Monday, July 30, 2012

Answering Reader Mail: 1000 Emails Project

“I really enjoy reading your blog. Certainly is helping me during my current job. My boss hired me to help them get organized. So the task at hand is tackling the unread emails and sorting them as follow up, projects, inquiries, factory orders, catalog etc. They want to print them out and organized that way, but there are over a thousand emails. Is there a more efficient way to attack this? Any advice would be helpful. Thank you!”

Dear NC,

So glad you are enjoying my blog. I’m not sure how helpful I can be! Eeeeep! You have been tasked with a major project. I couldn’t really tell if the 1000 emails were it or if you will continue to get emails every day that would increase the number of them forever. Yikes! Here are my suggestions for you.

1. If it’s not too late, sit down with your boss and try to get a sense of their goal.

Aside from having everything printed out, you will want to find out any future steps that would help you organize everything. Maybe they want all the factory orders Products A thru Z to go to one person. Or do they want one type of project’s emails all together, say everything related to Product A - follow up, inquiries,, factory orders, catalog requests, in one big stack. Once everything is sorted who will handle the next step, carry out the task, and keep your boss apprised of status? In the beginning, it’s best to start on the course they asked you and to then offer suggestions if they will help out your boss first and foremost later (not just make things less of a hassle for you). Also try to make sure you have all the categories they want and hope that it is less in number. Once they add more categories you'll have 100 different ones with only 10 sheets in each which may not be as helpful. Or you may find yourself having to re-sort constantly as your boss figures out new categories.

2. Once you print everything out, how should it be displayed?

Depending on usage, maybe they should be in a binder, file folders, taped up on boards, just stapled in a packet or interofficed somewhere. You will need to order many many office supplies to accommodate this project and find yourself and nice big desk, floor, or room to spread out and work. It’s important that once the day is over, the cleaning crew does not come in to disturb all your hard work as well.

3. Every now and then, check in with your boss.

You’ll find that there is a lot of back and forth between you and your boss. They may change their mind on any little thing as they hear updates from you. Ask them if you are heading in the right direction or bring up points that may give them a bigger picture. If you are getting emails every day that you have to also print out, it would be helpful if your boss could tell you which ones are priorities so that you address what is very important first. If your boss has time, get a full list of the projects ranked in order of priority or even just three groupings - 1/urgent, 2/time sensitive, 3/timely.

4. Get a deadline, have a plan, plot your strategy.

You should pace yourself and get an understanding of a reasonable timeline. This way you can figure out how many hours you should dedicate to this project while juggling your other duties. I’m a little concerned that 1000 emails went unattended until you were hired. Perhaps you can work overtime if that’s allowed.

5. Print first, sort papers later.

This will sound horrible, but sometimes it’s just easier to print an entire thread of emails and throw out the other pages you don’t need instead of going thru each email and figuring out if you only need the first page or the first 5 pages. Try to recycle the pages you don’t need. Also keep in mind if any of it needs to be shredded. Don’t forget to see if sorting the emails via keywords will group similar emails together so that when you print stuff out they are already collated by topic/keyword. Or perhaps your email program will allow you to “check all” and then “print all selected.”

6. Follow up and future strategy.

It’s important to figure out once you get thru this project how they will manage future emails and tasks. The goal is to not have to print 1000 emails every month because no one was regularly checking the email inbox and dealing with business in a timely manner.

7. Get help.

If at all possible, maybe an intern could do all the printing so you can focus on sorting. If that’s not possible, maybe you can print while you are multitasking - on hold on the phone, waiting for 5 minutes for someone to show up, etc. Every minute helps!

Keep me posted and I wish you luck on your project! Tell me what worked and didn't!


  1. I would like to add, depending on the email service you are using you may be able to sort via conversation (i.e. Outlook). Outlook 2010 has advanced significantly in thread sorting.

  2. The Muser at Musings of a High Level Executive AssistantSeptember 17, 2012 at 9:02 PM

    Dawn - Good point! Thanks for the comment and reading my blog! :)