Archive the restored archived emails

This article is dedicated to all my friends at work that got panic as result of organizational policy to delete items older than couple of years.

1280px-Panic_button

I would like to talk in this article on how to archive our 2-years-old emails when we have Enterprise Vault Outlook Add-in that already archived our 90-days-old emails.

What is Enterprise Vault Outlook Add-in?

I won’t give here the entire story, but just state that it is a tool that allows you to reduce your mailbox size by automatically archiving your emails without moving them to an Outlook archive folder, and while allowing you to fully view the archived emails by just clicking on them.

Below is an example of 2 emails from my mailbox, one was archived by Enterprise Vault (EV) and the other wasn’t. They are both residing at the same mail folder. The archived email age was exceeding the EV policy limit and therefore was archived. The other email is new enough and therefore wasn’t archived by EV.

Email_ArchiveVsRegular

Below you can see an example of email that was archived by EV. All attachments are removed, the email appears like in plain text format (as opposed to HTML), and the emails text is cut after a few tens of lines.

Email_ArchivedByEV

However, when you open the email (double click it), it automatically restores its original content and format. Since it is so easy to open such emails, the organization policy can be to archive (using EV) emails that are even 3 month old, since those are still easily accessible for the users.

So what’s the problem?

The problem begins when there is another policy in your organization that mandates the deletion of emails older the X years. If you don’t care about such old emails, you can stop reading this post. If you care, then it means you need to move old emails (before they reach the “delete age”) to a personal folder (PST).

Moving EV-archived emails to a PST folder means you have ended up archiving emails that are in a bad format (plain text), partial information (cut in the middle), and without attachments. Plus, those emails can’t be restored (once an email is deleted by organizational policy, it can’t be restored via EV).

I want my emails back. Now. Please.

Quick Solution

OK, the solution is pretty easy:

  1. Select the emails you want to save aside
  2. Restore them using EV
  3. Archive them using PST
  4. You are done

If you need to restore dozens of emails, you cannot do that email-by-email (it will take you forever). The trick is restoring a group of emails:

  1. Select a group of emails.
  2. Go to the “Enterprise Vault” tab
  3. Select Restore
  4. The email icon will be changed to indicate it is in the process of being restored
  5. Wait (in my case it took ~30 minutes)
  6. The emails are restored (the email icon is now as any regular email)
  7. Archive your restored emails using Outlook personal folder

Email_EV_Restore

 

In case you need a direction on how to create personal folder for archiving your items:

  1. On the Home tab, in the New group, click “New Items”, point to “More Items”, and then click “Outlook Data File”.
  2. Select “Outlook data file (.pst)”
  3. In the “Create or Open Outlook Data File” dialog box, in the File name box, type the name as you want it to appear in the Outlook Navigation Pane, and then click OK.

Will the search engine look into my personal folders?

Yes, no worries.

How can I find all the emails that are older than X years?

You can search them. For example, “received:<2014-06-23”.

A few words of caution

When you are restoring emails, your restored emails would occupy more mailbox space, which means that your free mailbox space would reduce. You need to be careful not to hit your mailbox max size (I’m not sure what would happen at that point – didn’t try it). So if you don’t have much of a free space in your mailbox, I recommend to restore-from-EV and archive-to-PST in cycles of small groups.

Search Folders – A Kind of Magic

If your first reaction is “what a search folder is” then you are going to witness a magic. OK, not a magic, but a really cool and useful feature of Outlook.

I assume you came around the following dilemma – I have email I would like to follow up with my manager in my next weekly with her. I don’t want to put those emails in a dedicated physical folder named “Boss” since such folder will only grow in time. Plus, there are certain emails that I would like to follow up on both with my boss and with my leading engineer. Mmm… what should I do?

Shelves-of-file-folders

Well, Outlook offers us exactly the solution we need – search folders. A search folder is a virtual folder (as opposed to a physical folder) that shows emails based on a search criteria. Sounds complicated? Not at all.

Search Folder in Details

The emails that a search folder shows are physically located somewhere else, but still they appear in the search folder. Think on a search folder as if it is a filter on your entire emails, and you can define what this filter would look like.

Let’s go back to our example – we want to have an easy way to see all the emails that we need to talk with our manager. Moreover, after we would talk with our manager about a specific email, we want an easy way to remove it from the search folder.

The basic tools for reaching that goal are flag and category. When I want to see an email in a search folder, I first make sure I have the right category set up. For example, I would create category called “follow up with manager”. When I have email that I want to follow up on with my manager, I would categorize it as “follow up with manager”. On top of that, I would add a flag to this email.

There are 2 reasons I’m adding a flag on top of the category:

  1. Once I need to remove an email from a search folder, unflagging will do the job in the easiest way. The reason for that is that we will define the search criteria as category+flag. We will see that in a minute.
  2. Outlook sometimes categorizes other emails that appear on the same email thread as the email we have categorized. It is like Outlook is duplicating our category to the email thread. Having combination of category and flag would make sure the search folder would show the email we intended it to show.

So we have an email categorized as “follow up with manager” and with a flag. Now we can create a search folder that would catch it.

Creating a Search Folder

  • Right click on “Search Folders”
  • Select “New Search Folder”

NewSearchFolder

  • Select “Create a custom Search Folder”

SearchFolder_Custom

  • Select “Choose”
  • Enter the search folder name

SearchFolder_Name

  • Select “Criteria…”
  • Go to the “More Choices” tab
  • Check the “only items which:” checkbox and select the value “are flagged by me”
  • Click the “Categories…” button and select the relevant category from the list

SearchFolder_Criteria

  • Click OK x 3

Now you have search folder named “Follow up with manager”. This folder would show the emails that you have categorized as “follow up with manager” and that have flag set. BTW – the name of the search folder can be different then the name of the category.

It might take Outlook a few minutes to find the emails for this search folder. It happens only on the first creation of the folder. After that, each email that you categorize (+flag) would be shown immediately.

Number of Emails in a Search Folder

One last trick before we are done. The search folder show by default the number of emails that are un-read. We don’t really care about the count of un-read emails in the search folder. What we really care is how many emails in general this search folder holds. In order to see that:

  • Right click on the search folder
  • Select Properties
  • Change the radio button from “Show number of unread items” to “Show total number of items”

SearchFolder_TotalNumber

Remove an Email from a Search Folder

When you want to remove an email from a search folder, you just un-flag it. So, suppose I had a weekly with my manager and I have talked with her about a specific email I have in my “follow up with manager” search folder. I just click the flag (for removing it) and the email would disappear from my search folder. Remember, the search folder we have created shows emails that have both “follow up with manager” category and have a flag set.

 

How Many Folders? Only One

On this post I’m going to touch a controversial topic – the need to use the Outlook folders system. Let me start with the conclusion – we do NOT need any folders except for one. It might sound outrages and impossible but it is really the logical conclusion when analyzing it. I’ll explain in a minute.

I have decided to write this post this week after I have mentored one of the leaders in my group. Seeing her excitement when she has deleted her entire folder list was the greatest gift for me. She was brave and she has remained with a single folder. Good for her. Now let’s see if you can do the same.

OnlyOne

Our intuition in emails classification is creating folders by category and classifying the emails according to topics. It seems like the reasonable approach to use, right? Wrong. Let’s talk about a few aspects here.

The first aspect is the scalability of the method over time. This method is not scalable. We all know it, but we don’t want to admit it. We always start with ~5 folders system (e.g. project X, project Y, administration, purchase, courses). It is clean and nice and we think we have nailed it down. Then comes another project, project Z, so we add it as a folder. Project X and Y are already over, but we don’t delete those folders, as we might want to use those emails in the future. So, after 6 month we triple the number of the folders we have.

OK, so we have more folders then we planned to. After 2 years we have ~50 folders. No big deal, right? Wrong. This is a huge deal, because now our classification process takes much longer. Let’s assume we have received an email from our boss about the need to improve the quality of our product. Mmm… this can go to the current “project” folder, it can go to our “procedures” folder and it can go to our “boss-related” folder. Confusing. So, we stop for a minute and start thinking where the best place is to classify it.

Let’s try to analyze what we actually do in this confusing phase – we are trying to figure out in which folder we would search it in the future, in case we would need to review this email again. And of course when this time in the future comes, we don’t really remember where we have classified it and are starting to think where we have put that email – was is it in the project folder, the boss-related folder, the procedure folder, or maybe in the miscellaneous folder that we have recently created?

To sum it up, over time our folder list increases, which increases the time it takes us to classify our emails and search for them later on. As time goes by, our efficiency decreases. What a bummer.

Bummer

At this point in the post, we should all feel less comfortable with our folders system. Let’s challenge this system and see what we can do better for being more efficient here.

Pareto could help us here (the 80-20 rule). I say that 80% of the emails that we classify into folders are never being searched by us in the future. The rest of the emails (20%) that we do search, we can’t really find easily due to our endless folder list.

Vilfredo_pareto

Therefore, the logic conclusion would be that by not classifying the emails into folders, we could save the entire classification time. This can save us 1-2 hours a week (I’ll leave you do the math). There is even a bigger prize here – we remove the minded burden that is tight up with our email review procedure. When we stop classifying emails, it starts to be easier to review emails and move them out of the Inbox (we would talk about the zero Inbox approach in the future).

What a relief… no more emails to classify. But now comes the day where we really need to find an email (remember, there is the 20% part that we do want to search). How do we do it? Easily – using the Outlook search system. Want to know how? Read the post I wrote about “search it, search it, till you make it”.

Now you need to brave enough to take this step. Being honest here, it took me 2 month to do that leap many years ago. So I understand it is hard, but you need to do that. I would suggest to do that in 2 phases:

  1. Phase 1: Continue using your current email classification system. BUT, when you reach the point that you need to search an email, DO NOT go to your folders. Search it through the Outlook search engine.
  2. Phase 2: after a couple of weeks, where you managed to find all your emails using the Outlook search engine (not using your folder list), you are ready to stop using your folder list. At this point you can create a folder named “Processed” and move all emails from your folders into the “Processed” folder. After that, delete your folders and you are done.

Good luck!

BTW – I wasn’t completely honest with you – I do hold a couple of more folders, but for a different purpose. I would tell you all about it in my next post, so stay tuned…

Search it, search it, yes you make it

This is the 2nd episode on the search topic, where we would learn how to fine tune the search mechanism for providing us easy to operate results. If you didn’t read the 1st episode, please do.

EmailSearch_Papers

Search in all folders

The default outlook search uses the current folder for search. In case you want to extend that to all folders, you need to press the link “Try searching again in All Mail Items” and then the search starts all over again.

OutlookSearch2phases

In most cases, we want to search an email everywhere and therefore this 2-phase search is slowing us down. In order to speed things up, we should change the outlook default to apply the search on all folders.

How to do it:

  • Go to File
  • Go to Options
  • Go to Search
  • Check the “All folders” radio button

OutlookSearchAllFolders

If we want for a specific search to apply it on the current folder, we can do that by pressing the “Current Folder” button.

OutlookSearchCurrentFolder

Highlight search results in a different color

When applying a search, outlook would highlight your search keys in yellow. This makes it easy to go throughout an email that was found and see where the search keys appear.

Most people use the highlight-yellow in regular emails for emphasizing parts of the email. Therefore, it results confusion when you go through search results that contain emails having highlighted-yellow parts (in the original email).

SearchSameHighlight_Blur

My recommendation is changing the search-highlight color from yellow to a different one, so we would know to distinguish between the search-highlights are the email-highlights.

SearchDifferentHighlight_Blur

How to do it:

  • Go to File
  • Go to Options
  • Go to Search
  • Select a different color in the “Highlight color” dropdown

OutlookSearchHighlight

Have a nice search…

 

Search it, Search it, till you make it

I wasn’t using (smartly) the Outlook search for finding emails, so this was a life changing knowledge for me. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating, but really, this is one of the best “reveals” I had with Outlook which boosted up my work. I would cover the Search topic in a few posts.

Office Worker with Mountain of Paperwork

This week I have arranged a meeting with friends that I didn’t see or talk with for over 2 decades (wow, now I have realized how old I am…). It was a team I have worked with 3 companies ago, for 5 intensive years. It was awesome – I have missed them so much. The key for making this happen was the ability to track them without having any old records about them. Using the social networks today, it was an easy task (something that wasn’t achievable 2 decades ago).

My point is that this is also doable with Outlook when it comes to searching emails. You don’t need sophisticated categorized system in order to search an email. Outlook search engine is a powerful tool, which I realized too few people know how to use. I see too many people struggling with finding emails and spending minutes over minutes for finding them.

Let’s make an end to it.

How to Search

I would list here the top 5 search keys that should help us all search any email within seconds:

  • from:<person>: the name of the sender. It can be first name, last name, or email handle (e.g. erezm in case of erezm@company.com).
  • to:<person>: same as from, but for a person that appears on the To list.
  • word: search for a word within the email (anywhere in the email – subject, distribution list, body).
  • “a phrase”: search for exact phrase anywhere in the email.
  • subject:<word>: search for a word in the email title.

Examples

Let’s take a few examples to make it clear:

  • from:erez, to:danny, subject:budget
    This would find all the emails that Erez has sent to Danny and also contain the word “budget” in the subject of the email.
  • project, roberto, vladimir, steve, linux
    This searches an email that contains all the above words. Use that for intuitive search – just write down words you remember appearing somewhere in the email. In this search, I have remembered that Roberto, Steve and Vladimir where mentioned. I have also remembered that it was related to project and that it was a discussion about Linux operating system. Those words are being searched everywhere in the email.
  • from:erez, to:ronny, “well done”
    This would find all the emails that Erez has sent to Ronny where the phrase “well done” was mentioned.

What next…

I hope those examples made it clear. The next time you want to search for an email, use the search engine and practice it. It should be intuitive in the sense that you need to list down all the information that pops up into your head regarding this email. Any piece of information you remember, list it and it would narrow down the search results.

The next posts on the topic would include configuration options for easy search and follow up post with a “surprising” recommendation. Stay tuned…