining the organization. Once you realize how much time you save by knowing where things are instead of sifting through endless papers, you will prioritize keeping your desk organized.

PRO TIP: Use a To File bin to put loose papers and folders in throughout the day. Before you finish your work day, make it a point to put away each item – or do it as you start your day – but keep it up!

Challenge Yourself to Stay Organized

Throughout this article, we’ve mentioned some time-saving tools from ClinEssentials that improve organization. But even organizational tools can get disorganized, so we created storage items to help sustain your organization. These bundles are available in the online Shop:

  • CRA Audit Notes & Acrylic Holder – This is how many research sites keep their Audit Notes easily accessible and organized.
  • 1.5 x 3 CRA Audit Note Folder – This folder is perfect for CRAs who prefer the smaller size Audit Note, and it fits easily in any work bag.
  • CRA Tools Padfolio – This is another excellent option for CRAs when they travel for site visits because it looks professional and holds their favorite monitoring tools.

You’ll probably get busy and stop doing the best job of organizing or planning your day, your inbox may get overloaded, or your desk may become covered. That’s okay! 

Refer back to this article and restart your organization. 

Here’s your final PRO TIP: Organizing is the ultimate rainy or cold and snowy weekend day activity. If you can’t find time on your schedule, keep this task in the back of your mind for when you have a few hours free and want to spend them being productive! 

We Want to Hear From You!

If you watched the video about organizing your email inbox, you know the tips discussed were learned from someone else. Please share your best organizing tips with us; just comment below. Thank you! 

Tiffany Ashton, MAS, CCRA, has over twenty years of experience as a Clinical Research Professional. Tiffany is the Director of Operations for ClinEssentials, a consultant in the Clinical Trial Manager role, and the expert instructor for the CTM Training Course.


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