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Making key inbox messages stand out

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Laura answers at least 25 calls a day on behalf of her boss. He has asked her to e-mail the messages to him, rather than write them on paper. Easy enough.

“But he gets hundreds of e-mails a day, and he complains that his phone messages get lost in the shuffle,” she says. “How can I resolve this and make it simple for him and me?”

Making key messages pop within an inbox full of priorities is a challenge. How do other admins manage it?

The answer is a Rule away, says admin Lynne. Set up a folder for the boss labeled “Phone Messages,” use a consistent subject line for each message and create a rule that sends all messages to that folder.

“That way he will know where to find them without having to sort through his other e-mails,” she says. “It might even help him organize the rest of his e-mails, too.”

• Make it impossible to miss. Admin Kristie says she writes “HIGH PRIORITY phone message” in the subject line, so it stands out, even on a handheld device.

• Think Twitter. Just as Twitter forces users to encapsulate their messages in a few words, you could try to boil down the message into the subject line. Example: “Pls call back Dr. Jones re: results at 212-555-0000.” Don’t put anything in the body of the e-mail.

• Use flags to allow for follow-up. Admin Joyce flags all phone messages with a designated color, so her boss can sort them: “She can check the flag when a call is made, and it falls off the follow-up list.”

• Set up your own secret code. “The first few characters of your subject line can tell so much,” says admin Claudia. Examples: PCB for “Please call back,” or RYC for “Returned your call.”

“If the boss sorts alphabetically, placing a space at the beginning of your subject is a great idea, too,” Claudia says.

Excel spreadsheet might work better than e-mail, suggests Joanne.

 “Why not create a shared folder that only you and he can access. He can then access the spreadsheet, put notes on it for you, if you have follow-up action items from the calls, or just put an X in the column to designate a returned call,” she says. “That way you know the status, too.”

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