Email is an incredibly convenient way to store data. And Outlook does a great job of managing your inbox. In fact, some could argue that it does TOO good of a job. That is because Outlook’s simplicity and organization often entices users into using the program differently from its intended purpose and treat Outlook as a file storage system.
As much as we want it to be, Outlook was not developed to be true file storage solution. And using it as such can lead to a litany of headaches. Siloed data, data loss, storage limitations, cybersecurity risk, and poor performance are all concerns when you turn your Outlook inbox into a digital filing cabinet.
Why Outlook Shouldn’t Be Your File Storage System
This is far and away the most common problem associated with using Outlook as a data storage tool. An overloaded Outlook can cause significant slowness. Opening folders, moving messages, and search functionality becomes progressively sluggish as the amount of data in your Outlook increases.
Keeping all your data in your inbox can turn an Outlook password into a skeleton key. Storing financial information, PII, or other sensitive data in your inbox creates a one stop shop for a cybercriminal that phishes you for your email credentials.
Keeping information in your Outlook application means that important data is only accessible to those with access to your inbox. This can impact collaboration and productivity.
Microsoft operates under a shared responsibility model regarding data protection. While Microsoft guarantees the availability of your Outlook data, it does not protect it from intentional or accidental deletion. If you are using your Outlook to store critical information, you should be backing it up with a 3rd party tool.
Hard To Stop
Once you start using Outlook as file storage tool, it is difficult to stop. This t is because it works well at the beginning. It isn’t until you have built workflows around Outlook and have amassed gigabytes of data that the cracks begin to show. And at that point, it is very difficult to change how you work. The sooner you stop using Outlook to store data, the easier you make the transition.
What To Do Instead
Microsoft/Outlook does not do a great job of explaining archiving in Outlook. In fact, they make it a bit confusing. There are 3 ways the term ‘archive’ is used within Outlook, and only one of those is a good solution to the problem we are discussing today.
Archive VS Auto Archiving VS Online Archiving –
Outlook gives you the option to “archive” an email with an easy to find button on the ribbon as well as in the right click contextual menu. However, this option does not move the email out of the Outlook program and therefore will not help with any performance issues due to mailbox size. It simply moves the selected email into a catchall folder called archive.
Bonus Tip – When sorting emails in Outlook, people have a tendency to use their deleted items folder as a place to store emails because they can send them to a folder with one button. However, that deleted items folder is automatically emptied and anything removed from that folder is unrecoverable. Instead, use the backspace key to send emails to your archive folder with one button.
AutoArchive works by moving emails from the Microsoft Exchange email server to a file on your local computer called a PST. While this would help the issues of having too much data in your Outlook, it makes any email stored in that PST file inaccessible from any other device or the Outlook web app. Additionally, if the hard drive where that PST is stored is damaged or destroyed, those emails are not recoverable.
Online Archiving is the best way to free up your inbox while maintaining access, regardless of the device you are working from. This approach will reduce the strain on the Outlook application while providing you access to all messages that have been past archived. The only caveat to this approach is that an internet connection is required to view messages in the online archive.
Save Emails Outside of Outlook –
Outlook provides easy options for saving both email messages and attachments outside of the application. From both the ribbon and the right click contextual menus you can save emails to OneNote and attachments to OneDrive.
Use A CRM –
If you really live out of your inbox and require quick access to contacts, documents, conversations, and other common data found in Outlook, you might be a candidate for a customer relationship management tool, or CRM. A CRM is a tool that manages your organization’s relationships and interactions with clients, vendors, and potential customers. All in one shared location.
Using your Outlook as a file storage solution may be convenient at first, but will eventually lead to major issues. If your organization is struggling with sluggish Outlook applications, email backup, or general file storage and accessibility, we encourage you to reach out to us today.