How to Prevent Email Burnout in the Laboratory


It’s 9:00 on Monday morning. As Kate sits down at her desk she experiences that familiar feeling of dread…her email inbox is overloaded and she is way behind on responding to the multitude of queries, suggestions, issues and much more than makes up her typical day!

Kate is a Lab Manager and looks after a team of Technicians, Research Associates, Teachers, Demonstrators and also reports to management on a multitude of day to day activities. She receives and sends up to 50 emails every day. Reading and responding to these emails takes up a huge chunk of her day and as a result, she’s falling behind on key projects, staying late at work and not keeping close enough to her associates….she is experiencing Email Burnout! Sound familiar? ….read on

Whilst email can be an incredibly effective communication tool, many of us, like Kate, can too feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of mail that is bombarding our inbox daily. But wait, there is hope! With some careful management, you can become highly productive and efficient with your email communication.

Here at Westlab we approached our own internal team…. What do they find works well, how do they manage their emails along with the multitude of other activities that crowd in? We are pleased to share the results!


  • Fast response. Train yourself to work fast. Try the two minute rule – if the email will take less than two minutes to read and reply to then do it now. If it requires a more detailed response, store it in a ‘to do later’ file and schedule time on your calendar. Team Tip: Ensure you respond/take action to all emails within 24 hours.


  • Respond Appropriately. Everyone is different, some colleagues require a detailed response, others prefer a concise to-the-point reply. Know your personnel and respond in the way they would respond to you. Team Tip: See if the answer can be resolved in a quick call rather than waiting for an email response to be able to close off tasks and process email back logs quicker.


  • Manage your inbox. Aim for ‘Inbox Zero’ or at least down to one page by the end of the day. You will feel in control. Team Tip: Create a processed folder, once the email is sorted put it straight into the processed folder. Set up rules for any email with ‘unsubscribe’ in it to go straight to a Newsletter folder. Only check this when you need to.


  • Schedule and File. If you can’t deal with the email immediately, set up a simple filing system and schedule time as per point 1. Emails can be quickly retrieved and actioned when you are free of distractions.


  • Checking Emails. Set specific times (3-4 times per day) to check and handle. It takes 15 minutes to get into ‘flow mode’ so set aside enough time to get into the ‘flow’ and you will be surprised how much can be achieved! Team Tip: ‘I find that three times per day is effective: first thing, midday and before I go home.’


  • Ensure that your email conveys the right message, Read your email through the eye of the recipient. Team Tip: If it is a particularly sensitive email, keep it in drafts for a while and don’t send it in the heat of the moment…once sent it cannot be retracted!


  • Subject Line. Ensure that this encapsulates the message. If you need to forward on an email, change the subject line if required to reflect the updated message.


  • Avoid ‘Reply all’ and multiple cc’s. Addressing an individual can be way more effective if a response is required from an individual. Team Tip: Keep group emails for information only. Only cc in the necessary correspondents, remember that their time is valuable too. Avoid replying to emails you have only been cc’d to. Delegate where possible, if addressing multiple persons, specify their names and tasks required in the body of the email.


  • Commit a few hours to clean up your inbox once and for all and keep it that way. Team Tip: set aside 3-4 hours within the next week to overhaul your inbox, set up rules, action folders, delete unnecessary emails, etc.


  • And finally…read through any emails briefly before sending, avoid spelling errors and unnecessary mistakes that could confuse the recipient. Set some ground rules for the team, promote good communication habits and reap the rewards!



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