So you’ve decided to get help with your overflowing inbox? Once you’ve got an email filtering app in place, and have identified which processes to offload, all that’s left to figure out is the logistics. How do you literally hand over the keys to your inbox in a way that’s secure, reliable and creates a seamless system between you and your assistant?

Step 1 – Folder Setup

Folders (or labels, in the case of Gmail) are a key part of the email delegation/collaboration process. Work within your email client (MSExchange, Outlook, etc.) to configure the following folders, which will in turn allow your PA to manage your email for you.

  1. Review Immediately: Priority emails you should review as soon as possible
  2. Review by End of Week: Emails that require non-immediate, but time sensitive action
  3. Review when Time Available: Non time-sensitive emails with information you’d like to see
  4. PA – To Respond: Emails that your assistant will respond to on your behalf
  5. PA – Handled on your behalf: Emails that your assistant has already taken care of for you

Once your email setup has been configured, you should have your assistant sort 50-100 emails based on her training of your business and workflow.

Step 2 – Credentials

Here’s how to get your assistant the access she needs to do that initial sorting project.

For security reasons, we rarely recommend handing over your email username and password to an assistant. Instead, start by trying to share specific email folders from your inbox with your PA.

Zimbra allows you to share folders by simply right-clicking on the folder name and choosing “Share Folder.” It allows you to designate a level of access (Viewer, Manager, etc.) for anyone inside or outside your company.

Google Mail relies on labels instead of folders, and doesn’t have a native capacity to share labels across users. Instead, to share all items with a particular label, you can use an app like GrexIt or SquadMail, which allow you to share labels, assign tasks and track the status of tasks/emails assigned.

If your company uses a proprietary email server or one that doesn’t allow you to share individual folders, you’re stuck with forwarding each email to your assistant. Part of the workaround here would be to devise a shorthand notation for your emails, so that she knows what to do with each one. These could be similar to Evernote’s subject line notations, which designate which folder an email should land in. You could also set up filters for certain types of emails (“Undeliverable,” for example) that would be auto-forwarded to her.

Step 3 – Refine sorting

Now that your assistant has access to the right folders, and has sorted a small subset for you, it’s time for a check-in. Meet with your assistant to provide feedback on the 50-100 emails that have already been sorted. Then discuss how to adjust categorization and follow-up criteria, accordingly. Zimbra also has a template tool that can be set up to ensure accuracy on your assistant’s behalf.

As with any email filter, the time spent up front with your PA will create a strong foundation for future email management. It’s important to make the time for this.

Step 4 – Email Alias

Give your assistant an email alias on your company’s email server if she will be helping with your email. It keeps things professional and makes it easy for your team to send things directly to her.

To be clear, your assistant can still maintain her own email address on Yahoo, Google, or whatever other site she’d like. However, if you get her an email alias (which she can designate as a “persona” on her own email client, any emails coming from her will look like they’re coming from within your company. You may have to go through your IT team to set this up, but it’s well worth the effort.