Most busy executives and entrepreneurs feel like they’re drowning in a sea of unread emails when they look at their inbox. They see the number of unread emails, and their blood pressure instantly shoots up! They scroll through their inbox looking at the senders’ names to see what’s from a client, what they should read now, and what they come back to later. Only they never come back for the “later” emails. Instead, they wind up losing the information they need or missing out on opportunities because their inbox is so big and disorganized.
With a little organization and a trusted assistant, you can eliminate the wasted time you spend sifting through your inbox. Many people think email is something they have to manage personally, but it’s becoming an increasingly popular thing to delegate. If you’d like to get out of email hell, there are several ways to get started. In working with my clients, I present them with the two options below.
OPTION A: Stop checking your business email, period. Turn the management of this inbox entirely over to your assistant.
Set up a private email for business-related items. Don’t give this address to anyone but your assistant, or to anyone who sends you emails you don’t want/need to go through your assistant. Use this address for subscriptions/mailing lists you sign up for so your assistant only spends time on things he/she needs to filter.
As emails come into your public-inbox, your assistant can reply to anything he/she can handle, and forward you anything that you need to see or respond to. You can then reply to your assistant – at your public email address – to give any instruction necessary. If you need to reply to the original sender, your assistant can then copy and paste your words into a response to the original email.
OPTION B: Use folders and automations to minimize the time you and your assistant spend in your inbox.
This is the way I handle my email. With this method, you don’t have a second, private email address, but you still don’t reply to anything that doesn’t truly require your attention. Instead, your assistant sets up folders for different categories of emails and then sets up rules to automatically direct emails from certain senders to the right folder. You block off time for checking email, and when the time comes, you know exactly where to look to find the most important things first.
For instance, I have folders in my inbox for each of the publications I receive and thought leaders I follow. When I receive an email from them, a rule in Outlook moves the message to a folder labeled with their name. I have time blocked off on my calendar to read what’s in these folders, so I never waste productive time sorting through my inbox.
If my assistant replies to an email for me, she deletes anything I don’t have to know about. For example, if someone is requesting something simple, like a form/document, or the name of a book I recommended, or the date of an event, my assistant replies with the answer and deletes the email. When she replies to something I do need to know about, she copies or blind copies me on her response.
If an email requires my response, she leaves it in the main inbox, marks it unread, and applies a red flag to draw my attention to the message. If it’s time-sensitive, she will set a reminder to pop up at a time when she knows I will be checking email.
How to get started:
- Start by doing an inbox review with your assistant. When preparing to delegate your email, let things pile up in your inbox for a couple of days. Instead of deleting emails or taking other actions, wait until you meet with your assistant. Look at your emails together and let him/her know what can be deleted or unsubscribed from, what should be kept or directed to a folder, and what should be marked for review or forwarded to your private address.
- Decide how to deal with personal emails. I always ask friends and family not to use my business address. For the sake of my productivity, I like to keep personal things separate so they don’t distract me when I’m working. I only check my personal emails outside business hours. If you prefer to have all your communications in one place, have your assistant set up a folder labeled “Personal.” If you’d like, you can set up subfolders to organize emails from people who send you things frequently. For example, I have a client who has a folder labeled for each of his siblings, one labeled “Home” for emails from his wife, and one labeled “Jokes” that come from a friend who still shares memes and videos by email.
One caveat: let people know you don’t manage your own inbox.
When you give someone your email address, let them know that your assistant manages your inbox and may reply on your behalf at times. To prevent confusion, your assistant should always begin any email he or she writes on your behalf by saying, “This is [name],” and should use his own name and signature. He should only use your name and signature when you want the recipient to receive a personalized email that appears to come directly from you.
Rachael Hodo is the Founder of ProAdmin Solutions, LLC, a VA firm that specializes in general administration, content marketing, and association management services. Rachael and her team work by referral only. You can reach her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/rachaelhodo.