Managing Your Executive's Email: Effective Offense and Defense Strategies
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Managing our executive's email is often part of being an assistant.
Each executive will have different preferences for how they want their inbox managed. However, there are some general strategies that we can implement regardless of preferences both inside their email account (offense) and outside of it (defense).
When you are working inside of your executive's inbox, you can help to maintain control by using a few offense strategies:
Begin by discussing the email management system that is currently in place. It's important to know if there are any processes that are working well, pain points, as well as what your executive's goals are.
Set up a folder system. If your executive already has a folder system in place, consider if there is a need to improve upon the existing process. Could you consolidate, delete, or add folders? The main thing to keep in mind is that an effective folder system should be uncomplicated, it should help meet your executive's goals, and that it is a living system.
Set up a labeling system. I recommend finding out how your executive prefers to use labels. For example, if they will use labels to assign emails for you to take action on. In addition, (similar to the folder system bullet above) if a system is already in place, think about if there are ways to improve upon it.
Set up mail rules. Mail rules can be a secret weapon in helping you to keep your executive's inbox organized with practically no effort. However, no automatic system is perfect. I have occasionally seen emails that were not part of the rules end up in the wrong folder, so I recommend keeping an eye on all folders to be safe.
Determine an email response system. Find out what kind of emails you should draft replies or respond to. If your executive can provide response examples to refer to, those can be extremely helpful to keep handy in your files or for you to create templates from.
Consider setting up canned responses. If you or your executive are writing the same replies over and over, canned responses can be used instead. They are basically email templates that can be used instead of wasting time copying and pasting the same replies.
Unsubscribe from junk mail. I recommend getting permission from your executive before doing this. Sometimes our executives will intentionally sign up to be on certain email lists, so make sure you know the types of lists he/she tends to sign up for before unsubscribing from everything.
Lastly, find out how often your executive would like their inbox checked. If you have times established at the beginning, then you know exactly what your executive's expectations are.
When you are working outside of your executive's inbox, you can help to prevent unnecessary clutter by working on the defense:
Think twice before CC-ing your executive. Consider if your executive really does need to be copied on the email before doing so. If they do need to be copied, I recommend anticipating any questions the other people on the email might have and including that information. Providing all details from the get-go decreases the chance of subsequent emails.
Move your executive to BCC whenever possible. Many times, others send us emails with our executive CC-ed when it's not necessary. In those cases, instead of hitting the 'Reply All' button, move your executive to the BCC section. When you do so, I recommend starting your reply with something like "Moving [insert your executive's name here] to BCC" so everyone on the email chain knows that he/she is being removed. In addition, then your executive will also know that they have been removed.
Consolidate emails. I highly recommend doing your best to consolidate the emails you send to your executive. Unless the email is time sensitive, avoid sending one-offs. A general practice that has worked great for me is starting a draft with all non-urgent updates in the morning and sending it at the end of the day.
Be concise. Make it a habit of getting to the point and avoiding unnecessary wordiness. However, sometimes there is a lot to cover and no way around it. In those instances, I recommend using bullets as they can help break content up and make points easier to scan.
Proofread before hitting send. I would do a once-over to make sure there are no errors as those can cause confusion. Also, keep your eyes peeled for jargon, acronyms, or other words that might not be clear. Taking the time to prevent ambiguity can help avoid additional emails asking for clarification.
Consider not composing an email. If you know you will be getting some face time with your executive, then consider saving your questions and non-urgent updates for that time.
Keep an eye out for email-saving apps. For example, task management programs can optimize team communication and reduce email volume.
Check out this article from longtime EA and bestselling author, Jeremy Burrows, on the topic of managing email.
Also, check out Jeremy's book, The Leader Assistant: Four Pillars of a Confident, Game-Changing Assistant.