October 29, 2020

What Delegating Your Email Actually Looks Like

Delegating email is one of the first and most common tasks handed off to an assistant—but how is that done in practice?

Delegating email is one of the first and most common tasks handed off to an assistant—and for good reason. Living in your inbox is time consuming and distracting. But handing off the responsibility of your email correspondence may sound unnerving or even impossible.

Your inbox is a considerable amount of work and a big part of your day-to-day. It’s a mix of formal and informal messaging filled with nuance. How can someone besides yourself have enough context to successfully manage your inbox?

In reality, delegating your email isn’t stressful, manual, or impossible. Here is what delegating your email looks like in practice when you’re working with a trusted assistant.

What delegating your email means—and what it doesn’t

Delegating your email means you’re essentially sharing your inbox with someone who will optimize and prioritize the incoming messages. It doesn’t mean you’ll never look at your emails or correspond with your contacts again. It does mean you’ll stop habitually living in your inbox, hurrying to respond to incoming emails, and falling behind on messages.

You and your assistant will agree upon an approach to handling your inbox. Your assistant will then codify a system to clean up, organize, and manage your inbox with clarity. Here is how to begin establishing a method to sharing your inbox:

1. Start with initial questions and ground rules.

  • Do you currently use labels?
  • Do you have a folder system?
    • If yes to either of the above, is this system working or is this something your assistant should reconsider and work on?
  • Are there any newsletters that you don’t read? If so, would you like your assistant to put a list together of what should be kept/unsubscribed?
  • Should your assistant respond to emails on your behalf?
    • If so, should they respond with your name or their own?
      • If so, to whom can they respond?
      • If not, should the assistant create draft responses for you to edit and then send?
  • Do you use email templates?
    • If not, would you like your assistant to help set them up?
  • What is most consuming for you when it comes to inbox management?
  • What would you say your pain points are in regards to inbox management?
  • Are there things you'd like to get to in your inbox that you don't quite get to?

2. Allow for archiving old emails.

Whether you have 10,000 emails or 100, you probably have stagnant emails that can be archived. Archiving allows for easier management and organization. Keep in mind that archiving isn’t the same as deleting—you’ll still be able to find specific emails through search.

Agree on an archiving timeline together. For example, your assistant should archive any emails that are 2-3 months old or older.

3. Create a folder and labeling system.

You may already have an organizing structure in place that you’re happy with. If that’s the case, explain the system to your assistant. They can even create a key to your system for your/their reference and to have in place for reference.

If you don’t have a folder or labelling system, your assistant will create one and share with you. Generally, there are two main types of folder systems an assistant relies on:

  • Record keeping: invoices, logins, account info, receipts, travel
  • Messaging: Action required, waiting on response, complete

Once you’ve established the method your assistant will use to manage your inbox, you’ll typically choose a specified time either per day or per week to go into your inbox and take action. For each inbound email you receive that requires action, you will either:

  • Delegate the email to your assistant
  • Introduce your assistant in the thread of an email (e.g. “I’ll let Farida take it from here”)
  • Snooze the email to personally respond to later

Assistant best practices

In addition to keeping your inbox organized and taking action on delegated emails, your assistant will leverage industry best practices and what they’ve learned about your working style when managing your email.

  • Confidentiality and discretion are top-of-mind. Your assistant will take note of tone of voice, how they greet and sign off to emails, and keep track of which individuals they should respond to and which they should not.
  • Keeping you in the loop. Your assistant should BCC you when appropriate, so you can know action was taken without crowding your inbox or relying on you to ask for an update.
  • Writing with purpose. Your assistant knows that proofreading emails is extremely important as well as being concise and thoughtful with how they’re constructing their messages.
  • Responding in a timely manner. Assistants will have a next step on an email within 24 hours, whether it’s responding directly or flagging the email to you for action.

Sharing your inbox with your assistant is a huge step in regaining valuable time in your day. Once you understand the shared nature of delegating your email, you’ll find you check your email less often, forget the stress of replying to messages right away, and have considerably less work to do within your inbox.

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