Email Management: Why It’s Important and How to Get Started 

decorative image woman using laptop

If you’ve heard the terms “email management” or “email hygiene,” you’ve likely thought the concepts centered around organization and productivity. But email management is much more than that. If an email message documents university business, it must be managed as a university record. 

The legal implications of smart email management are the most important reason to establish good habits. If you mass-delete emails, you may inadvertently delete data that you should retain. A small number of staff in HR and legal roles are aware that their email messages are flagged for "legal hold," to ensure we retain documents that would be required for Discovery in the event of future legal proceedings, but most of us need to be mindful of what we keep and delete. Setting up email archiving and folders and using retention tags will give you access to data for as long as you are required to retain it according to university retention schedules.  

In addition to the legal implications of email management, there are storage considerations as well. Whether on-premises or in the cloud, storage has some associated cost. Like most universities, Ohio State launched Microsoft 365 with vast amounts of storage. However, as storage use has increased so have the costs. Each of us will need to ensure we are only keeping emails and files that need to be retained. To prepare for the future, we need to consider our email footprint now, and make changes to ensure that storage is being used for business items that are a priority for the university.  

Outlook Clean Up: Managing Email

You can help! OTDI is publishing a series of articles to guide you -- discussing storage, what to keep and what to delete, how to apply retention tags, and how to archive email. This article will discuss simple ways to clear items that do not need to be saved out of your email account.  

There are strategies to managing data that is sent via email, and University Libraries has extensive information on email management and records retention in general. The information presented here was drawn from Libraries’ existing documentation. 

  • Not all records are equal in value or retention period. The retention period for each message is based upon the content and informational value of the message, not the technology through which it is transmitted or stored.
  • Ideally, email should not be the primary method of storing or archiving documents, but rather a way of transmitting them between parties. When email is the only place the information content is found, each user is responsible for ensuring compliance with appropriate retention schedules. Now is a great time to become familiar with how these policies impact your email.  
  • The key to effectively managing emails and electronic messages is to be proactive. If you delete the non-records and transient/transitory records that have outlived their administrative value, what remains is the small percentage of records, sent or received, that retention schedules require to be managed on an ongoing basis.
  • You can set up folders for these messages according to Ohio State's General Record Retention Schedules or request your unit’s unique schedule.

In future articles, we will delve into information about applying retention tags and setting up automatic archives. Both of these features will help you optimize your email storage and comply with university retention policies. 

5 Steps to Email Clean-up  

1. Do not attempt to do it all at once. Start with today’s emails and move forward. Then gradually work on your email backlog.  

2. Set aside a regular time to delete and file messages. Smaller chunks are more manageable and less tedious. For example, schedule time on every Wednesday 2-3 p.m. or every day from 10-10:15 a.m.  

3. Permanently delete items in your “Deleted Items” folder. Don’t be tempted to use this as a temporary “filing cabinet” You will find that many of the tips below will apply to emails that are in the Deleted Items folder.  

4. Delete what you know can be deleted. This will make what remains to be filed less daunting. Once you are sure you understand the difference between records and Transient/Non-Record emails, there are some quick ways to slim down your email  

  • Delete appointment and meeting messages: First sort by Type, select the first meeting appointment message, and then shift+click, scrolling down to the last meeting appointment message. Once they are selected, use the delete key to remove them (the official appointment is on your calendar)  
  • Look for words used frequently in non-record emails: Search by name and/or keyword such as “name.# and Starbucks” or “name.# and lunch” to weed out potential non-record emails between colleagues going for coffee, grabbing lunch, or taking a walk, for example.  
  • Delete emails that are copies from a University Application: If you can log into the system to see the information you need (eLeave, eRequest, IT help tickets, etc.), delete auto-generated emails notify you of an action or updates as soon as you address them.  
  • Discard university-wide announcements: While announcements sent by the university are useful for a specific period of time, most do not require long-term retention. Examples are public safety notices, construction alerts and Workday change notifications   

5. File messages that you need to keep. Once you have deleted everything that does not need to be retained, you can file what you know must be retained. Filed messages can be placed in folders to automatically be archived or deleted based on perimeters that you set. 

We will be sharing more messages in the coming weeks to direct you to resources that will be helpful in setting up a sustainable filing system so you can easily purge messages you no longer need.