A Business Technology Place

A simple way to backup your email archive

It’s not your Amex card, but you don’t want to leave home/work without it.

For many of us, losing an email archive ranks as one of the most disruptive events to our daily routine at work. I don’t use email as my main information storage for documents, tasks, and workflows. But I know from experience that many of the internal users that I serve have most of their everyday document, message, and customer interaction stored in email. They expect email to be available on-demand and to be reliable for archive and historical reference.

Why is it important for to keep the mailbox under a certain size?

So what’s the big deal about size of your email mailbox? Are the IT guys just creating an unnecessary inconvenience in your life when they enforce a mailbox size quota? Here’s the scoop. Some of the rationale for the policy is based on historical thinking when disk space was much more expensive. In 2000 the cost per gigabyte of storage was around $6-10 dollars. Today we spend less than forty cents per gigabyte depending on type of storage we buy. There still isn’t an infinite amount of disk space to carve out for email. But you get the point.

Last week I wrote about how to rethink email attachments. That advice is centered on habits to avoid duplicate files and versioning issues in workflow. But managing email attachments wisely also helps to keep the overall size of the email mailbox in-check.

The bigger reason that we still need to limit the size of mailboxes is that it can impact performance of the system. For a messaging platform like email it’s not so much the size but the number of items in a folder that can start to impact performance. The speed of results for the tasks that we perform on an email folder (viewing, sorting, and searching) depends on the number of objects in the folder.

The role of your email archives and how to make sure they are always there.EmailArchive

To avoid being in email jail for exceeding the size threshold most users will use the built-in function to archive emails to another data file. Email programs like Outlook have a wide variety of options for archiving including recurring schedules.  The archive is accessible from within email to make access easier.

But there’s a problem. Most people put their email archives on their local PC disk so that they have access to them even if they are not connected directly to the corporate network (and because that is the default location for the program to create the file). If the local drive crashes and there is no backup then the email archive is lost. Ouch!

A simple solution for backing up your email archive.

Please Note: This is not a step-by-step tutorial on how to setup this solution. I’ll describe a simple process that you can follow with moderate PC skills. If you need assistance doing this then consult with your favorite IT guy. They’ll be happy to learn that you are thinking about how to backup your email archive file. 🙂 Oh and one more thing, I’m referencing the concept with Windows terms. If you use a Mac the concept is the same but the locations and programs may vary slightly.

If you use a PC that never leaves the office and is always connected to the network then you could move your archive to a network drive. We had some issues with this at my office based on some technical stuff about how archives work and the way we replicate data. So here’s an alternative:

  1. Create a file called CopyArchive.bat and place it somewhere on your local drive. The contents of my CopyArchive.bat file are:

echo Copying Archive.pst Script
echo Please close Outlook
pause
echo Begin file copy
copy /Y c:\users\<your user directory>\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook\archive.pst h:\outlook

Please note:

* My archive is named archive.pst.  Your archive name and location may differ. You can find them in Outlook under File → Info → Account Settings → Data Files

* My network location is the H drive in a folder called outlook. Your network location is specific to where you want to copy the backup.

  1. Go to the Start menu in Windows and type “task scheduler”. Select and start the Windows Task scheduler.
  1. Create a task that runs the Archive.bat file weekly. For me I have the task setup with the action “Start a program” and details “cmd /C <c:\programs\CopyArchive.bat>”

 

That’s it. All you’re doing is creating a weekly job to copy for archive file(s) to the network. When the job runs it will prompt you to close Outlook so that it has access to the file and can copy it. Do this and be worry free about losing that email to Murphy and his law.

Onward and Upward!

 

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.

 

Email delivery isn’t guaranteed

A recent service incident with email provided a reminder to me that email delivery is not guaranteed for message delivery. In the incident, the sender was using email to deliver a specific 1-to-1 message. It was not a marketing campaign. Since the distribution list was large, they chose to send the emails in batch through a provider. The problem was that some of the recipients never received the email message even though the ESP stats showed 100% delivery rate.

Photo credit: Dimitrios Kaisaris

Photo credit: Dimitrios Kaisaris

There are multiple factors that affect email delivery and some of them are out of the control of the sender. The sender can control attributes such as subject and message content but they can’t completely control what happens after the email is handed to an ESP on behalf of the recipient. From that point there are spam/bulk mail rules at the ESP as well as personalized mailbox rules for the recipient that affect the message delivery.

By chance, I was registering for Peachtree Road Race (10K) which requires a lottery for registration. I noticed the following statement on their explanation of how runners would be notified of the lottery results.

All individuals within the “Group” will be informed of their selection into the 2013 Peachtree by March 25 via email or through the searchable results on peachtreeroadrace.org and ajc.com/peachtree.

Email is efficient, fast, and low cost. But email delivery is not guaranteed. So when we use email to deliver specific B2C or B2B messages that require some type of acknowledgement, it’s a good idea to augment the message with another form of message delivery such as a postal mail piece or electronic posting on a web site.

Email signatures. Keep it simple.

How do you construct your email signature? Is it a personal creation or a variation of a template you found? With the volume of emails sent each day and importance of email for business communication the email signature is definitely an important mark in our digital lives. You might be surprised to know there is even a Wikipedia entry on email signature blocks.

Kate Neville of Smashing Magazine gives a good interpretation of the art and science of email signatures.  The foundational advice in her post is to be concise with the email signature. Keep it simple and stick to main purpose.

I see three areas of focus with email signatures: the purpose. design, and content. Email signatures were created as a  way to deliver information about how to get in touch with the email author.  It’s like a business card appended to the end of each message. Many people I know use email signatures as their primary phone book. Rather than pulling a number from a database or other list, they will find an email from the person and lookup the signature information to find the phone number.

Designs vary based on how the author decides to use text, html, and images. If there are images, they should be kept to a minimum so as not to distract from the real message and so that they don’t cause formatting issues with email clients. Some things I don’t like in a signature design include different fonts, flashing text, quotations, and large images. Generally these only serve to distract the reader, take up unnecessary space, and cause issues with email client formatting.

With our digital lives growing it’s tempting to list all of our social contact information in the email. I’ve done it before, but I now question the purpose of it. Should I list Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, email, mobile number, work number, address, etc.? It starts to get overwhelming for me, so what would someone reading an email from me think?  So I decided to get back to the purpose of the signature which is to give the recipient information about who I am and how to follow-up with me.

So I simplified my signature to this:


Bob Williams

 xxx.xxx.xxx

For work emails I can simply add the company name and title below my name. Then keep a phone number, email, and LinkedIn profile with it.

I chose my LinkedIn profile over other digital IDs because this profile contains links to other sites with my content, but it also contains a summary about who I am professionally. You could make a case that someone only needs to list a phone number and email as contact information follow-up. But I like giving one extra link with information about who I am.

How do you make your email signature?

When email holds you back

email

I often hear people talk about how they are overwhelmed with email. They end up not responding to email or responding after the subject matter is no longer relevant for decision making or valuable input. It probably doesn’t surprise people that know me, but I try to abide by the 24 rule for email. I either respond, delete, acknowledge, or file a new email within 24 hours. I do not use my in-box as one big folder where email is sorted by name. Instead, the email in my in-box is sorted by date and generally kept to a page or less on the viewing screen.

Today I was thinking about another inefficiency of email. When people use email as their primary means for communication it not only compounds the amount of email they have to process but it also lengthens the amount of time required to complete tasks and reach decisions. As I think about it, this is only logical.

  1. Written communication is often misinterpreted and can require multiple messages to reach an agreement
  2. Email is often not responded to if the recipient(s) does not keep up with their email or has bad email habits. The risk of this is compounded as more recipients are added to the email.
  3. It can take weeks to determine the right person(s) needed for a decision or resolution. How many times have you received an email forwarded to you that contains a chain of email responses representing days or weeks of time?
  4. If a recipient is out of the office and forgets to set an out of office reminder, the sender could wait unnecessarily before reaching out to others to solve the task or reach a decision.
  5. Written communication often creates other questions from the recipient. Additional exchanges are required to answer the question(s).

So should we abandon the use of email? Of course not. Email does have purpose and can facilitate interactions if used properly. But for items in your work life that require timely decisions and resolution, pickup the phone and call or schedule a meeting. You’ll be more efficient, more likely to meet deadlines, and reduce the amount of emails in your in-box.