7 Tips For Managing Outlook Email Archives

Is your email inbox literally bursting at the seams every time you open it? If it is, then don’t you think that perhaps it’s time to get a little more organized? Having an overflowing email inbox is the main cause of your email client slowing down, and it also means you waste time not being able to find crucial emails in a hurry.

I understand it might seem like a daunting task to get yourself organized, but it’s really not so difficult when you know how. The first step on the road towards organization is cleaning up your inbox, followed by some intelligent archiving of your emails. In this post I’m going to outline my simple Microsoft Outlook system for keeping my emails tidy, and I’ll also throw in some tips on how you can archive your older emails too. And even if you use another email client instead of Outlook, you can probably apply these tips anyway.

The most important tool that Outlook has is the AutoArchive feature. It allows you to do all kinds of things, including directing where archived data should go and specifying how old items need to be before they are archived.

1 – Globally Configuring AutoArchive

Setting up AutoArchive is a very easy process. Go to Tools > Options > Other > AutoArchive, and then choose the settings that work best for you. My personal preference is for a weekly cleanup, and to be informed when it’s about to do so. Another thing I like is to collect all of my archived data into just one archive folder (Archive.pst), and then as the year progresses I will manually move the old data to monthly archives. These are the settings I recommend for easy organization:

  • Turn on – AutoArchive every week
  • Turn on – AutoArchive prompts
  • Turn off – expired item deletion when AutoArchiving
  • Set Archive.pst as default archive file

2 – Setting AutoArchive Properties for Individual Folders

If you want to set the properties for your individual folders, do this:

Select the folder > Right Click > Properties > AutoArchive and then choose the settings you want. Don’t forget to repeat this for each folder that you wish to archive.

Recommended settings:

  • Turn on – Clean items more than 1 month old
  • Turn on – Move old items to default archive folder

3 – Manually Move Archived Files to Monthly Folders

This should be done each month, in order to have a nice organized monthly record of all your emails, just like mine. To do so, you need to create a new folder each month, something like “Archive 2010 December n.pst”.

By doing this, your archived files will be nicely organized when you come to view them all in Windows Explorer or the File Open box. Creating a new PST file is very easy, simply follow these steps:

Select File > Personal Folders File (.pst) > Choose a folder > Enter the name > Click Create. Make sure that the descriptions you use each month are consistent, so that Windows will file them in a nice, organized way. As for the other options, I just leave them all set as default. You should now be able to see the new PST folder listed in your Folder List or Outlook bar, and it will contain only one folder – Deleted Items.

4 – Copy Data Before You Move It

It is strongly recommended that you copy your data before you attempt to move it. Once you have successfully copied the data, you can then delete it from its source. You need to do this because copying or moving files is very resource-consuming, and will slow everything else on your computer down. Should you get the “Low Resources” message flashing up on your screen, there’s a good chance that something will go wrong with the operation and you could lose data. So always make a copy first.

5 – Tidying Up Your Monthly Archives

Once a new month begins and there is no more data for that month coming in, you can tidy everything up before dumping it into your new PST folder for the past month. You may or may not want to take out any old attachments, and you should also check that no records are saved in the Deleted Items folder.

You can open an archival PST file by selecting File > Open > Personal Folders File (.pst) > Choose the file you need > Click OK. Note that you only have to open these archival PST files when you are moving data into them.

When you want to close a PST, simply right click it on your Outlook folder list and select the “Close” option.

6 – Compacting Your PST Files

Doing this will not only leave everything nice and tidy, but it will save a load of space on your hard drive too, so it’s always a good idea. First of all, you need to close any applications you have running, including the Task Scheduler. Now, right click on the PST you wish to condense > click Advanced > Compact Now. This may take a while, even several minutes depending on how big the file is, but whatever you do, do not interrupt the process. Once it’s finished, clear all dialogs and finally close the folder.

7 – Don’t Let Your Archive.pst Get too Big!

You should routinely check your archive.pst folder (before each monthly archive) to make sure it doesn’t get too unmanageable. My personal rule is to compact it when it gets too big, but if it’s over 80MB then you should carry out some manual pruning first, because the compacting operation is somewhat untrustworthy.

Written by Mike Wheatley

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