From 27K emails to inbox zero EarthOptics’ secret? Getting a Viva EA
How can you ever reach inbox zero if there are dozens of new offers, newsletters, meeting updates, and cold emails every time you check your phone? This is a common pain point for startup executives, and it was exactly what was hindering this Series B CEO’s productivity.
Keep reading to see how Cynthia, an executive assistant, took away the pain and made it to inbox zero in just one week.
Table of contents
- Our mission: Help this CEO finally reach inbox zero
- Identify and address your pain points
- Build trust with a remote EA and start delegating
- How can an EA help you manage your inbox?
- The impact of reaching inbox zero
Our mission: Help this CEO finally reach inbox zero
EarthOptics, a Series B startup based in Arlington, Virginia, has a powerful mission: “creating a sustainable future”. That’s why, when we met CEO Lars Dyrud, the first thing that caught our attention was his high email volume.
At the time of our meeting, this CEO’s inbox had over 27,000 emails and counting. That overwhelming number made us realize that if we wanted to help Lars have a more sustainable workflow that he could maintain in the long term, we should focus our immediate attention on managing his email.
Identify and address your pain points
Some struggles came to the surface when Cynthia (EA), and our Customer Success team met CEO Lars Dyrud and Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Landa. Our team was no stranger to these pain points, given the fact that we help startup executives find a solution for any productivity roadblock they might encounter. In Lars’ case, his main priority was crystal clear, we needed to find a way to reduce his inbox clog as much as we could.
If you receive a couple of dozens of emails per day, you can manage your inbox independently. But when you accumulate thousands of messages, it’s not that easy to know which ones need your attention and which ones you can discard. Lars gets about 150 new emails every day, that’s around 750 new emails every week. His inbox was in desperate need of attention.
Build trust with a remote EA and start delegating
Startup executives have access to highly sensitive information; that’s why it’s extremely important for new hires to demonstrate they can be trusted with everything from email access to managing travel expenses responsibly. But maybe you’re asking yourself: How can I trust a remote EA with such critical information?
Include your EA in as many projects as you can
The executive assistant position is a malleable one, which means your EA will grow as much and in as many directions as you allow. The only way to make that happen is by including them in meetings, asking for their input, and delegating not only admin tasks, but also operations and special projects. In this case, Cynthia got involved in:
- Recruiting: She conducted interviews, gave recommendations, and became the first filter for candidate evaluation processes.
- Deck creation: She started updating some content for board meeting decks and ensuring org charts are always up to date.
- Visual aids: Her analytical skills have played an important role in creating KPI graphs and dashboards that allow the Back Office team to measure effectiveness and identify issues.
Get a colleague to vouch for them
If you don’t feel comfortable sharing certain information with your new executive assistant, get someone you trust to work with them first. This was exactly EarthOptics’ approach. All our Viva EAs have the bandwidth to work with two executives simultaneously without diluting their capacity; that’s why Cynthia, one of our EAs, started supporting both Lars and Stephanie. In that way, if Stephanie was happy with the results, Lars would feel much more comfortable utilizing her skills to their full extent.
The value Stephanie has seen by utilizing her EA has made her an advocate for her further involvement in the company, so every time she delegates something and her EA delivers better-than-expected results, she communicates it to Lars and shows him the outcome of her EA’s work, so he knows he can ask for similar things and get outstanding work done.
Thanks to the trust she built with Cynthia, Lars knew he could trust her to do a good job with anything he would delegate and that she would deal with privileged information in a respectful manner.
“Cynthia is really resourceful. She only asks you the questions she really needs you to answer and figures out the rest.”
Stephanie Landa, CAO @EarthOptics
How can an executive assistant help you reach inbox zero?
Once Lars understood he could trust Cynthia, she made it her first priority to tackle his overflowing email. Her mission was clear: to make sure Lars would never miss any important emails. To make that happen, Cynthia had to come up with a plan she puts in place every day, to keep the hundreds of emails her executive gets from distracting him from his main priorities.
Establish clear rules
Before granting access to a third party to access your email, you have to trust their professional ethics, be sure they will not make any malicious use of it, and trust their good judgment because in order for them to relieve some of the work that currently rests on your shoulders, they need to make executive decisions such as what’s urgent, what should be archived, and what they can answer on your behalf. In Lars’ case, there was one golden rule: Nothing gets deleted, just archived.
Create filters and labels
Cynthia took a first pass at what she thought was the best way of categorizing Lars’ emails and discussed it with him before initiating an entire email revamp. They agreed that there were eight categories into which all emails could be sorted. By doing so, they could finally reduce the inbox clog and focus Lars’ attention on a handful of emails, leaving the other hundreds in Cynthia’s capable hands. This is how they organized existing emails:
- Archive: If there was an email older than two months, it would get archived, as long as it wasn’t an ongoing conversation.
- Events: Lars has run and still is a board member of other organizations, so he gets a lot of invitations to attend or be a guest speaker at summits and panels.
- Social: Offers, discounts, or coupons go into this bucket.
- Monday: EarthOptics uses Monday.com as its project management tool and Lars likes having visibility on work progress and completion.
- News + Subscriptions: Newsletters and updates from companies where he still plays an active role, such as board member or advisor.
- Meetings: Accepted invitations to company meetings automatically go here. The only ones that go to his inbox are the declined ones.
- Bamboo: Lars is up to date on vacation requests, promotions, or goals the EarthOptics team may have sent through BambooHR.
- Response needed: Cynthia flags emails that require action from Lars, such as reply, create a doc, make a call, etc., so he checks these first thing in the morning.
The impact of reaching inbox zero
After just one week of working together, Cynthia managed to organize and segment more than 27,000 existing emails and – incredibly – she reached inbox zero.
Instead of going through roughly 150 emails every day, Lars only goes through the five or six that make it to the “response needed” label. That’s a 99% reduction of the time Lars spends on his email and 100% certainty that no email is left unattended.
This is possible thanks to Cynthia’s thoroughness: During their one-on-ones, Lars and his EA go through the “response needed” emails and ensure action items have been completed. If they’re still pending, Cynthia allocates time in the CEO’s calendar to ensure its completion and checks with him again afterward.
Lars’ communication has been much more effective since Cynthia started managing his email, not only with his clients but also with his team members, since he now has the capacity to provide speedy answers and get back to them within the same day. This has allowed him to build stronger relationships with potential clients and understand his co-workers’ needs, shifting his focus from email management to two of the main priorities any startup executive should focus on: developing and empowering team members, and staying close to your customers.
“Other admins are, at best, doing what we ask them to do, whereas Cynthia brought in a methodology that is different and better,
above and beyond things we thought of doing.”
Lars Dyrud, CEO @EarthOptics
5 steps to replicate this inbox zero technique
- Set a time frame to determine the relevance of an email (2 months or older), and flag as read.
- Spot recurring comms: team members, board members, vendors.
- Find trash: irrelevant marketing communication or non-interesting sales emails.
- Segment your email based on your professional needs (internal, external, prospects, etc.).
- Organize all your categories in their corresponding labels.
Reaching inbox zero may look insurmountable when your emails flow non-stop every day, but the truth is, all you need is a business partner who has your email management as one of their top priorities. If you’re ready to get an executive assistant but don’t know where to start, book a call with us. We’ll be happy to guide you through the process.