Office and Admin

Manage your boss’s emails and phone calls like a pro

Written by Michael Hoon

As an assistant, you will often be asked to manage your boss’s correspondence, including emails. This can often be a tricky task, particularly because it’s hard to know the correct tone to strike. Should you write in your voice? In his or hers? What if your boss just leaves it up to you?

Representing someone else is a huge responsibility, but one you can weather with dignity and poise. Here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you don’t lose the privilege or fumble the ball.

Keep it confidential.

It should go without saying that whatever you read in your boss’s email isn’t meant to be repeated—to anyone. Don’t discuss personal items you might come across with anyone, least of all your boss (unless he brings something up). And don’t blab about professional developments within your company to your colleagues either—not even to warn them of impending changes.

When in doubt, ask.

Don’t just accept the email task as yours, silently and resolutely. Ask questions. What is it she wants you to accomplish? Are you authorized to unsubscribe her from unnecessary mailing lists? Are you monitoring so she doesn’t have to weed through everything, or are you actually in charge of triaging, organizing, and (eep) responding. And, if so, how would she like you to do that—as yourself (Sincerely, Your Name, Personal Assistant to Her Name) or as your boss? The more you know going in and the more you two are on the same page, the fewer misunderstandings will crop up.

Read them, and take notes.

Even if some of this stuff might be over your head, the more you know, the more you can help. Make sure to read carefully and have a sense at any given time of who’s asking for what and which things need to happen first. Make sure to note impending deadlines, appointments, timely actions, etc., and flag them immediately. Make note of these in your own calendar, as well as in your boss’s. That way you can send reminders.

Stay professional.

When discussing the content of these emails with your boss or when responding to them yourself, make sure to act the part. Be every bit as professional and polished as your boss is. Remember, you are acting on his behalf.

Come up with a system.

If you’re given the leeway, try to come up with a system that will work for both of you. For example, you can file everything non-essential into folders like Junk, Personal, and News. Then everything else is work stuff and you can both focus on that. Come up with a flagging system—using different colors or labels—so you can communicate to each other what needs to be done first. Keep it sensible and simple.

Check twice.

Make sure to bookend your workday by checking emails first thing and then going through for anything urgent at the end of the day. Making sure you do a thorough check in the morning and the evening means that whatever system you came up with for organizing will keep functioning smoothly, rather than falling apart overnight.

Stay cool.

Don’t bother your boss with a question every time you aren’t sure what to do with a given email—even at the beginning. Try instead to keep a running list of questions you want to ask and save them for the end of the day. In a few days, you’ll find you have far fewer questions.

Don’t forget to do your own work.

Don’t let your boss’s emails swallow your whole work day, eclipse your projects, or make you neglect your own inbox. Develop a system that works for you so that you can balance both of your correspondences. This will make the arrangement more stable and sustainable for both of you.

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About the author

Michael Hoon

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