Keeping Your Email Clean and Organized
(Paul W. 03/02/07)

      Email is a wonderful convenience and a great tool for both home and business. Unfortunately it can also become a nightmare if not kept clean and organized. So here's a tip to help you keep it from getting out of control and to help you get it back under control if it seems to have already begun to spin wildly.
      The tip is basically just this: Don't use your email system as a filing system! If you do, you run the risk of losing some or all of your email at some point. The trick is, knowing how to save what you need, without using your email system to do it. So that's what I'm going to try to help you with this week. I'm going to show you how to get your email out of Outlook but still save it. (The same principles will apply to other email systems. At home I use Mozilla Thunderbird.)
      First thing you want to do is decide on a location on your computer or on the network where you want to save your email. Keep a couple of things in mind in making your decision. If you store your email on your local hard drive (C: and/or D:) you run the risk of losing it all if your hard drive crashes. The way to lessen the risk of this option is to plan and execute a backup scheme of some sort (burn CDs, copy to a USB memory stick, etc). But that's a whole other issue that we'll save for another week. The advantage of this option is that you probably can store more without anyone complaining that you're using up too much room on the network.
      The other option is to save your email to a network drive. Since it's your email you probably want to save it on your personal drive (usually drive P: in our world) (Your personal drive can only be seen by you and the network admins.). The advantage of this option is that anything stored on the network gets backed up on a regular basis. The down side is what I mentioned above. If you let it get too large somebody is going to notice and ask you to remove some of it. Another thing is that certain types of files (attachments) are blocked from being stored on your P: drive. (usually drive P: in our world) (I can't save MP3 files to my P: drive.)

      All right. Enough of that. Let's get to the good stuff. Open Outlook and open a message to experiment with. Now click on File > Save As and navigate to the location you've picked to store your email in. Before you save this email, click on the drop down arrow on the "Save As Type:" box.

I suggest you use one of three options here. "Text only", "Outlook Message Format", or "HTML". For the sake of experimentation we're going to save this one message in all three formats and then compare them. First save this message in an HTML format and name it "test". Outlook will automatically add the ".htm" extension to the file name. Then Save As a second time and choose the "Text Only" format and name it "test". Outlook adds the ".txt" extension. Now do a Save As a third time and pick the "Outlook Message Format" (not - "Unicode") and name it "test" and Outlook adds the ".msg" extension.
Hey, I got a message that says it can't save this file.

That's cause .msg files are one of those types that are not allowed to be saved to my personal drive. Why? Don't know for sure, but I'm guessing it's either for security purposes or because these type tend to take up more space. So if you got this error too, choose another storage place at least for our test purposes here.

      If you don't have Windows Explorer (My Computer) open already, open it and go to your storage location. If you aren't already seeing the details of the files, click on your views button and pick the "Details" view.

NOTE: If you don't see the file extensions on the end of your files you'll need to make a change in Explorer. From your Explorer window click on Tools > Folder Options > View. Scroll through the "Advanced Options" list and uncheck the "Hide extensions for known file types". Click OK and now you should be able to see the extensions on the file names. . . . Hey, this is an extra tip within a tip. Cool!
      Notice the three different files there. Look at the sizes of each. The test.txt should be the smallest, the test.htm a little larger, and the test.msg the largest. So which one do you use? You'll have to decide that for yourself. Double-click on each to open them and see what you think. Personally I stay away from the .msg format because of it's size. I like the .txt format because it's the smallest. I can also open the .txt and .htm kind from any computer without the need of Outlook. The down side of these two types is that you won't have any attachments or graphics from the email.
      But you can have your cake and eat it too! Instead of saving in the .msg format and filling up your drive or the network, save everything in the .txt or .htm format and then save the attachments and pictures separately. Be sure to name them something close enough to the email message you're saving so you can match the two later. In fact, when you save your email, save yourself some time and frustration later by making the filename shorter and simpler than the name it defaults to. Then when you name the attachments and pictures, it's easier and faster to name them too. Here's a for instance:
      I have an email with two attachments and one picture. The email explains how to solve a typical issue that people have from time to time.
  • 1. I save the email itself and name it "LP_notes_fail.txt".
  • 2. I right-click on the attachments (one is a Word file and one a PDF file) and Save As "LP_notes_fail01.doc" and "LP_notes_fail.pdf".
  • 3. I right-click on the picture in the email and Save As "LP_notes_fail.jpg".
    Bingo! Now I can delete the email, keep my mailbox clean and mean, and not worry.

          It may seem like a lot or work at first, when you get used to it, it gets easier. Disciplining yourself to do this regularly is probably the key. Maybe set a reminder to do this once a day or once a week. Delete the stuff you don't need, especially the attachments and pictures. If your email is really full currently, export a little of the current stuff with your regular cleaning so you don't have to do it all at once.