While some people keep instantly accessible and searchable their entire decades-long e-mail archive, I believe that systematic, structured offline annual archiving of your emails boosts your productivity, and your sense of control.
Systematic Outlook Filling System Architecture
Apart from legal / professional requirements of keeping your e-mails for 7+ years, I recommend not deleting any single email but only clearly unneeded newsletters and newsgroups.
The best practice for organization of the Outlook Filling Systems are then:
- Use Microsoft Exchange as your e-mail server – its main advantages are server message rules, unlimited storage, best integration with mobile devices, and very low costs.
- Set up an extensive set of Exchange Message Rules – Exchange message rules can automatically file the typical incoming emails you into their target Outlook folders as soon as they arrive to your server without ever showing up in your Inbox first.
You can monitor automatically filed emails by setting up Search folders (Condition = Unread). See an upcoming blog post on Exchange Message Rules.
At the very least, separate the incoming emails by message rules into the two distinct folder structures (a) “Newsletters and Newsgroups” and (b) the rest. The “Newsletters and Newsgroups” emails will be mostly deleted once read, while the other emails will be just archived.
My personal Outlook has two root folders – “!!! Process !!!” and “Archive”, each with hundreds of sub-folders and with Exchange server-based message rules automatically filing the incoming emails into them.
My “!!! Process !!!” has then subfolders “New Issues of Magazines”, “Newsgroups”, “Subscriptions”, etc.
My “Archive” has the sub-folders “Career”, “Computing”, “Education”, “Finances”, Firms”, “Governments”, “Health & Fitness”, “Litigation”, “Memberships”, “People”, etc.
- Organize the Archive folder structure by the email type – store each email type in a separate sub-folder – the common non-newsgroup / newsletters email types are (1) receipts, invoices, acknowledgments, and legal documents, (2) project management / status reports, (3) back-and-forth communication, like Support or Sales.
For example, my sub-folders of the Archive / Firms are the names of the firms I work with, and each of them has the sub-folders Invoices, Sales, Support. For projects, I keep the folders “Meeting Minutes”, “Presentations” etc.
- Every year move the contents of (1) the Archive folder structure, (2) all done tasks, calendar entries and journal entries into a new PST with the file name containing the year, for example “2015 Outlook.pst”.
This is advantageous because:
(a) old emails can get easily corrupted or lost or old email formats are no longer fully supported by the modern mail server,
(b) you usually do not need to access old emails (and if you do, you just open the PST file),
(c) your Outlook then becomes most responsive (not so much data to process), and
(d) you diversify the risks of hardware failure (storing a PST in a Dropbox folder makes the file versioned and geographically backed up).
The best news is then that Spearian for Outlook will provide enhanced support for this automatic archiving.
This method works magic only if you systematically take out of the emails all the information you expect to refer to repeatedly in the future to Evernote or OneNote (your always up-to-date reference material) and if you keep project management information in the project management portals, like JIRA. That way, every email is processed just once, and if needed, you can look it up quickly in your archive PST.