There is no point in having staff, assistants (particularly a Virtual Assistant) or anyone else in your team) if you are not going to get out of the way and let them do their job effectively. They need to be given directions and guidelines and set set free to carry out their work while you get on with yours.
If you are not willing to give up control, ‘get out of the way’ and stop dabbling in areas you have handed over, then you should not employ people to help you.
How can I be so sure? Unfortunately, from bitter experience doing exactly what I’m suggesting you don’t! While I thought I was being ‘efficient’ I was actually making things more difficult and cumbersome for everyone involved. Fortunately for me, my Personal Assistant was smart enough to show me the error of my ways.
I have a fabulous Personal Assistant. Her name is Sarah. She is an Australian living with her family overseas and has been a godsend to me for personal organisation, focus and getting the details right. She is confident, organised and I have a huge amount of respect for her.
We have been working together for well over 6 months now and have achieved a lot in that time. One of the areas that I really need help in is email management – it’s certainly one of the harder areas for an Assistant to manage, particularly in my case as I have a wide range of interests and pursuits, along with 5 email addresses.
Recently, Sarah and I had a discussion about email. She has access to 4 of my email accounts and I suggested that it would be good for her to take over more of the work. Sarah then sent me the email below, outlining what I needed to do if she were to be able to undertake this task effectively. This was also after I had forgotten to pay her for the week just gone because I didn’t follow another suggestion of hers about automating the payment (did I say Sarah also has a very thick skin?).
It was a slap in the face, insightful and exhilarating all at the same time! I was seeing things from my perspective and she just gave me a dose of reality from where she sits. To top it off, she had been making subtle suggestions to me about my failings in this area for a while and had sent the same email a few weeks before. Talk about a slow learner…
Here’s the email, word for word. I’ve just added a few remarks for reader clarity in (red italics with brackets).
From Sarah Butler, Assistant to Ned Coten
No stress on the pay, not a problem. (God bless Sarah!)
I have set a reminder in your calendar for you to call me Monday afternoon around 3 pm Perth time – call whenever it suits you.
Not sure if you saw this already but I documented my thoughts on email a couple of weeks ago on the PP 2017 goals. Here is my “2 cents worth” – they are just suggestions…
Most of the emails that we receive on a daily basis are just “noise” that can steal away precious and valuable ‘focused” time. Emails can be as addictive as social media when it comes to checking them consistently throughout the day.
The best question you can ask yourself is “Why do I need to constantly check my emails?”
Is it fear of dropping the ball or missing a task/date/agreement? Is is to look professional, prompt and “on the ball?” Is it the fear of being inundated with emails if you DON’T constantly check them?
These are the questions we need to ask ourselves and then we need to weigh up the pros and cons of these thought processes.
High productivity is achieved when we focus on the task at hand in short bursts efficiently, not jumping around from one task to the other as the need arises according to priority.
Is the “I can just do it myself” or “It’s easier to do myself” approach working for us when it comes to achieving our yearly goals?
I always work on the principle that “You teach people how to treat you.” If you respond to an email quickly, all the time, the sender starts to expect this and before you know it, THEY are dictating your time.
Below are some suggestions that I learned from my brief time with Sonya Martin (Sarah’s former client) in regards to having someone else manage your emails
1. Best practise between internal staff should be to avoid using email to communicate between one another, however, this is sometimes unavoidable when sharing files or forwarding info
2. All specific or personal emails (especially relating to BA) (BA is Basketball Australia, where I am a Board Director) to be left in the inbox for the person to address
3. All “thanks”, “see you then” emails to be deleted
4. Unsubscribe from any email marketing that you honestly don’t read or invest your time into on a regular basis. Be honest with this.
5. All emails in relation to the following to be left to me-
- Organising a meeting time
- Rescheduling a meeting time
- Follow up on documents or updates for an event eg Following up on the booking number for the loan
- Simple generic questions that don’t impact on workflow eg Luke asking what passwords to send to Muneeb (Muneeb lives in Pakistan and does our website development work)
- Personal generic emails eg Asking for Andres phone number
Whilst these may only be quick to respond to, they become a distraction from work concentration and should be left to the assistant to manage the best way they can. Unfortunately, with another person doing your email management, a “sink or swim” approach is the best way. Sometimes that is the best way to learn. When I was managing Bushys email (Bushy is the husband of Sarah’s former client), I had to do this on a daily basis as I did not have much contact with the Know How team on a daily basis and just had to “figure it out”
This way, I contacted people, connected colleagues and learnt the hard way which way was the best way to manage each email.
6. Bushy would only religiously check his email once a day and he would only respond to certain emails if they were urgent. He even had an email scheduler set up so emails were NOT sent from his email outside business hours for some things so people would learn that they would not get a response outside business hours. I had to put all emails in Asana (Asana is an online collaboration tool) so he was forced to check there on a regular basis and deal with tasks there as well. He was still working on this!
7. Confusion can be created when both the owner and the assistant are responding to emails at exactly the same time. I can name at least 5 times late last year where both you and I responded to the same email at the same time. I am not sure what message this sends to your colleagues? Super efficient or major confusion?
8. Sonya Martin used to have a daily 10-minute meeting with her VA in America every day where she would download everything that needs to get done for the day and tie up any uncompleted tasks from the day before. (If we need to do this at 7.30am your time every day, that’s fine – whenever you are quiet and when you mentally prepare for your day). This was a good 2 way meeting that allowed the VA to get up to speed quickly.
(This is an incredible offer – 7.30am for me is 3.30am for Sarah! Like me, she is an early riser but that is very much going above and beyond. As at the time of writing I think we will do 4pm, which is a better time for me and also when I’m not at my personal peak time of the day. I want to save the time in the morning when I’m feeling best for creative work)
9.Fail FORWARD. Mistakes will be made, people will make judgment errors, but like in life, errors create steep learning curves and clearer understanding of the tasks going forward.
Have a think about these, not all are relevant to us but thinking bigger picture on what you want to achieve this year and let me handle the little details, which I love doing.
So there you have it. What an awesome email from a highly intelligent, caring and productive person! The definitive short guide to allowing your Assistant to manage your email effectively! Hopefully, it guides you in managing your own work life so that you can focus on the things you do best while handing over the rest to those who can manage it efficiently.