How To Avoid Outlook Email Jail and Achive Inbox Zero

A lot of colleagues where I work constantly find themselves in what we call email jail - that precarious position when your Exchange account is bursting at the seems from all the saved email you have and you can't send or receive anything.  What's worse is that you can't delete anything because you need to save the emails in your inbox for a particular purpose (reminders, reference, etc).

With Outlook, there is an option to archive email so that's it's not saved under your network Exchange account.  This works very well if your company also uses personal network shares, so you can access your archive from any company computer - laptop or desktop - as long as it's connected to the network (even via VPN!). In Outlook 2010, you can follow the following steps:

  1. Go to File --> Archive... and you'll get a window asking what file to archive. Make sure the second radio button (Archive this folder and all subfolders) is filled in.
  2. Make note of where the file is being saved under the Archive file: field.  If you have a personal network share you store files on, you might want to save it here, as most IT departments have maintenance scripts which run nightly or weekly to back up data stored there.

Note that this option doesn't automatically archive the inbox past the first time you set it up.  If you want to save emails, you will want to drag-and-drop the emails into individual folders under your Archive Folders category now visable in folder choices on the left navigation pane of Outlook. This is an excellent, cognizent way to achive Inbox Zero (start with the introduction, you'll thank me).  Thanks to this practice, I've never spent one day in email jail ever with my Exchange account.

 A word of warning: if you're in a cross-platform environment, you'll have to save two copies of your archive, since Outlook for Windows uses the .PST extention and Outlook for Mac uses the .OLM extention. It's the same data, however, each platform will attempt to convert the other's file type and it will need to do this every time it opens.  For ease of use, my suggestion is to stick with whatever platform you use in the office to save your sanity. Otherwise you'll likely spend more time converting files for Outlook to read than replying to emails in your inbox.