Email is Not a Permanent Record

outlook

This article is part two in our series from productivity psychologist, Melissa Gratias


Dan liked his email inbox. He checked it several times an hour and had access to it through his smartphone. He kept almost all of his emails in it, deleting few, and filing fewer. When he needed to retrieve an email, he sorted or searched his inbox and after a bit of digging, usually found what he was looking for. Then his company instituted a policy change – emails older than 90 days would be automatically deleted.

Email volumes are increasing by 35% every two years according to the Radicati Group, but companies are fighting back against this onslaught. Evidence of the battle is everywhere, from the introduction of things like “Face-to-Face Fridays” to banning email for a week. Many companies are even imposing time limits on how long emails can be retained in a user’s inbox. Why all the hullaballoo?

It comes down to good management of business records.

What are business records? They are information, data, and events worth preserving. Documentation of decisions made, agreements reached, advice given, and/or materials produced. Business records have legal and regulatory implications far beyond the typical “I might need it someday” rationale that many folks use to justify keeping an excess of email. Good management of business records necessitates keeping the right information organized in the best format.

A chain of email correspondence can be a business record. However, if it’s stored in between an inquiry about lunch and today’s news headlines, then it is likely to get lost.

Additionally, most business records have expiration dates beyond which they should not be kept. It is very difficult to delete expired business records when you have a haystack of dissimilar information to sort through.

One company with whom I work requires its associates to convert emails that need to be retained into PDF documents, then save them on a network drive. Emails left in Outlook are deleted after a few months – there is no permanent storage available in Outlook at all.

What do you think about the approach of converting emails that you want to retain into PDF? I see several advantages:
• All of your electronic documents, including relevant email communications, would be consolidated – you’d have all your information together
• Your electronic documents could be saved to a shared (or shareable) space, allowing colleagues to access relevant business records sent to you via email
• You would be less reliant on your email as an information management tool (which it’s not) – it would be treated more like your postal mailbox
• If your company changes its email management programs or retention policies, you’d be unaffected

The only potential hiccup to the email-to-PDF plan is that Outlook doesn’t have a built-in tool to save an email as a PDF file. Yes, you can save it as HTML or text, but the benefit of converting to PDF is that the original formatting is preserved. However, Nitro Pro bridges this gap with its Outlook plugin that allows you to create a PDF document from an email with one click. Check out the video tutorial below:

Business records are important and worth saving, but their native formats aren’t always the best way to store them. We’re used to scanning paper to PDF to facilitate better storage – is converting email to PDF so different?