20 do’s and don’ts for managing your boss’s emails

Managing your boss’s 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 easier 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 have been doing this for a while:

  • DO: Check their emails at the beginning of every day to review what has come in overnight. 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 challenging to track responses.
  • DO: Make use of the email systems technology. I use Outlook and find the following helpful:
  1. 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
  2. Rules: One of my Executives 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.
  3. 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 useful 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 exceptionally well and once the Executive relinquishes this responsibility we can 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 before 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 and it 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 they take with different colleagues and clients. Also sometimes emails can be accidentally deleted when 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 specific 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 individual 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 answer on their 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 report on their computer screen or hand-held device ensure it is clear and easy to view.
  • DON’T: When managing your boss’s emails don’t live in their inbox, it will limit the amount of time you have to do your work. Instead, check their emails a few times during 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, managing your boss’s emails 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 handle your boss’ emails? Do you have any other Do’s and Don’ts that you can share?

Do you want more Outlook resources?

Download our 40 Outlook Hacks Cheat Sheet for Scheduling Meetings and managing your boss’s emails. Every tip and trick you need to master Microsoft Outlook. If you want some more tips on managing your Executive’s diary, we have loads of articles in the email management section of Practically Perfect PA.