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Best Practices for Managing Email Workflow with an Assistant

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  • Best Practices for Managing Email Workflow with an Assistant

    Over the course of the last two years, the volume of email I receive daily has tripled. Most of this is due to the success of my blog and Twitter presence. I am now getting 350 or so emails a day.

    The problem is that I have built my reputation on being responsive. I try to get my email inbox to zero each day. But lately, it has become almost impossible. I have concluded that this just isn’t sustainable. Something has to change.

    In the spirit of focusing on those things that only I can handle, I have enlisted the help of my assistant. We talked through the problem this afternoon. Based on how we have seen others do it, it looks like we have two options:

    1. Let her manage my main email inbox. She drags the emails that require my personal attention into a subfolder called “Mike to Handle.” The problem with this is the temptation for me to peek at my main inbox. I would love to never see it at all.

    2. Let her manage my main email inbox and forward emails that require my personal attention to a private email address that no one else knows. The problem with this is that it is difficult to reply to others without tracking down the original email message or deleting my assistant's message and re-entering the addressees.

    Are there any other ideas for managing email with an assistant? What are best practices? I'd be grateful for any help. Thanks.

  • #2
    The Main Three or Four Files

    Why don't you and your assistant create at least three different files: Must Read, Can Read, and Don't Read? That way you can read the most important e-mails and leave the rest until you have time. Have a cut-off time for the Don't Read file--you could have your assistant empty it every two weeks or so. You might want to add a Question File, too. That way if your assistant doesn't know what to do with an e-mail, he/she can put it in there, and it will stay there until you get to it. That's my two cents worth!

    Comment


    • #3
      This is helpful. The only thing I would eliminate is the "Don't read" folder. If it is there, it will tempt me. If it's out of sight, it's out of mind.

      Thanks for your input, Patricia!

      Comment


      • #4
        Managing Email

        Here's what I do to manage my e-mail, although it's much less than 350 a day:

        1) Althoug I do try to respond to messages within 24 hours, I don't feel that I have to do this for every message I get.

        2) I categorise messages into those that can and need to be dealt with immediately; those that require a little more thought or complicated and should be dealt with within a reasonable amount of time; those that I only need to read but not respond to, especially those with long attachments for information.

        3) After I respond to the ones I can and need to immediately, I flag the those that need a reply. I ask my assistant to print selected messages with long attachments not easy to read effectivley on the screen. I come back to these periodically during the day to deal with them in an orderly manner.

        4) I tackle the rest at leisure, when there is time available.

        Comment


        • #5
          You can do this, Michael. You can rule over the e-mails! Don't ever let them rule over you. With his busy life, Christ set some boundaries--God will help you do the same.

          Comment


          • #6
            Simple = Better

            I agree with Patricia. Simple = better. My wife volunteers to help a non-profit leader and they work off one main account with folders. The most valuable thing she does is add a human touch to help weed out the spam (or bacn as you call for the mailling list type emails). She then has a type of "Need to respond" folder and all else is flagged as unread.

            I imagine it's even more challenging knowing the different doors you have open (eg Twitter, Facebook, etc), I couldn't imagine trying to manage a "secret account" as well. Hope this helps!

            Comment


            • #7
              Tim Ferris

              Michael,
              maybe you can find something useful for you here:
              http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog...k-email-again/
              Hope it helps,
              Andrea

              Comment


              • #8
                The Tim Ferriss article was super-helpful. I should have known that Tim would have something great on this! Thanks so much!

                Comment


                • #9
                  Leo Babauta

                  Here's another link that may be of use:

                  http://zenhabits.net/2009/07/killing...ched-my-inbox/

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thanks, Leo. I actually remember reading that when you originally posted it. It really challenged my thinking.

                    Love your blog! Thanks.

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