Getting Outlook Under Control: Reducing The Size Of Your .PST File

Microsoft Outlook is the modern-day DayTimer.  Almost everyone in the business world today uses it either in a standalone setting or as part of Microsoft Exchange.  Whether it’s managing e-mail, scheduling, tasks or all of the above, Outlook has become a ubiquitous part of our daily life.

The Resulting Problem

One of the downsides to the explosion of electronic communications facilitated by software like Outlook, is that the underlying files within these programs become bloated with stored information.  Whether data is contained in an e-mail in your Inbox (or other sub-folder), an event scheduled on your calendar, or stored as part of a task, it is all encapsulated in Outlook – within the very program itself.  If that’s a bit confusing, imagine saving every document you craft in Word within Word itself, versus somewhere else on your hard drive or network drive.  Eventually, Word would start to “fill up” with all those letters and memos that you’ve written. 

This is exactly what happens with Microsoft Outlook.  Whenever you store an e-mail in any Outlook folder, schedule an event or create a task, all of that information, as well as any related attachments, are all stored in Outlook itself..  The end result of this behavior is that Outlook begins to buckle under its own size, which we usually experience as a slowing down of the program.  (Oh, and if you use Outlook via Exchange in a corporate network, multiply this effect by the number of people doing the same thing on your network!)  Moreover, as the Outlook .pst file becomes increasing large, you increase the chances of corrupting the data in the file.  Now you probably (hopefully!) have a backup somewhere that’s reasonably current, but who wants to go through the hassle?

One Solution: The “Save As” Function

E-mail hygiene is a huge issue today.  This post will focus on one specific, but significant, component of getting e-mail better managed – saving the important information somewhere other than in the .pst file. 

Open an e-mail and click on the File command in the menu bar.  You’ll notice the option to “Save As.”  This allows you to save an e-mail in a number of formats and in a location other than the .pst file.  If we view e-mail as a form of correspondence – as I promoted in an earlier post (http://www.quietspacing.com/2009/08/03/what-to-do-with-it-all-treating-e-mail-as-correspondence/ –  then we should just be saving e-mails in the same fashion we save other documents (like letters, spreadsheets, etc.).  Assuming that filing methodology is already established for your other documents, either through your own doing or that of your employer, you can use “Save As” to file these communiques in the same manner.  Makes sense right?  Why not just store all related items together in the same way!

Now we’ll look at the technical part to make sure we achieve our intended result.  When you click File and select Save As, you will see the same familiar window that opens whenever you save other items.  Navigate to the location you would save any other item related to this matter using the buttons on the left side of the pop-up window. 

Now, look down at the bottom of the window.  You will notice that the Subject line for the e-mail/event/task is automatically placed in the “File name” area.  You are free to change the name in accordance with your own or your company’s file naming convention. 

Below the “File name” area, you will see an area titled “Save as type” with a drop down arrow to the right.  The default setting is “Text Only.”  That is NOT the one you want.  The best selection is “Outlook Message Format – Unicode.”  This will save the contents of the e-mail, including ALL attachments, in the location you have selected, in a format that that will visually tell you it’s an e-mail. 

When you’re done naming the e-mail and selecting the Outlook Message Format – Unicode “Save as type,” click Save and a copy of the e-mail and everything attached to it will reside in the location you selected.  You can now delete the original e-mail, freeing up that space in your .pst file.

To confirm that this will work for you, go to the location you saved the e-mail using Windows Explorer.  You’ll see an e-mail message envelope with the file name you chose.  Double click on it and it’ll open up the e-mail with any attachments still attached.

A Related Solution: The “Save Attachments” Function

You can also save just the attachments from an e-mail, instead of the body of the e-mail itself, by selecting File | Save Attachments.  In the Save Attachment window that pops up, navigate to the location you want the attachments saved to and confirm the “File name” and “Save as type” before hitting Save.  The result is that copies of the attachments are saved as separate documents from the e-mail (which is not saved in that location). 

This works well, for example, with documents that are going through a drafting process and transmitted back and forth via e-mail.  The transmittal e-mail is of little importance and can be deleted, along with its attachments, once the attachments have been copied elsewhere.

Slimming Up Your Outlook .PST File

Using the Save As and Save Attachments function is a terrific way to deal with the issue of reducing the bulk of your .pst file.  It won’t solve all the issues presented with the enormous amount of e-mail we deal with from day to day.  However, you’ll find that storing e-mails and attachments in the same location as other related documents will make finding things easier and more efficient, in addition to speeding up the response times you experience when working in Outlook.

Good luck!

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