Whether you are an Executive Assistant or an Administrative Assistant, email management of your boss's account has become a big part of our jobs. But with that job comes responsibility and accountability. Depending on what your boss's title is, we are often privy to some very confidential information. Our boss either has allowed us access because he or she is just overwhelmed with email and has no choice, but also because they trust that we will keep it to ourselves and not spread the information in the office. My boss has asked that I not read anything that has CONFIDENTIAL in the Subject Line and believe me I am grateful. I have my own emails to read and process so when I go into his account, I am thankful for the emails I can skip over.
These are the questions I ask myself as I am going through my boss's account:
Is this email for my information only?
Sometimes my boss cc's me on an email or I read it in his account and as I read it over, I determine if it is for my action or information. Many of the emails are just for information to keep me better informed on how to assist him and what he is up to. Even though there is no action, these emails are worth reading. It may help me when I am taking minutes to know some of the background or it might help if someone calls and I recall an email about that between them. I am then better able to assist the caller.
Is this email about a meeting that I need to organize?
If any of the emails have to do with meetings that he either wants scheduled or is planning, then I send that email to myself and bring it up when I meet with him to ask him how I can assist in the planning of the meeting. Many times it is evident that I need to do something such as book the boardroom, start planning travel, or bring forward the email for when the meeting takes place, etc. If I go ahead and take action, I send a quick email to him to let him know I did that or I let him know the next time I am speaking with him. I find speaking with your boss is better than sending email as sometimes the last thing they need is another email to deal with, but if I do send an email I keep it short and sweet and usually only write it in the Subject Line that I booked the boardroom for him, etc.
If I see he is emailing back and forth with someone and now they are in the stage of choosing the date, I ask him if he wants me to take over scheduling the meeting. Depending on who it is, he is usually very grateful as many people email him and then instead of getting their assistants to schedule the meeting, start trying to arrange it themselves, which he really does not have time to handle. The other person is usually happy as well as they also give over the planning of the meeting to their assistant and then we can take over the arrangements.
Does this email contain information that your boss may need at a later date?
Many times the initial email to my boss requesting the meeting has lots of information that he will need brought forward on the day of the meeting. This email usually contains the purpose of the meeting, information about what they want to speak about and what they are hoping to get accomplished. I print this email and when I prepare my boss's daily meeting package I put it in the folder as part of his preparation for that meeting as a reminder to him.
Is this email for my action?
Many times as I am reading through the emails I see an action for myself, or a possible action, so I bring that to my meeting with my boss to offer my assistance or get further clarification on next steps. Sometimes he will be emailing with someone and they decide they are going to meet at a restaurant so I ask him if he wants me to make the reservation or I go ahead and make the reservation and just let him know I did it. Other times he will be emailing with someone and they mention something that needs to be done such as making copies of a document to send to the team, so I ask him if he wants me to do that for him or, if it is evident, I just go ahead and prepare it and have it on his desk ready for him. Knowing when you should go ahead and take action will come as your working relationship with your boss develops and you start to know their style and preferences.
We are in their account for a reason, so ask yourself these questions to help you know what to look for. If you are unsure or uncomfortable taking this initiative, you should discuss it with your boss to ask their expectations on why you have access to their accounts and what they want you to look for. You can also make suggestions on what you can do for them. Some bosses are not sure what they want or need from their assistants. A boss and their assistant should have a close working relationship and a big part of that is communication. Never be afraid to ask when you need clarification or need more information. It is in the best interests of both of you.
And now for some humour...
Your secret is safe with me...
A woman I work with came by my desk the other day and was relating a telephone conversation she had with someone that my boss deals with. She mentioned the person had given her some confidential information that she wanted to pass along so I could let my boss know. When she started to relay it to me she stopped, hesitated, looked completely embarassed and then had to admit she couldn't remember what it was. We laughed! I said giving information of a sensitive nature to anyone over 50 was a sure fire way of ensuring that it wouldn't get passed along inappropriately, because we probably wouldn't remember it.
Which is another reason I always say WRITE IT DOWN!