HOW-TO :  Manually archiving Outlook email

July 7 2010

(Scroll down for instructions)

In today’s business environment, people have a tendency to hold on to every piece of email. It’s just handy to be able to pull up something from months (or even years) before. That said, the reality is that most people store way too much junk in their email mailboxes, and regular cleanup should be done. Doing so will keep your network and systems running efficiently and reduce costs. So, how can you have the best of both worlds – ready access to the past, but a lean and tidy mailbox? The answer is archiving!

Outlook has a feature called auto-archive. Unfortunately, while this feature can be useful in controlled cases, in most it creates more problems than it solves. As a rule, we disable the auto-archive feature for our clients. The main reason is that when Outlook auto-archives items, the data can get scattered across multiple files, known as PST (“Personal STorage”) files, which are very easy to “misplace” and not easy to search and reconstitute when needed. This can make tracking and recovering old email difficult if not impossible.

One good solution is implementing an integrated company-wide archiving system, which is generally simple and inexpensive (especially if you are already a client using our email security services… give us a shout if you need more information). Short of that, your best option is to archive Outlook manually.

The following are instructions for creating the archive file; actual options may vary from version to version, but the basic steps apply in all cases:

  1. From within Outlook, go to “File” > “New” > “Outlook Data File...”
  2. If you get an option for storage type, select the newer version that allows larger storage capacities (Office Outlook Personal Folders File). This version is encoded using Unicode, which allows for up to 20GB storage.
  3. Name the file something that makes sense – we typically do something like “Archive – JUser.” If you anticipate needing multiple 20GB files, you may want to append the date to the end, such as “Archive - JUser - 2010.01.01”
  4. Save the file in a good location. We recommend storing the file on your user home drive (typically your Z:\, U:\ or H:\ drive, but inquire if you are not sure). This should be a location that is secure and accessible only to your user account. Do NOT store the file on your local hard drive (unless you understand the implications) and do NOT store the file in your “My Documents” folder…this will significantly slow down your logon time!
  5. When you save the file, you should get a pop-up allowing you to name the PST file and set a password. We highly recommend naming the file exactly the same as above (e.g. “Archive - JUser”). We do NOT recommend setting a password, as they tend to be more of an inconvenience than a security feature.

Now that you have an archive PST file, here’s how you manually archive items:

  1. In Outlook, go to the “Folder List” view (usually accessible by clicking the folder icon in the lower left side). You should see your new archive folder (“Archive - JUser”) in the list; if you don’t, you need to go to “File” > “Open” > “Outlook Data File...” and navigate to the archive file previously created.
  2. Expand the archive folder and create new folders as required (i.e. Inbox, Sent Items, etc.). This process is almost identical to the normal file/folder process (right click, “New Folder...”). You can create whatever structure you need and nest folders as you like. We recommend at least creating the Inbox and Sent Items folders directly on the “root” of the archive folder.

Now simply drag and drop items (folders) from your Mailbox to the archive folder. You can do this by sorting on dates and snapping a group of messages (using the Shift or CTRL keys), or by dragging entire folders. A couple of quick comments and cautions:

  1. Be careful when moving folders as they will disappear from your Mailbox – it is a move after all which is the whole point!)
  2. Grab smaller groups of data at first until you get the hand of how it works. It takes time to move the data, and cancelling a move in the middle can leave things in an “interesting” state.
  3. Don’t forget to archive your Sent Items. This folder gets large over time!
  4. DO NOT USE YOUR DELETED ITEMS AS A STORAGE FOLDER. This cannot be over stated. The Deleted Items folder is for just that: deleted items. If you want to save an item, don’t delete it! On that subject, make sure you are deleting your deleted items (right click and “Empty ‘Deleted Items’ Folder”) at least once a week.
  5. Keep in mind that if you are on a mobile device or laptop, you will not be able to access your archived data when you disconnect from the network.

As you can see, manually archiving Outlook data is simple enough, and doing it on a regular basis (once a year?) will keep your mailbox storage in check and your email flowing efficiently. Over time, as you continue to archive data from your mailbox to the archive file, make note of how often you actually go back and access the data. Interestingly enough, I’m guessing you will discover that messages going back several years really are unused and unimportant – like the stuff in those boxes in the back of the basement. Knowing this may make it easier to keep your mailbox small and clean!