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Rethink email attachments

Ease of use wins the day.

Attaching documents to email is perhaps the most-used business workflow invention in the last 20 years. I don’t think this feature of email was intended to become so intertwined in business workflows. But it’s so easy to click, attach, and send that the procedure has become habit for us. Storing documents on a network location that the recipients have access to is complicated for both the sender and recipient. As security rules tighten it has become even more complicated to share documents. Hackers and Malware makers know this all too well. Email attachments are still one of the easiest ways to get past corporate firewalls.

Attachments could land you in email jail.Games-Go-to-Jail

There are a couple of undesirable effects from our attachment habit. Attachments are big and most people rarely consider the size of the attachment before clicking send. That file is stored in the sent mail of the sender and the inbox of the recipient. Eventually this results in a bloated mailbox size that exceeds the storage quota, aka mailbox jail.

The second issue is that email attachments make collaboration difficult. Document versioning is unclear and easily lost if multiple contributors work on the document simultaneously. The location of the most recent copy of a document is unknown or easily confused. Oh, and don’t forget the aggregate effect all those attachments have on the overall mailbox size.

Rethink email habits.

I think the first step to changing any behavior is awareness of the habit and the consequences of the actions. Here are a few ways to rethink how to approach email attachments:

  1. Use attachments for distributing final copies of document but not for collaborating on changes. This guideline is simple to remember and can reduce issues with email jail and versioning. There are many alternative ways to collaborate document edits with others such as group folders, SharePoint sites, or online cloud storage.
  2. Choose a recurring interval to clean your mailbox from unneeded attachments. The simplest way to do this is to sort the mailbox folder by size (don’t forget sent mail). The largest messages will have attachments. Remove messages over a threshold size, say 1MB, especially if you already have another copy of the file elsewhere.
  3. Take the time to understand what locations for documents are available outside of the email inbox and what types of audiences have access to those locations. To copy and paste a link to a document inside an email message is just as easy as attaching a document. Knowing the recipient has access to the link is the key to make it work. This may require some initial homework and setup time, but the later dividends are worth it.

Let me know how you approach email attachments.

Onward and upward.