The first challenge each day for an Executive Assistant is usually tackling the emails that have flooded in overnight – those of your director(s) and your own. It’s easy to waste an entire morning purely sifting through emails, replying backwards and forwards, searching for emails, wondering how to reply to emails… you get the picture. Meanwhile, the rest of your to-do list goes out the window, along with your productivity.

Below are a few tips on how to approach the inbox and manage emails effectively.

  • Begin each day by reviewing what has come in overnight. I generally “red flag” anything that requires action – this automatically puts it onto a task list that you can refer to when establishing the daily to-do list with your manager.
  • Set up sub-folders in your inbox. This is particularly useful when you have multiple directors. For example, each of my directors has the following folders:
    • Travel – for all their latest flights, rail and accommodation bookings.
    • Meetings – for any meetings I am arranging for them.
    • Expenses – company credit card receipts and copies of any other expenses.

I also have my own folders for things such as specific projects I am working on and meetings/conferences I am arranging. You can store emails and attachments relating to any upcoming meetings in these folders, and delete them afterwards.

  • Try to keep the actual inbox as your “live” mailbox, which contains only emails that require action or filing. One upon a time I took on a new EA role to find out my director had over 10,000 emails in his inbox!
  • Outlook allows you to colour code your emails by assigning categories to them. If I have a meeting to arrange for a director, I use a RAG (red/amber/green) system. Red requires urgent action, amber indicates that I have followed up the meeting request but am waiting on an answer from the recipient, and green is when the recipient has responded and the meeting has been arranged. Amber and green emails are filed in the sub-folder for the relevant director. I then check the meeting sub-folders regularly to see if there is anything to follow up.
  • “Rules” can really help you to tidy up an inbox, particularly if your director receives hundreds of sales emails and newsletters. You can set up rules to send the “repeat offenders” to the junk mail box and then simply delete everything each day.
  • Another way to quickly clean out the junk is through Unroll.Me. This is a great service that tells you which emails you have subscribed to and allows you to delete them from your inbox.
  • Scroll through your manager’s emails. What needs to be urgently brought to their attention when you speak? What needs adding to their to-do list for that day? Communication with your manager is key – if you’re not sure how relevant something is, or if it is an event they want to go to, just ask them.
  • Is there anything there that you can easily answer? Meeting availability for example. Don’t be afraid to be proactive.
  • Check the sent items to establish if they have already responded to an email – my directors rarely copy me in to their replies! This avoids any duplication.
  • Copy your manager into an email to let them know that you have dealt with it. Also, if you are responding from their inbox, make it clear that the response is from you – not from your manager.
  • If you can’t deal with something straight away – perhaps your manager is away for a few days – it is polite to send a holding email along the lines of “Thank you for your email. Mr Smith is currently away from the office, however, I will bring this to his attention on his return”.
  • In terms of tidying up your own inbox, there are a few simple things you can try:
    • Keep your work inbox for professional emails only. If you want to sign up to Groupon or similar newsletters, use a personal account to do this. Or unsubscribe yourself using
    • Do you need to “copy all” into your response? It can be a little frustrating opening up your inbox to find an email conversation consisting of 20 messages from colleagues discussing somebody’s holiday. Be kind to your colleagues – if they don’t need it, don’t cc them!
    • Send less emails – go talk to your colleagues instead!