Move your e-mail out of Outlook and into the folders of your choice

Organize and safeguard your messages by storing them in separate folders on your hard drive or other local storage device.

There's something about Microsoft Outlook that reminds me of the old Soviet Union: the program wants to centralize everything and store it in one big PST file that only it can access. There may be advantages to this approach to managing your e-mail, contacts, tasks, and calendar, but you know what can happen when you put all your eggs in one basket.

That's why it makes sense to move copies of your important Outlook files to folders that live outside the Office system. Saving messages and other data to local storage is relatively easy, whether you move them one at a time or in bunches. Note that this is different than backing up (or archiving) the messages, which I'll also describe.

To save a single message to a local folder, open it, and in Outlook 2003, click File > Save As, or in Outlook 2007 click the Office button and choose Save As twice. In both versions, navigate to the folder you want to use, choose a file type in the Save as type drop-down menu, and click Save. Note that in Outlook 2003, the message subject becomes the file name, but in Outlook 2007 you have to give the file a name.

The two most common formats for e-mail are HTML (.htm or .html) and Text Only (.txt): the former opens the message in a browser and preserves the look of the original, but the latter ensures that the message will open in just about any program.

You can also save multiple messages simultaneously by Ctrl-clicking to select them, or Ctrl-A to save them all, and then choosing File > Save As in Outlook 2003, or the Office button and Save As twice in Outlook 2007. They'll all be saved as a single text file, and you'll have to give the file a name. Each message in the file begins with the word "From".

To move an entire folder to your hard drive or other local storage, click File > Import and Export, choose Export to a file, click Next, select Comma Separated Values (Windows), click Next again, choose the folder you want to export, click Next yet again, browse to the location you want to store the folder (unless you want to go with the folder and file name Outlook chose), give the file a name, click Next once more, and then Finish.

Microsoft Outlook's Import and Export wizard
Export the contents of an Outlook folder via the Import and Export wizard.

You could also choose to export the folder as a single Excel or Access file, but using either Comma Separated Values (Windows) or Tab Separated Values (Windows) makes the file much easier to read in Word.

Back up the Outlook way via archiving. You may also want to protect your mail, contacts, tasks, and calendar entries within Outlook by archiving your data. The primary advantage of archiving is that everything is backed up with a single action. The disadvantage is that everything lives in a single file, and the data is accessible only in Outlook.

To archive in Outlook 2003, click File > Archive > Personal Folders (or select individual folders, if you wish), enter the date, choose a location for your archive file, give it a name (or go with Outlook's default in both cases), and click OK. You can ensure that your archive includes everything by checking Include items with "Do Not AutoArchive" checked.

Microsoft Outlook's Archive dialog box
Archive all your Outlook data by choosing Personal Folders and the current date in the Archive dialog box.

You may also want to note the folder Outlook uses to store this and other files by default, because Microsoft does a good job of making the location impossible to guess. In XP, the path is C:\Documents and Settings\your login name\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook. In Vista, it's C:\Users\your login name\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Outlook.

Let Outlook do the archiving for you. I get nervous when programs start doing things behind the scenes, but you might prefer to have Outlook archive a folder automatically. To do so, right-click the folder and choose Properties > AutoArchive. If you select Archive items in this folder using the default settings, click Default Archive Settings, and choose your preferred options. Another way to set up auto-archiving is to click Archive this folder using these settings, and make your choices. As far as I can tell, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Microsoft Outlook's AutoArchive options
Make your auto-archive selections in Outlook's AutoArchive dialog box.

Retrieve your archived data. An archive won't do you much good if you can't access it, and Outlook doesn't make the process particularly easy: Click File > Import and Export > Import from another program or file > Next > Personal Folder File (.pst) > Next. Now browse to and select your archive file, click Do not import duplicates, and choose Next > Finish.

Tomorrow: Ubuntu time-saving tips.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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