Let me be honest. I am actually better at writing about delegation than actually doing it. This is especially true when it comes to email. I have always prided myself in being super-responsive. As a result, I like to process my email myself. However, that has become increasingly difficult.
For starters, I now have more than one inbox. (Please don’t tell David Allen.) In addition to my physical inbox and my email inbox, I now have a Twitter inbox and a Facebook inbox. My volume of incoming messages has risen dramatically, primarily as a result of my blog.
A few weeks ago, I attended the Catalyst One Day Conference in Chicago. I was particularly challenged by Craig Groeschel’s talk on “Creating Personal Spiritual Momentum.” (My friend, Ron Edmondson, provides a great recap here.) I realized that my current workload was not sustainable. I could no longer process more than 300 email messages a day in addition to my other responsibilities. Something had to change.
I decided that I was going to delegate more of my email processing to my assistant, Vicki. She is more than capable, and I was simply under-utilizing her by insisting on processing all of my email messages myself. However, in searching the Internet, I could not seem to find any good resources for managing email with an assistant. So, I decided to experiment.
The first thing Vicki and I tried was creating a secret email address for me. I know several leaders that use this method, because I have their secret address! The idea is that Vicki would process my email inbox and forward the messages that required my personal attention to my secret address. I would also give this address to my direct reports. I would then delete my main inbox account from my email program.
This approach lasted about half a day. I soon realized that eventually:
- Too many people would have this address, rendering it ineffective; and
- I couldn’t easily reply from this address without blowing my cover.
Next, we tried creating a special inbox folder called “Mike to Handle” under my main inbox. The idea here was that Vicki would go through my inbox and drag the messages I needed to handle to my special folder.
The problem with this was that I couldn’t seem to refrain from viewing the messages in my main inbox. It was just too tempting to “sneak a peek.” This method lasted about two hours!
Finally, we reversed the process. We settled on creating a separate subfolder for Vicki called “Vicki to Handle.” I then set up several email rules that would automatically process the email that hit my inbox, so I would only see the message I needed to see.
Here are the email rules I created:
- In reply to me. This ensures that anyone who replies to a message I have initiated comes directly to me. In Apple Mail, the rule looks like this. (You could use the same logic in Outlook or almost any other modern email program.)
- Direct reports. This ensures that my direct reports get directly to me. The rule looks like this:
- Important contacts. I’m sure this will grow over time. Right now, it operates like a kind of “white list.” I have to specifically add people to the rule for them to get through Vicki. The rule looks like this:
- Move remaining messages. This rule moves every other message to Vicki to process. If she thinks I need to respond personally, she drags it back to my main inbox.
This has worked remarkably well. It has dramatically reduced the volume of email messages I am handling on a daily basis. In addition, Vicki has taken my standard email templates and modified them, so that they are coming from her. This ensures a consistent response to the usual requests I get.
In addition, I can move email messages from one of my other accounts (my public BACN account or my personal accounts) to Vicki to process. I can do this with a single keystroke using Mail Act-On. The email rule looks like this:
I automatically “flag” the message, so that Vicki knows I have reviewed the message and want her to handle it.
I realize that not everyone has an assistant. If you are in this situation, you might want to read my post, “How Do You Delegate If You Don’t Have a Staff.” Nevertheless, hopefully, this will give you a place to start. If you have a way to improve on this system, I would love to hear it.