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!

23 August 2009

Nice ways to say, "Hurry up!"

I hate waiting! Sometimes I need to do a job, but I can’t move forward until I get an answer from someone else. For instance, waiting for a meeting participant to choose a date, waiting for someone to order something that I need to do my job, waiting for someone to call me back, waiting for someone to get back from holidays and then to top it off they don’t put their out-of-office assistant on so you have no idea why they haven't gotten back to you. A co-worker once commented that I was like a dog going after a bone when I wanted information -- she said it as a joke, but it's true!

So how do you word your follow-up e-mail so as not to come across as impatient? I use the following phrases that seem to get the message across, but in a more gentle way than screaming:

  • I am following up on my e-mail of…
  • I look forward to hearing from you regarding my e-mail of …
  • I have not heard back from you regarding my request for...

It is OK to follow up, but be nice...people have a lot on their plate and your request is probably not the only thing they have to do, so be understanding, but be persistent. While waiting for the answer, you can go on to other tasks and bring this item forward another day to get it off your desk, but don’t let it go off your radar. Put it in your Outlook Tasks with a reminder to follow up.

16 August 2009

Warning! Warning! Incoming text message...

There used to be a t.v. show called Lost in Space. The space crew had a robot that waved it's mechanical arms and yelled, "Warning, Warning, alien approaching" or such other thing to protect and inform the crew. Sometimes I wish I had something to warn me when I am with someone with a cell phone so I can know that we are going to be interrupted. I find it frustrating when people either text while in a conversation or are constantly taking phone calls. Doesn't it make you feel as if you are not important?

But isn't it rude to interrupt?

Apparently not, when it's by phone... A person I know does this all the time. I am sure it is not intentional. She just thinks she has to answer her cell phone every time it rings.

My boss, like most bosses these days, is very tied to his BlackBerry and if we are having a meeting and his phone rings, he just can't help but look and see who it is. At least in his case if he has to answer it he will ask if I mind if he takes the call. Other times we will be talking and I notice his eyes moving to his BlackBerry and I will see he is no longer paying attention to me, but reading emails instead. I usually snap my fingers and say "Hey, over here!" We joke about it, but it is distracting.

Here is some common-sense etiquette:
  1. Screen your calls: Subscribe to call display. If you are a parent and want to take calls from your children, you will be able to see who is calling. And please tell your children only to call in case of an emergency, not just because little Johnny won't let Susy have the t.v. remote!
  2. Take it later: Subscribe to voicemail, then if you are in a conversation with someone and your phone rings, you can check your messages at a more convenient time. Nothing says we have to be available 24/7.
  3. Silence is golden: Try setting your phone to vibrate, then just get in the habit of regularly checking your messages. Yes, believe it or not the world will not fall apart if you don't take a call.
  4. Don't be rude: If you feel you must take the call, excuse yourself, but make the call short and tell the person that you are with someone right now, but will call them back when you have a moment. At least you are letting the person you are with know they are important.
  5. Don't text and talk: Texting can give the feeling of talking behind your back. At least with a phone call you hear one side of the conversation, but with a text you have no idea what the person is writing. For instance my friend could have been texting, "I am at a very boring lunch right now, please rescue me and say I am needed at home!"
  6. Smile you are on candid camera: Just because you can take a picture with your phone, doesn't mean you should. Always get the person's permission and never post someone else's photo on a social networking site such as Facebook without asking the person first.
  7. Things are not always as they appear. As I was watching a man on the bus talking on his hands-free cell phone, I couldn't help but be amused. An elderly woman was watching him out of the corner of her eye and you could tell she thought he had some mental issues. I had to admit, it did look pretty funny as he was very animated as he spoke.

In an emergency, the cell phone is a useful tool. How many times in the past ten years has help been on the way sooner because of a cell-phone call ? There is a good purpose for them and they are definitely useful in a business setting. However, I think our etiquette hasn't caught up with the technology. The next time your phone rings, ask yourself if the time and place is right to answer it.

8 August 2009

It's all in how you feel

Remember when you were younger and got a new pair of running shoes? I do! When I put those new runners on I felt I could run faster than I've ever run before.

School will be back in full swing soon. I recall the first day of school feeling so smart in my new clothes as I proudly walked to meet my friends. I was eager to open my brand new book bag and get my pencil and write the first words in my new scribbler. You can be sure my writing was neat with no spelling mistakes in those first few days.

What about when you go to the hairdresser and they work their magic and you come out of there with your hair all shiny and bouncy. I love it when I can feel my hair bouncing as I walk and for a brief moment I feel like a model.

Sometimes it is all in how you feel isn't it?

It can be that way in your professional life as well. How you present yourself and what you wear to the office can help how you feel about what you are doing. If you are in a smart suit with appropriate shoes and hair done, you feel professional and act and speak accordingly. It puts you in the right frame of mind for what you are doing and then you can get down to business.

The same applies if you have a job interview or a new challenge at work. Buying a new outfit or wearing a freshly dry-cleaned suit will go a long way to increasing your confidence level. Of course you have to be prepared and know your stuff, but knowing you look good when you walk in the door will do wonders on how you present yourself.

What about your work space? Is it neat and tidy? Is everything organized and in the proper place so when you need it you can just grab it? Sometimes the state of my office reflects how I feel and how I do my job.

I feel buried and out of control if my office is not tidy and I don't like working in those conditions. It is hectic enough without my space looking hectic as well. Why not take the time to tidy up a bit. Clear your desk as best you can. Keep things orderly. Buy a plant to add some life and colour to your office. Make it a comfortable work area to free you up to do your job well.

The next time you have a big task at work or a new opportunity that is exciting but a bit frightening too, it might be time to wipe down your desk and go out and buy that new suit and walk in and wow the socks off everyone.