I am working with a pair of co-founders of a VC firm. They are excellent at inventing and helping other startups. However, they, like many other executives, have not yet figured out how to best use an executive assistant to help them be more efficient. One of the founders asked me to provide some guidance on how they might be able to best leverage their EA and if I could help them specifically with email. Here is the summary of the “Executive Assistant Powered by AI – A Practical Email Optimization Strategy” that I shared with them.
It isn’t the “total package” or answer by any means. The EA and I have met as well as the co-founders and I. However, this is a good start for anyone that is just looking for a quick way to improve their EA’s efficiency behind the inbox.
Review the Executive’s Professional Background: Understand your assigned Executive’s role and responsibilities by reviewing their LinkedIn profile and the company website. This will help you understand the types of emails she may be receiving and the kind of assistance she might need.
Email Management Best Practices: As an executive assistant, it’s crucial to keep the inbox organized. This can be done by creating specific folders for different types of emails (e.g., internal, external, urgent, non-urgent), setting up rules to automatically sort emails into these folders, and regularly archiving or deleting unnecessary emails.
AI Application for Email Management: Consider using an AI-powered tool like SaneBox or Clara. These tools can learn their email habits and automatically sort emails based on importance and category. They can also send reminders for follow-ups and schedule emails to be sent later.
a. Sign up for an AI email management tool.
b. Connect their email account to the tool.
c. Spend some time training the tool by manually sorting emails for the first few days.
d. Regularly review the tool’s sorting to ensure accuracy and make adjustments as necessary.
Leveraging ChatGPT: ChatGPT can be used to draft responses to less critical emails. For example, if they receive a lot of networking requests, ChatGPT can be used to draft polite responses.
a. Identify common types of emails that they receive.
b. Draft template responses for these emails.
c. Use ChatGPT to customize these responses based on the specific email.
d. Review and send the responses.
Continuous Improvement: Regularly review the effectiveness of these tools and processes. Make adjustments as necessary to ensure that their inbox remains manageable and they can focus on their most important tasks.
Remember, the goal is to improve efficiency and allow them to focus on their most important tasks. However, it’s also crucial to maintain a personal touch and ensure that their voice and preferences are respected in all communications tasks.
Email Management Best Practices
- Create Folders/Labels: Depending on the email client you’re using (Outlook, Gmail, etc.), create folders or labels for different types of emails. For example, you might have folders for ‘Internal Communications’, ‘Client Communications’, ‘Urgent’, ‘Follow-up’, etc. This will help you categorize and prioritize emails.
- Set Rules: Most email clients allow you to set rules or filters to automatically sort incoming emails. For example, you could set a rule to automatically move emails from a specific sender to a certain folder. This can save a lot of manual sorting time.
- Flagging/Starred: Use the flagging or starring feature in your email client to mark important emails that need a response. This can help you quickly identify which emails need your attention.
- Color Coding: Some email clients allow you to color-code emails. This can be another way to prioritize emails or categorize them based on urgency or importance.
Email Archiving and Deletion:
- Regular Archiving: To keep the inbox clean, regularly move emails that have been dealt with to an ‘Archived’ folder. This keeps them out of the main inbox but still accessible if needed.
- Regular Deletion: Regularly delete unnecessary emails, like spam or promotional emails. Be sure to also empty the ‘Deleted Items’ or ‘Trash’ folder regularly to free up storage space.
Email Response Management:
- Set Response Times: To manage expectations, set specific times when you will respond to emails. For example, you might decide to respond to emails first thing in the morning, before lunch, and at the end of the day. This can help prevent email from taking over your entire day.
- Use Templates: For common email responses, create templates that you can quickly customize. This can save a lot of time compared to writing each email from scratch.
- Be Wary of Attachments and Links: Never open an attachment or click on a link in an email from an unknown sender. These can often be phishing attempts or contain malware.
- Regularly Update Passwords: Regularly update your email password and use a strong, unique password to help prevent unauthorized access.
Inbox Zero Strategy
Here is a paraphrase for the strategy called Inbox Zero that aligning with the previously provided best practices:
- Create Folders/Labels: As mentioned before, create folders or labels for different types of emails. For Inbox Zero, you might want to create folders like ‘Action Needed’, ‘Awaiting Response’, ‘Delegated’, ‘Reference’, and ‘Archived’.
- Check Emails at Specific Times: Instead of constantly checking your inbox, set specific times during the day to process your emails. This could be once in the morning, once before lunch, and once before the end of the day.
- Take Immediate Action: When you open an email, take immediate action. If it’s something you can handle in less than two minutes, do it right away. If it requires more time, move it to the ‘Action Needed’ folder. If you’re waiting for someone else to take action or respond, move it to the ‘Awaiting Response’ or ‘Delegated’ folder. If it’s something you need to keep for reference, move it to the ‘Reference’ folder. If it’s not needed, delete it.
- Use Flags or Stars: Use flags or stars to mark emails in the ‘Action Needed’ folder that are most urgent or important. This can help you prioritize your tasks.
Email Archiving and Deletion:
- Regular Archiving: Once you’ve dealt with an email (completed the task, received the response, etc.), move it to the ‘Archived’ folder. This keeps your other folders clean and manageable.
- Regular Deletion: Regularly delete unnecessary emails. Be sure to also empty the ‘Deleted Items’ or ‘Trash’ folder regularly.
Maintaining Inbox Zero:
- End Each Day at Zero: At the end of each day, make sure every email has been processed (moved to the appropriate folder, action taken, etc.). Your inbox should be empty.
- Weekly Review: Once a week, review your ‘Action Needed’, ‘Awaiting Response’, and ‘Delegated’ folders. Follow up on any outstanding items, and move completed items to the ‘Archived’ folder.
Inbox Zero is not about having zero emails in their inbox at all times. It’s about having zero emails in their inbox that haven’t been processed. It’s about taking control of their email, rather than letting their email get out of control.
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