So it goes without saying that you get tons of emails, oh and your Executive probably gets tons of emails too! These days, we are all swimming in the sea of digital communications and most of us are drowning! Recently I have been doing a lot of research on how to maximise my time, be more productive and generally kick ass during the hours I can dedicate to work (the rest of my time is taken up with making meals that my kids don’t eat, tidying up Lego and my other half’s dirty clothes that never quite make it to the laundry bin and binge watching Orange is the New Black). One area that is my absolute weak spot is email. I am guilty of being an email addict and spending unnecessary amounts of time reading, replying and filing my emails. So today, I am sharing my 10 tips to tidy up your inbox. I am using these tips and can vouch for them!
If you are anything like me, you will live your life by Outlook. Sad but true, right? I literally wouldn’t know what I was doing without my inbox and calendar organised just so. For me, Outlook is key to the work that I do – it was even more important when I was working as an EA. I’ve written a few blogs in the past about maximising Outlook for productivity and filing paperwork, but today I wanted to focus specifically on organising your outlook folders. This is a little excerpt of a blog I wrote back in 2012 while working as an EA to three directors, I included a picture of my Outlook filing system which gives a good overview of how I filed stuff.
During the course of my career one of my favourite tasks was creating regular newsletters, marketing emails, company updates and bulk email messages from my Executives. I did this task in a number of roles and found it to be a really creative outlet for me. I used a few different systems – Concep Campaigner, Dotmailer and MailChimp to name a few – however I always found that no matter what message I was creating the emails all followed a similar pattern. Here are my top 10 tips for creating bulk emails.
I got back from my holiday last week to discover over 200 emails for me to read, delete, action and generally sort through (I’d only been away for 4 days and that included the weekend)! As with any administrative task I crack on in a ruthless manner because I just want the job completed as soon as humanly possible – in other words I take no prisoners. I hate, hate, hate having a cluttered email inbox and always have a slight panic when I have more than 10 emails in there at any one time! During this round of frenzied email sorting I skimmed most of the emails but I definitely didn’t give them my full attention unless I knew exactly what that email required me to do. If the email was a bit vague I either deleted it, filed it or well I probably did just deleted it. This got me thinking about how colleagues read my emails, especially those senior colleagues that have 200 emails a day to sort through. Do they skim my emails, do they read them at all? I know most of the senior folk have assistants to do that for them but as we all know if assistants are looking after someone else’s emails as well as their own there is probably less of a chance our emails will surface through the tidal wave of correspondence.
So how do we ensure our emails are read?
Here are 10 quick and easy tips:
- Be clear and precise… The recipient should be able to see at a quick glance what the email is about, how it relates to them and why it is important to read.
- Bear in mind that your colleagues will all read their emails on different equipment (blackberry, iPad, computer etc etc) which means that some people will only see the subject heading or could see the whole thing. Either way be concise and don’t expect everyone to click through to read the whole thing
- Make sure you put something in the subject heading, never leave this blank. The words you write into the subject heading should be relevant to the email. If the email is urgent make sure this is stated in the subject heading.
- Tell the reader what you want them to do. Be polite but also be firm – ask the question or relate the action required in a clear tone. Ask them if they have understood the request and if they need anything further from you to fulfill the demand.
- If the email is for their information only ensure you add FYI to the email subject heading. This means the recipient doesn’t have to rush to read the email and also will trust when you do have urgent emails as you know what the difference means! If the FYI is urgent perhaps a phone call would be better.
- Who is the email going to, do they need it to clog up their inbox or will a phone call do or even walking over to talk to them (eek?!) If email is the best form of communication then make sure you don’t include anybody in the email that doesn’t need to see it – never ever over use the cc button!
- Spend a few minutes proof reading your email for the obvious grammar and spelling mistakes but also for tone and style. It can be easy for emails to be misinterpreted.
- If you are sending an email to colleagues that you are friendly with smiley faces and other emoticons are fine if you don’t know the person very well or is outside of the office do not add smiley faces… ever! Impose the rule of professional and concise language on your emails at all times.
- If the email is to a person you’ve never met before and they don’t know who you are a quick one line of introduction is worthwhile. For example, ‘My name is XXX I am XXX’s Executive Assistant, I am contacting you today for …’
- Don’t send junk mail or irrelevant emails. If you have a bit of a reputation for sending unimportant emails then don’t expect your important emails to be read at all.
Managing your boss’ emails is one of the crucial tasks that we as assistants are asked to perform. I remember starting out as a PA and found this to be particularly difficult because I just didn’t know if my manager wanted me to treat her emails the same way I treated mine, I didn’t know how to respond to her emails and importantly I didn’t know what to keep and what to delete. It was tricky and took up a large amount of my day deliberating over what to do with each correspondence. It has taken a while to confidently manage emails on behalf of someone else but I feel now with a few years experience it is easer than you think. Here are my Dos and Don’ts for email management, which I hope will be a useful starting point for new assistants and a checklist for those that having been doing this for a while:
- DO: Check their emails at the beginning of every day to review what has come in over night. Action emails as appropriate.
- DON’T: Print out all of their emails for them to review. They should be viewing their emails via their computer / blackberry / iPad etc. Printing everything out generally leads to delays, it is a waste of paper and it is more difficult to track responses.
- DO: Make use of the email systems technology. I use Outlook and find the following really helpful:
- Flags: I use this mainly when my manager is away on business or annual leave. I flag when they need to respond to something or when they need to know that I’ve dealt with an email. Using flags helps lower the chances that you are duplicating work
- Rules: One of my Director’s receives ridiculous amounts of newsletters, sales emails and invites to events etc. When I first started I would ask him if he would like to attend anything, he never did. Then I asked him if he wanted me to print the newsletters out for him, that was also a negative response. Finally I said do you want me to clear these out of your inbox, this was greeted with a much happier reply so now I have rules that take the email straight to the junk mail and I delete everything once a day.
- Colour coding: This will help your manager to quickly realise who has emailed them and what to prioritise
- DO: Cc your manager into an email if you have dealt with it and they need to know. This practice is good if you are new to the job and you want to prove to your manager you are capable, in time this exercise can be reduced as you both gain more confidence in your abilities.
- DON’T: Be afraid to demonstrate how proactive you can be. Managing emails is something we as assistants do extremely well and once the Executive relinquishes this responsibility we can really show how much time and energy we will save them to go and work on other things.
- DO: Use a bring up folder for important emails and attachments that relate to any upcoming meetings the following day. This will allow them to review any discussions that have taken place over email prior to the meeting.
- DO: Set up a good filing system for your manager’s emails that you are both comfortable with, I would suggest that the inbox area should be used for ‘live’ emails that are waiting for something to happen to them i.e. to be actioned, to be filed etc. Ensure you have a folder that your manager uses to store emails for you to deal with. This will help you know exactly what they want you to handle rather than guessing.
- DO: Check their sent and deleted items as well as the main inbox. In the early days of the job it will give you a good understanding of how they answer emails and the tone that he takes with different colleagues and clients. Also sometimes emails can be accidentally deleted when really they should be filed.
- DON’T: Keep your email management process static as you should be looking at ways you can tweak or improve the system. Work with your manager to evolve the process and have regular discussions regarding new apps or tools that could assist you both.
- DO: Think about ways to bring their attention to certain emails if they need to deal with something urgently and are unavailable to you – change the subject line, use flags (not applicable on a blackberry apparently)
- DO: Use other methods to make your boss aware of their urgent emails other than just emailing them. Try a concise voicemail message, a text or Instant Messenger.
- DON’T: Worry if you don’t know what to do with certain emails. Keep a list of questions you need to ask and ensure you have enough time with your manager to get through everything. Even if you take 5 minutes to get a yes or no answer you will be able to then deal with the correspondence appropriately.
- DO: Be transparent, make sure people are aware that emails are coming from you and not your manager. This will indicate to others that your manager trusts you to make decisions and reply on his behalf.
- DO: Respond to emails on the same day even if it is a holding note until you can speak to your manager
- DO: Write a few standard replies that your boss is comfortable with you using when, for example, you are declining an invitation, replying to an unwanted sales email or they have been asked to speak at an event.
- DON’T: Share what you see on your manager’s emails with anyone else ever, you are in a trusted position and what may seem like an innocent email could be highly confidential.
- DO: Format attached documents for your manager before printing. If they are going to read the document on their computer screen or hand-held device ensure it is clear and easy to view.
- DON’T: Live in your manager’s inbox, it will limit the amount of time you have to do your own work. Instead check their emails a few times during the course of the day.
- DO: Ask your boss if they want you to deal with private messages from friends and family. If not, set up a rule that means you do not see any of their private emails.
I hope you found my tips useful. Try not to be put off by the enormity of the task, it may seem daunting at first but once you get used to your manager and how they work it becomes easier to manage their correspondence. How do you manage your boss’ emails? Do you have any other Do’s and Don’ts that you can share?