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Organizing emails

Organizing emails

Organizing emails

In yesteryears engineering firms would communicate via telephone or regular "snail" mail.

For telephones one would potentially record the general topics of conversation with perhaps a pre-made company telephone memo form.

Both the letters and the memos would go into the project file.  Thus, at any one time you could look into the file and have a complete history of the various communications that took place.

Today, much of our communication is by email and still much by telephone.

I was wondering how many of you deal with the challenge of documenting emails and saving them in "project files" to be able to return to them in the future if needed?  I know a number of engineers who simply let their in box fill up with vast quantities of emails and, under Microsoft Outlook, they get archived somewhere as time passes.

This doesn't seem like a good plan.

What do you all do?


RE: Organizing emails

I've got e-mail going back to 1981 (PROFS back then, but I was able to slide them into an early version of Outlook).  Every now and then this archeology is worthwhile, but not often.

I've got project files by client in my Outlook Archive.  Outlook gets cranky and slows down when your inbox gets big, but it just doesn't seem to care how big your archive is.

I'm usually able to put my hands on a specific e-mail in a few minutes, so it works well for me.  Printing off e-mail doesn't work at all.


RE: Organizing emails

What zdas04 said - I use project folders in my Outlook Archives section there, and just drag and drop e-mails I've responded to into there for a complete chain, and it has helped me sort out mis-communications on an almost weekly basis where a 3 month old conversation wasn't resolved properly (the "Reply to All" button gets over-used so badly - it creates a committee discussion with a lot of second guessers coming out of the woodwork, for what should be a simple "here's the solution" discussion).

You also have to watch that the Archive folders don't get too big before you save all the e-mails as .pst files in the main project folder - I had a problem a couple years ago when I had one archive folder grow to almost 8 Gb before I asked the IT guy to save all the e-mails to the main project file folder on the network- crashed the computer and caused a lot of time and trouble for all concerned.

In my sector of the industry we get a ton of e-mails with large file attachments which can really use up the memory.

The legalities I've been following indicate that all e-mails are considered "documents" that must be kept as part of the design files, and in my neighborhood, that means for at least 10 years.  So watch what you say, and how you say it, because a flippant e-mail that was meant to be humorous today can come back to screw you a few years later.

RE: Organizing emails

Pertinant project related e-mails are stored in pst folder in the the actual project file.  This way it is a part of the back up and out of the inbox.  The pst file can be made public so that all members of the team can file e-mails there and also retrieve e-mail from others.

This can be a bit worrisome if you ever have the misfortune of going through discovery as a part of a lawsuit.   

RE: Organizing emails

The emails don't have to remain inside the email client. They can be dragged into a regular Windows project folder structure, making them accessible to all involved.

RE: Organizing emails

If it is an important email, I print it out and put in my paper file.  Otherwise, I just have a general "engineering" file in my Yahoo account I dump everything into where everyting is organized by date.  

It's not really difficult to find any particular email.  I do save all the emails.

Mike McCann
MMC Engineering
Motto:  KISS
Motivation:  Don't ask

RE: Organizing emails

JAE...I use some project files in Outlook, but not all.  I'm guilty of letting emails accumulate without doing much with them.

Am currently toying with the idea of converting all to pdf files and storing in the job file (all of my job files are electronic...very little paper)


RE: Organizing emails

I move resolved ones to the project folder - if it's a big job, I'll ask IT to make it a public folder so multiple people can access the emails.  Attachments get saved into the project directory.  Unresolved or pending issues stay in the inbox until they are cleaned up.  I recently bought a copy of Clear Context and it has saved me a lot of time in filing emails and also in flagging for followup the ones that aren't resolved.  

Oh, and by the way, asking for group consensus with email and reply all is basically pointless.  You'll just get a million useless replies with no resolution and more issues than ever.  I've started using "unless otherwise notified - here's my intended action" type of emails - they're much more effective.

RE: Organizing emails

Not a huge fan of Outlook, because its search function takes a year and a day.  I'm running everything out of Google Apps right now, and very pleased.  

My organization scheme has always been to stick with the same 'project name' for all emails about that project, and then use the 'search mail' function to find all emails of a particular project.  Works great, as long as you're smart about how you title your email, which you honestly should be doing anyway as good business practice.  Very few things drive me crazier than receiving an email with "Could you please..." as the subject line, particularly when it pertains to a project.

Hydrology, Drainage Analysis, Flood Studies, and Complex Stormwater Litigation for Atlanta and the South East - http://www.campbellcivil.com

RE: Organizing emails

We have project folders on our network with Communications sub-folders.  Typically an email will be printed to PDF and stored in the specified folder.  Attachments will then be saved in a different folder.  The emails are saved with a date code of when the email was sent.  

My personal email in Outlook is Archived yearly and I never delete anything. (unless it is out of office replies or junk)

RE: Organizing emails

I use Thunderbird and I BCC every email I send to a gmail account.

For large jobs I have a folder I move emails into so it's a bit organized and out of the big mess of the main inbox.  If there are important emails I put them in an Email folder on our server under the project number with a little explanation of what it is or who its from, along with any attachments.

Almost all of the most recent jobs have no physical paper folder, minus invoicing and contracts, which is pretty nice.

I have worked for places that print all the emails and write down everything in phone conversations and it can take forever to look through a filing cabinet of that stuff looking for anything.

Civil Development Group, LLC
Los Angeles Civil Engineering specializing in Hillside Grading

RE: Organizing emails

My mails in outlook get archived from time to time! Therefore we are working with public folders in our company!
But to get everything organized and especially that we find everything we all use Lookeen (http://www.lookeen.net), an outlook search tool!
It has GPOs and you can search through public folders, sharepoints and external archives!
I think this is a very good solution to deal with our mails, because we nearly adjust everything with mails!

RE: Organizing emails

I save emails into archive folders too, but I leave them there. Maybe I should do the .pst file storage and back that up with the rest of my work files.

Also kinda lost in this conversation: phone call records.

If I have a call that involves a decision or direction, I send myself an email and CC the other caller(s) restating the items discussed kinda like meeting minutes.

If I have a disagreement with a person over the phone, or something occurs to me I need to remember later, I send myself an email with the call info and my thoughts.

I do this because the outlook search function is super fast and makes it easy to find info via keyword or chronologically.


RE: Organizing emails

I have e-mail folder trees set up along the following lines:

My Company ID (I own 2)

Works well. Comm history is right there in the folder. Forces you to clean out the junk.

RE: Organizing emails

This has come up in many other threads with many different answers all worth reading.
I personally build folders for each project and try to setup automatic filters to have the e-mails sorted into the filters. I have never tried to share e-mails but have printed out the important ones for the project folder.

I still don't have a good archiving method.

RE: Organizing emails

I use Outlook rules to sort my incoming emails. I don't use that many folders and then inside the folders let the email stay there chronologically.  Sometimes an email ends up in the wrong folder or should be copied into another folder but these few exceptions can easily be handled manually.

I have a small PST file with current stuff in it and regularly copy anything over a month old to the annual PST file.

I regularly back up the PST files ( a couple times a day using SyncBack) Its quick and easy, I can start the short backup routine when I leave my desk and it is done on my return from almost any trip away from the desk.
If I cannot find something with a quick sort by name of sender or date, then the search function in Outlook is quite handy. I do wish that it had an option to refine searches by only searching within the results of a previous search but the same result often can be accomplished with multiple search parameters.

Rick Kitson MBA P.Eng

Construction Project Management
From conception to completion

RE: Organizing emails

I archive project-related e-mails in directories related to the specific project.  That way, all project correspondence is located with the project files, and I can archive the complete project when it closes.  I use two fantastic tools:  MessageSave and EZdetach.  I save the messages to the project correspondence directory and have them automatically deleted from Outlook.  That keeps my PST file from getting too big.  My settings for MessageSave will append a datecode and sender's initials in the filename, so it's easy to go back and find the individual msg files if I need them later.  There's an option to save as txt or html, also.  It also remembers the paths, so it's easy to send new msgs to the same (repeat) locations on my harddrive.

More information at www.TechHit.com - Outlook utilities that save you time.

That said, it still takes time to organize e-mail.  

RE: Organizing emails

I use folders in Outlook for current project emails.

Once the project is closed out, I move them into .pst and store them either on the system archive drive, or in off-line backup drives.

We are told to never delete any email from our projects. So, I often have a current file folder and a "less important" sub folder under it (for those meeting arrangement emails, please send again with attachment emails, etc).

"Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater."   
Albert Einstein
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RE: Organizing emails

Our firm has started using an A/E project management system called Newforma Project Center. It provides a place for everyone on the project to store their email in a common folder and includes fast search capability. It automatically eliminates many of the duplicate emails. Also provides CAD file management, revision control and some construction administration functions.

"The engineer's first problem in any design situation is to discover what the problem really is." Unk.

RE: Organizing emails

I have found Microsoft Desktop Search to be indispensible for locating messages. It's free too.

It's like having Google for all the documents in your PC and in email.

I can't count the number of times it's saved my bacon.

RE: Organizing emails

that only works if you remember what it was called (or the client gives it a recognisable label).

I archive into project files though this is often done only when I run out of space on the server.

I try my best to be organised with these types of things. It is easy to dismiss these things as non technical but, as one of my old bosses explained to me once: 'most clients have absolutely no understanding of how good an engineer is technically, what they judge you on is if you get the jobs done on time, how efficient you are to answer their queries and how neat your drawings are.'

Sad but true!


RE: Organizing emails

I've found that Desktop Search generally lets me pick a keyword to search on to vastly narrow the choices, for a scan to find what I'm looking for almost every time.

It almost doesn't matter how I've filed or misfiled what ever it is.

RE: Organizing emails

On Windows computers, I've been using Agent Ransack for search; it runs pretty fast, can search on content, and doesn't have some of the odd behaviors/limitations/bugs of MS Search.


Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Organizing emails

The first thing I do is create a rule in Outlook to save all attachments to a folder, which I then can access and use as needed.  Then I deal with all incoming email with a program called AutoMate: http://www.pergenex.com/index.shtml.  I set it so that after I'm done with an email, I put it in a "Sorting Folder" that I've created, and it automatically strips all attachments (but leaves a note about what was there) and sorts all emails (into my pst folders) according to criteria that I've set (keywords, recipients, etc.).  I've also set it automatically put all sent emails into the Sorting Folder for the same process.  So at the end of the day, if I've dealt with my inbox emails and placed them in the Sorting Folder, then everything is sorted into the various pst's, without attachments (to limit the size of my inbox), and I am ready for a new day of incoming emails.

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