Some of us dream about empty inboxes. It’s the holy grail, if you're willing to commit a lot of time and energy to setting up an email process. But for those of us that don't have the time or desire to take on this massive endeavor, the next best thing is to hire a personal assistant. After all, many of us outsource laundry, document formatting, and even dating these days. So why not outsource our email inboxes?
While it's true that outsourcing our email inbox requires more personalized effort than dropping off the dry cleaning, a healthy dose of patience and contextual training can get our inboxes ready for someone else to manage.
1. Start with an Email Filtering Application
Simply handing over your login credentials and asking your new assistant to sort out your inbox is never a good idea. Instead, focus on identifying and honing your email process as a first step.
Before you let anyone into your email account, set up a good mail filter application. There has been some neat innovation in this space recently. Email apps like Sanebox and Unroll.me provide an alternative to the default Outlook or Gmail spambots. These new tools use automated folders and filters to set aside any newsletters and listservs that you’ve signed up for, so that they don’t bury key emails in your inbox. Besides the two mentioned above, there are dozens more that might be more suitable to your particular email workflow. Implementing these tools will make sure that you’ve handled a significant percentage of the “prioritization” challenge that comes up when delegating email to an assistant.
2. Offload Specific Email Processes to Your Assistant
By setting up a delegation process, your assistant can help offload your email burden. Here are a few ideas of where to start:
- Contact Updating: When you notice a new email address or get an undeliverable email, you can forward that directly to your assistant, so that she can update your contact database for you. This both saves you time and keeps your CRM and your email inbox clean.
- Document Collection: If you have a number of documents that need to be collected and put into a report on a regular basis, you could ask your team to send those directly to your assistant. Your assistant can then put the report together for you and/or chase up missing documents needed for the report. This method works for newsletters, monthly sales meetings or project plans, for example.
- Consolidating Action Items: Do you sign expense reports every Friday? Instead of receiving and tracking them in dribs and drabs all week, have them sent directly to your assistant. She can consolidate them into a single email and task list sent to you at the end of every day or week.
- Scheduling: Even after someone has agreed to meet you, it takes an average of 5-6 emails back and forth to pin down a time, date and calendar invite for the appointment. Once your colleague has agreed to a meeting, cc: in your assistant and have her take over the scheduling ping-pong, so it stays out of your inbox.
The main point here is to identify the painful, recurring practices and figure out a way to delegate those procedures before handing over the keys to your entire inbox. Once you set up the foundation, your assistant can master the basics and gain the context necessary to take more emails off of your plate.