U.S. president John F. Kennedy was well-known for having a very unique skill: he was capable of remembering the name of almost every single person he’d ever met.
Admittedly, most presidents don’t have that skill (although they would do well to read our blog post Forget Me Not—7 Tips For Remembering People’s Names).
As they lack Kennedy’s memory, many world leaders instead deploy some form of a “shadower”—a person who will walk a crowd with them at important events, such as state dinners, whispering pertinent personal information into the leader’s ear about approaching attendees.
For example, a shadower might inform the president that one senators 19-year-old daughter is attending Princeton. With this knowledge at hand, the president will then have a topic to discuss with the gentleman and, thus, be able to form a deeper connection with him.
Now, let’s apply this concept to the digital world. In this blog, we will examine how your chosen employee can help you save a tremendous amount of time by shadowing your email inbox. In fact, this system could very well be one of the best investments you ever make.
Leaders of the world use a shadower to deepen relationships. You should do the same. Tweet this.
So what exactly is inbox shadowing?
Over the years, we’ve developed a concept that greatly impacts our productivity and is called a game-changer by many executives; we call it “inbox shadowing.”
Inbox shadowing is the act of having an assistant you have confidence in review your email inbox as if they are you. The assistant will make decisions about inbound emails based on their knowledge of context and the permissions given to them.
But, why can a shadower be more consistent than you in managing your inbox? Because their calendar is not as meeting-driven as yours, they can get into a very steady rhythm of managing your emails. In fact, they will often get to those messages well before you can.
The inbox shadower may be given direction to handle your inbox in the following manner:
- For emails that the shadower knows how to answer—they will draft responses for your review.
- For emails requiring a decision or some form of action by you—the shadower will identify them for you as “Please Handle.”
- For emails that don’t require any form of action but should still be read—they will mark them for you as “FYI.”
With this system in place, no longer do you have to review every single email using a last-in-first-out methodology. Instead, you will:
- First, go to your draft folder to review and send responses drafted by the shadower
- Then, look at the messages marked as “please handle” and get them rapidly processed
- Lastly, take time to review any of the FYI emails (many Mindmaven clients often don’t get to these until the end of the day)
Ultimately, this means that shadowing enables a fundamental and positive change in your relationship with your inbox.
Why Hire an Inbox Shadower
There are clearly many reasons why hiring an engagement manager to shadow your executive inbox will benefit you; let’s discuss 5 of them:
1. It frees up a massive amount of time
Research shows that the average employee spends almost three hours a day on their work email and checks their inbox 96 times a day. This equates to attending to emails every five minutes!
As we’ve found through employing this method at Mindmaven, 60%-70% of emails don’t require your full attention or decision-making. Therefore, you can save about 50-80% of that time by shifting the responsibility to someone you trust.
As for the other 30-40% of your emails, the more confidence you have in your inbox shadower, the more likely they can address a lot of the work that remains. For example, if you receive an email requesting a meeting from a high-paying customer, based on previously-given permissions, the inbox shadower would know you would be willing to meet with that customer and can create an email draft into your draft folder without directly involving you.
You might ask, “Why not have the inbox shadower respond to emails right away?” Well, we believe that being genuine is extremely important for relationship management. Thus, in order to remain authentic, it still has to be you that’s actually sending your emails. Outsourcing sending your emails, without even bothering to read them, may result in a mistake being left in the email, or the receiver becoming aware that you are not answering your own emails (which can look dishonest).
Even with the time it takes for you to go over drafts, when you employ a great inbox shadower, they can still save you six to eight hours each
week! This is especially beneficial if you start using that time as “whitespace” for proactive projects.This is why, when you employ a great inbox shadower, they can actually save you six to eight hours each week! This is especially beneficial if you start using that time as “whitespace” for proactive projects.
Using the right email management can recoup busy executives 8 hours each week of freed-up time. Tweet this.
2. Free your mind from distractions.
I’ve seen a remarkable phenomenon in which executives feel a sheer sense of liberation when they work with inbox shadowers. That is because they realize how enslaved they have been to the inbox, which is why it becomes exceptionally easy to let go and not open nearly as much as before.
Even with the successes some people have had with Inbox Zero (which involves checking your inbox only three times per day with the intention of keeping the inbox empty), many worry that they will miss out on an important piece of information this way. But, with shadowing, that feeling goes away because you know two things: somebody else is looking at messages before you, and they have been instructed on best practices to handle anything that needs to be addressed quickly.
Having an inbox shadower that truly knows what to do when an urgent email comes in has even been shown to make or break a deal. In one specific client’s case, a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist’s shadower interrupted a meeting because an email came in that was highly time sensitive. Under normal circumstances, it would have taken the executive 2-3 hours to even see the email, but the inbox shadower’s quick decision allowed him to win the deal the email pertained to.
Examples like this one clearly demonstrate how an inbox shadower can eliminate your anxiety about missing incoming vital information. Hiring someone to pay attention to your inbox at all times therefore allows you to be less reactive and reduces the pressure to check your inbox so often.
3. Shadowing allows you to focus on what matters most.
One of the most open “secrets” about Silicon Valley is that the best CEOs are those who are capable of focusing on what matters most.
But if you’re not one of the demi-gods of the startup world, you are probably heavily influenced by your inbox. It’s easy to be reactive to emails,—knocking them out of the park as quickly as possible—because this makes it feel like you’re getting something done. When you prioritize this way, though, you’re working on things that are urgent but not necessarily important, while successful executives do the exact opposite.
A shadowed inbox helps you focus on what matters most: emails that must be answered, and decisions that must be made. Tweet this.
For example, let’s say a direct report requires some feedback and support to hire a team member, and you are needed to write a follow-up email. An inbox shadower can help you respond more quickly to team members who need these decisions faster. This is not only wonderful for you, but also helps employees focus on what matters most (and become more successful in their own right).
4. Increased velocity.
Very often, the reason things don’t move quickly is because messages get stuck in an executive’s inbox. This isn’t necessarily because responding to the email requires a difficult decision; they get stuck because there isn’t enough time in the day for that person to get to their emails.
But, when you have an inbox shadower who can preload your decision, you can just click “send” on simple emails. That way, there’s no need to go through the frustrating process of digging through a full inbox before getting to emails that only take 5 seconds to make a decision on.
When inboxes are processed more efficiently, this may even allow your whole company to move forward. I have personally seen many shadowing situations where, because emails are being processed more quickly, entire companies are being managed faster. In essence, the inbox shadower’s work can increase a company’s velocity, which is one of the biggest factors in a company’s success.
5. Deeper relationships.
Many people in Silicon Valley—and likely the rest of the U.S.—argue that the one-liner email response is an acceptable way of communicating. But, at times, that type of communication can actually be damaging to relationships.
I’m a huge fan of brevity, but there are situations where putting a bit more thought into your reply can go a long way towards deepening relationships and making people like you.
For example, let’s say somebody sends an email to you, asking to reschedule a meeting because a child got ill and needs to be taken to urgent care. A busy executive would probably respond with a one-line message, telling them, “No worries, my assistant will help you set up a new time.”
However, an inbox shadower has more time to respond with something a bit more thoughtful, perhaps along the lines of: “Sorry to hear your sone is sick. I think there is nothing more scary in a parents life when a kid is not doing well and it is not getting better. So I am glad you took the intiative and are taking him to urgent care. Hopefully they can help Please keep me updatet, ok? Cheers, Mike.”
Ultimately, having someone shadow you is simply a no-brainer, particularly for any executive in charge of providing massive value to their company, helping it grow, and demonstrating its worth to customers.