I need a system for managing a shared email inbox.
June 18, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Please give me your shared email box efficiency tips!

I have a new boss and part of my job is helping to manage his email box, which at the moment is very inefficient. I need help developing a system that I can put in place that will be easy for him (technophobe) to understand and follow.

Right now, he has an inbox with a few subfolders. One is marked as needing him to take action; one is marked as not needing him to take action but he should read as an FYI and a couple of dedicated folders to emails from specific companies that aren't urgent but that he still wants to get and he can read whenever he wants.

He gets a lot of client emails and is also cc'd in on a lot of emails that are FYI. He also gets a lot of spam.

He has a tendency to reply to emails and delete them (before anyone else has seen them and captured them for our file), sometimes delete emails without responding, etc. So I basically keep an eye on his inbox, his sent emails and his deleted emails. I would like to figure out a way to get to him only get the emails that he needs to see or reply to AFTER I have seen them (so I can file them before he deletes). I then need some kind of method for following up and tracking emails he replies to so that everything is kept documented. Ideally I'd like to be able to have a good enough system where I don't have to be checking his deleted box or even his sent box (if possible). I'd also like to forward to colleagues emails that he doesn't need to see or deal with.

I also need rules for him to follow. Such as, when he replies to an email, he must always delete it. Or, if he reads something and is done with it, he deletes it. Or tell him he must never delete anything, ever. Right now it's hard to tell where he's at with something unless I check his outbox or ask him.

I am thinking of using a couple of different folders and also possibly putting some rules on so that certain things are routed to certain folders. Ideally, I would like all emails to bypass him altogether unless I or the other person in charge forwards it to him. That way I can know it's been captured for our file and that it needs to be tracked. Other emails can then either be deleted or forwarded to another person to deal with. He pretty much will always have his screen on his inbox as a default, though I think he's willing to check other folders if that's part of the system.

He will be willing to follow a system if I can put one together that is relatively simple for him to follow. In the past, a lot of different things have been tried but they've all been dropped for one reason or another. I know they were flagging and color coding some emails for awhile.

We are using Outlook, which is new to me, so I'm still learning it a little bit. I've always used Lotus Notes in the past.

Thanks for your help.
posted by triggerfinger to Work & Money (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Right click on a message and choose a rule with details that will do what you need done, create folders in advance to park them, set up forwarding, deleting or whatever. Exploit the help system in Outlook or on the web.
posted by Freedomboy at 12:37 PM on June 18, 2014

Best answer: If you're using Outlook, I would suggest setting up two rules that will help immensely. First, create a rule that automatically moves emails from the inbox to a separate "holding" folder upon arrival. Then you can parse that folder (perhaps using additional rules as needed) and move things back to the inbox, so he will see them when he opens his email. The second "rule" (probably actually a program or server-side setting somewhere) is to automatically bcc: himself when he sends emails out. That will cause it to arrive back in his email and get moved to your holding folder (per the first rule), so you can see that he sent a message or replied to one, and track as necessary.

This keeps him looking only at the inbox for items that require action, plus his various "FYI" folders that he reads as time allows. You only need to look at your special "holding" folder, since it will include everything from the Sent folder anyway, and no need to track his deleted items since you've already seen them before he reads and deletes them.

If you wanted to go a step further, you could also flag certain items for more immediate attention once you move them to the inbox, just to aid him in prioritizing what's there.

(I'm not going to get into why someone needs this much help managing his own inbox, but I assume that's not going to change for you.)
posted by trivia genius at 12:56 PM on June 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I work for a couple of executives and deal with their emails and I'm with trivia genius - you need to make all of this stuff automatic. Trying to get somebody to follow email rules that didn't arise naturally out of their own habits is going to be a huge pain in the ass. I don't know what kind of job you have, but it is standard process for me (an executive assistant) to review the inbox, sent, and deleted folders each morning to find out what they've been up to, and then keep tabs on the whole thing throughout the day. The longer you work for the guy, you'll develop more of an intuitive feel about what you can deal with or get rid of without checking with him first.

The main recommendations I have are:
1. Make sure he never, ever completely clears out his deleted file and turn off auto-archive. You need to have access to everything he ever does, for all time.
2. Set Outlook so that he has to physically click to open the email before it's marked as read. You don't want to have it set so that when he scrolls through the inbox it's automarking everything as if he's read it; if that's the case you'll never know what he's really seen.
posted by something something at 1:13 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Remove his delete privileges from the mailbox(es). That will solve the biggest problem for the company from his actions and habits.
posted by rhizome at 1:15 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My assistant set up a rule that automatically made a copy of every inbound email and placed it in a folder labeled, "Capture All" She also set it up so that every sent mail would also be copied into that folder. I was instructed to never delete any email from that folder. I am a gmail user, so deleting emails is foreign to me anyhow. Then, my assistant would try to sort the inbox into 4 folders, Immediate Attention, Response Needed, CC/FYI, Other. She also responded to emails either on her own or at my direction. Those, along with the response would go into a folder marked Kathy.

The system worked well. The few breakdowns came because I would get to the office at 7:00am and start reading and responding to emails before she had a chance to prioritize them. She would then waste the first 20 minutes of her day trying to figure out what I had wrought.

Although I am pretty sure I could never live with it, I think the optimal system would be for the assistant to be the first person to touch every email. I also think that it is important that the email account be used purely for business. Although I had no issue with my assistant reading my personal emails, it screwed up the system when one of my friends used my work email or the year my softball manager, despite my pleas, kept sending group emails to my work email and the ensuing inappropriate responses and ribbing would come flying in about 20 an hour.
posted by 724A at 9:06 PM on June 18, 2014

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