So once you have your Executive’s emails under control, the next step is to put a process that will help you organise the inbox and quickly make decisions about each email. There are many options here; again, you might have to adjust the system to your Executive’s preferences. The fundamental point is that you are not checking emails. You are processing them. Every time you go into your Executive’s inbox, something happens with the emails.
So how do you organise your Executive’s inbox? Here is my suggested method:
I like the Productivity Ninja process for filing emails. The author Graham Alcott suggests that emails are separated into three distinct areas. The live inbox – is where emails land, The processing folders – are where the work is happening, and the library – is where old emails are stored for reference. In Google Workspace, folders and referred to as labels.
The processing folders are
Action: This is the area your Executive will use to work through their emails. The folder will contain emails requiring a direct answer from your Executive, or you need further information before processing the response. If the action requires a response that is not replying to the email, you should ideally add the action to their to-do list and archive the original email. For example, if the email requires your Executive to follow up on a phone call or create a report.
Read: If you work in a large organisation, your Executive will get tons of internal communications, updates and newsletters. These emails must be read but shouldn’t sit in the live inbox. Move them into the read folder and find time in your Executive’s schedule for them to process and read these emails.
Waiting: Use this area to store emails you have delegated to another staff member and are waiting for a response. It is a good way for your Executive to clarify what is and isn’t being actioned. Once you’ve had an answer, you can move it into the archive.
The library area stores old emails that you are to keep for reference and referral. Like Graham Alcott, I also do not like folders and subfolders. The search and sort functions on both Outlook and Gmail are powerful, so there is no need for many folders and subfolders. Try to keep folders to a minimum. I would suggest the following:
- Key Projects
- Newsletters / Promotional
- Confirmations / Invitations
Again, process the library area at least once a month and archive or delete any emails that are no longer relevant.
Lastly, we have the live inbox area. The place your Executive’s emails arrive. Once you have your processing system in place, you will find that your Executive’s inbox is much less chaotic! Pick three times daily to jump into the inbox, move the new emails into the appropriate folders, or answer quick requests.
Setting up folders in Outlook
Setting up labels in Gmail
Categorising and labelling
Many Assistants I know love categorising and labelling and use the system to take the organisation of emails to another level! I’m not a big fan of categorising emails. If you use a filing system, this should be enough to keep your Executive’s emails organised. Also, you don’t want to spend considerable time processing emails, and I feel using categories or labels adds unnecessary time and decision-making.
With that being said, Google Workspace uses labels rather than folders which means the labelling options are pretty dynamic. This is a good article explaining the difference between Outlook Folders and Gmail labels and how to use labels in Gmail effectively.
If you want to add categories to your emails in Outlook, here is an excellent resource.
Rules are brilliant for organising your email folders and automating processing. Here is a good article about setting up rules on Outlook. Anything that helps automate your workflow is well worth setting up. Once you move emails into the designated folders, you will notice that the emails come from the same sender. So, for example, the internal comms newsletter will come from the same member of staff. Set a rule, so the internal comms letter drops straight into the ‘read folder’.
Setting up rules on Outlook
Setting up rules in Google