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Managing Your Mailbox

Last week's Commentary explored one way to cope with Exchange Server mailbox size limits-–AutoArchiving older Outlook items to the archive.pst file. Although this technique can be an effective way to manage your mailbox size, a concerned reader pointed out to me that I failed to mention one important limitation of personal folder (.pst) files: their size limit. Outlook versions earlier than Outlook 2003 effectively limit any personal folder file (including archive.pst) or offline folder (.ost) file to a size of 1.8GB. Although the official limit is 2GB, a .pst file that grows larger than about 1.8GB can become unstable and data loss can occur. Outlook 2003's new Unicode format for .pst and .ost files smashes through the 2GB ceiling with a default size limit of 20GB. Even though you can have significantly larger personal folder files in Outlook 2003, archiving alone isn't the most effective means of mailbox management. If you don't also employ some basic email-organization techniques, you're really only shuffling the problem of email glut from your Exchange mailbox to your archive files. Here are more tips for keeping your email under control: - Clean out your Journal folder (if you actively use journaling). When you first install Outlook, the Journal is deactivated. However, when you access the Journal folder, Outlook asks you whether you want to enable journaling for your profile. If you enable journaling, Outlook will add a journal entry for every Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Access file you open. You can also enable journaling for your contacts. If you have a large number of contacts and enable journaling for all of them, you can easily amass several thousand Journal entries within a few months. If you use journaling, you should regularly examine your Journal folder and use Outlook's sorting and grouping capabilities to pare down your Journal items to a manageable number. For example, you probably don't need to keep the Journal entries for a Word document that contains your niece's birthday party invitation. - Empty your Deleted Items folder regularly. When you throw out papers and folders at home, they stay in the garbage can or recycle bin until you physically take the trash out to the curb. Outlook works the same way. When you delete an item, it moves to the Deleted Items folder. You need to clear this folder on a regular basis. Delete only items that you know you won't need again, and configure Outlook to empty your Deleted Items folder when you close Outlook. To do so, select Tools, Options, then go to the Other tab and select "Empty the Deleted Items folder upon exiting." - Keep only the last email message in a conversation. This tip might sound a bit cavalier, but you don't really need every message in a conversation if you and your conversational partner use the default Outlook setting that includes the entire original message in a reply. Outlook 2003's new By Conversation view makes managing email conversations easier. You can collapse a conversation to view only the unread messages or only the last message in the conversation. You can also use this view to delete an entire conversation with just a few clicks. - Examine your Sent Items folder. I send many email messages every day. The vast majority of them are work related; however, I also use email to plan lunch dates with friends, book my tee time at the local golf course, and send my boss interesting news stories I've found on the Internet. I need to keep the majority of my business-related sent email messages in my Sent Items folder for 6 months before archiving them, but I certainly don't need a record of every tee time I've requested during that period. Once a month, I sort my Sent Items folder by the To field to easily locate and delete groups of unneeded sent messages. I then sort by Subject and delete additional unneeded messages.

You can employ some of these basic email management techniques as well as archiving to personal folders to back up older email messages to a CD-ROM or network share. You'll need to experiment to find the best combination of mailbox management and archiving for your personal needs.

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