29 August 2009

Managing your Boss's Inbox

Nowadays our bosses are busy almost 24/7 and in order to cope they need our help managing their e-mail account. This in turn makes us very busy as well. I can hardly keep up with my own e-mails at times let alone someone else's account, but that is part of my job.

Having access to your boss's e-mail account is a big responsibility and keeping things confidential is very important. It is a trust we have been given and shouldn't be abused or shared with anyone. This is particularly important given the ease in which we can share information on social networking sites.  If you don't keep it confidential, you won't be keeping your job very long.

Below are some things I try to do to carry out the management of my boss's e-mail account:

  • Meet with your executive and get on the same page on what they are expecting you to accomplish when going through their e-mail account. Do they want you to monitor their Inbox and bring urgent things to their attention or do they want you to take control of it? Be very clear on what is expected of you.
  • Read the e-mails! It is worth every minute that you spend to read the e-mails quickly, but thoroughly. Get familiar with the issues discussed. My boss expects me to not only read his e-mails, but to open and read the attachments as well. Many times I need to proof text and comment with my thoughts before he even looks at it. Of course my comments are limited because the subject matter is not my expertise, but he relies on my input and corrections to make the document look good.
  • If you are the minute-taker for meetings, you will be better prepared to take the minutes and use the correct terms in the right context because you will actually know what they are talking about.
  • I also find that when someone calls for my boss, I know what they are looking for and can assist them better. Although, I must say I rarely get telephone calls anymore -- everything comes in the e-mail!
  • Flag items that are urgent or print them for their attention and action. If there are any deadlines or appointments, put them in your boss’s calendar or task list with appropriate reminders. You don't want them to be surprised to find out they have a speaking engagement and haven't had time to prepare.
  • You may need to reply to e-mails on your boss’s behalf to let the person know that someone is looking into it and will get back to them. Speak to your IT Department. If you have the proper access to your boss’s e-mail account you can reply on their behalf and it will appear in the From line. For example, Patricia Robb on behalf of [boss’s name].
  • Get any files they may need as a result of the e-mail correspondence.
  • Check with your boss and if agreed, unsubscribe from any unnecessary e-mails that may be cluttering their Inbox or create subfolders and drag and drop these e-mails there for your boss to check when he or she has the time to review them. Your role may be just to unclutter their Inbox so they can better manage the important items.
If you pay attention to what is going on in their Inbox, you will not be taken by surprise when things come up. But don't stop there, I check the Sent and Deleted items too. You will not believe how many e-mails I have found in the Deleted items that I needed to take action on. Or in the Sent items and my boss wrote, "I have copied my assistant, Patricia," but he forgot to copy me.

Questions to ask yourself when reading your boss's e-mails
  1. Is there an action for me to take?
  2. Is this something I need to diarize or bring-forward at a later date?
  3. Is this something he or she will need and does it have to be printed for a meeting?
  4. Does it raise a question for you to follow up with your boss? For instance, "Are you really going to London in February -- do you recall that we have our AGM meeting on those dates and you are the Chair?"
  5. If my boss cc's me on an e-mail, I know he particularly wants me to pay attention. I always ask myself why did he copy me and what is it that he wants me to do and then look for the answer in the e-mail. Do I have to make a reservation, book a boardroom, call someone or bring something forward? He is copying me for some reason, but sometimes it is just to keep me in the loop, but if you read it, that will be evident and if not, ask.
  6. Is this something that I can Delete to unclutter his Inbox?  Some emails are obviously junk.  For instance I just received an email from a lawyer who said he has an inheritance of $4 million, but he needs me to send him some money and once he receives it, he will send me the money.  DELETE!
Keep communication open
Because I read his e-mails, I find it especially important to have regular one-on-one meetings with him to ask any questions about any of the information I am not sure about and to get clarification on any action I need to take. He can tell I've been reading because when we are discussing a matter, we are both on the same page. That is when I know I am doing a good job in the e-mail department.

Schedule a time to troll
My boss calls it trolling when I go through his e-mail account and that is a good way to describe it. I could be in there every minute of the day if I let myself, but that would not be a good use of my time. Find a time that works for you to check your boss's e-mail account.

I like to check it first thing in the morning and just before I go home at the end of the day. If I am waiting for something, I will check it mid-day, but I definitely feel out of the loop if I don't check it at all, so schedule a time and make it a regular part of your day.

Some things are private
Even though we have been given access, some e-mails are private. My boss told me when I first started working for him that e-mails with his wife and family are private and I skip right over them. Actually, I have too much to do with my own e-mails and his to want to read something that I don't have to. If your boss does want some e-mails to remain private, he or she can set their delegation settings to not let the delegate see private items, then they can send messages, set appointments and receive messages marked private and the assistant will not be able to see them.

Having worked in law firms for many years, it was always understood by staff that it was not our personal e-mail account, but rather the firm's account that we were using to do our jobs. Don't think of your e-mail account as yours, because it isn't. It is owned by the company and should be used for work. That is not to say you cannot have personal communications, but be aware someone could be watching. In my boss's case it's me, but you just never know who is checking, so keep it business as much as possible.

Last but not least...
Don't forget to check your boss's junk folder.  I found a few important emails that way as they had gone to the junk folder, but were in fact from legitimate senders.  I check it once a day.

Happy trolling!


Helene Sinclair said...

Very good article Patricia! Going through some major organizing and filing here at our office and this is another 'a propos' topic that hits home. THanks for sharing!

Suzanne said...

Hi Patricia ~ Good blog article with some great tips!

Jodith said...

Great post, Patricia. It gives good reasons to give our bosses as to why we actually should have access to their e-mail (I've had that conversation with a few bosses).

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Amie Cabrera said...

This is a very informative post on managing your boss' inbox. The tips that you have shared are really helpful. Thanks for sharing.

Clarissa Lucas said...

A very helpful read on how to effectively manage your boss' inbox. Thanks for posting.

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