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Managing Overflowing Mail

Managing your mail box:

  • A managed mail box is easier to find messages in, when you need them.
  • There is always a space limit even if you don't see it. Space isn't free nor as cheap as the price of a consumer hard-drive makes it appear. Even GMail has a limit, and I've seen at least one office where half of the users mailboxes wouldn't fit in GMail mailbox.
  • The more mail in your mailbox, the slower it is to do things with it, such as search and its related indexing, backup/restore, etc.. We've seen some huge local mail boxes take hours to index, making it sluggish or non-responsive the entire time.
  • Few of us have the time to fully manage our mail, but by the same token we don't have time to wait for our systems or to waste time trying to find 'that' message. Putting in at least some effort on a regular basis will keep your mailbox running smoothly for your needs.
    - Delete the junk mail as soon as possible. So much of the unsolicited mail has hostile content, even if only to confirm that you are a real mailbox actively opening messages. Much better to be just rid of them to make sure you don't accidentally click on them.
    - Making heavy use of folders and/or labels to allow you to quickly find all the messages on a given topic. All email systems have at least one of those, some with both. Many systems allow you to nest folders so you can group like bundles of messages. ex my first level of folders are Clients, Vendors, Technotes, Admin, events,... with sub folders for the different clients/vendors, and even another level for projects/products. A folder/label for items with clear end of life such as events allows one to quickly see the messages for past events and delete the ones that just aren't needed anymore. The great search options are not a substitute for good filing, in fact good filing makes searches all the more effective as it enforces some of the data cleansing needed to make messages more searchable.
    - Liberally use the sort option to get different views of your messages. In most systems this is as simple as clicking and/or right-clicking on the column header. A good one is the 'size' option so that you can check your largest messages quickly and if they are not needed, deleting them helps gain space quickly (great for when you get warnings that your mailbox is full).
    - Get files out of email and into the File System. Save the files into an appropriate folder ('My Downloads' and 'My emails' are not appropriate) and then get rid of the message, or if your system allows it, you could detach the attachment.
    - Use the Threading/Discussion functions to show those back and forth message flows of a file you've worked on with someone. Do you need all those versions? Do you need all the copies where you are just commenting on an unchanged file?

    Fast reduction of mailbox size

    For those times when you need to free up space quickly ('You have exceeded your quota', Your mailbox is full', etc..) , the best tool is to make use of the 'size' sorting option that all good email systems have within a folder, even if they are a bit buried. Many email systems also let you have a view of all your messages so that you can sort them all at once, especially by size. By focusing your efforts on the largest messages, means you can quickly make the biggest dent possible. Generally the largest messages are due to file attachments, and in many cases you already have the file(s) elsewhere, or can move the file(s) out of email to a file service where it/they really belong.

    Note that some systems don't actually free up the space until a backend maintenance process is run that finishes flushing the deleted mail from the system. Some of these processes are automatically run, and sometimes they can be manually triggered. Compress Mailbox/folder is what you want to look for, as well as running any other best practice maintenance routines.

  • Lotus Notes/Domino: Views/All Documents, then you can sort them all by size or whatever else suits your needs.
  • GroupWise: create a 'find folder'. In GroupWise, select your Cabinet on the left panel
    - From the main GroupWise 8+. menu, File, New, Folder,(for GW7 and older menu, Edit, Folders, New,...)
    - Select 'Find results folder (Custom), and give it a name such as 'OverSized Messages' and position it in your Cabinet,
    - Just your name/mailbox should be checked and click on Advanced Find,
    - Set the first field to 'Size', set the next icon to '>' or '>=', enter 5000000 (that is approximately 5MB, the size email systems count as large, 25000000 or 25MB counts as huge), click OK, Next, Finish your way out
    In this new folder, right click on a column header to add in Size, and then click on the Size header to sort it such that you see the biggest at the top and check them out.
  • Thunderbird: Edit, Find, Search Messages, Match all of the following, setting to 'Size(KB)', 'is greater than', 5000. Then you can systematically check/select each major section and click on Search. You'll just need to add in the Size column by clicking on the icon to the right of the Location column header and selecting size. Click twice on the Size column header to get the biggest messages at the top.
  • Outlook: I haven't had the chance to document it but it appears easy enough despite changing in each version, just use the above as an inspiration. I don't use it and have avoided it ever since its original design that just begged the bad guys to abuse it which they have done lots of, hence the nicknames of LookOut! and Viral Propagation Agent.

  • GMail: LifeHacker's tips for GMail

    Other tips & tricks

    Periodically sorting your mail by From: helps you to see what mailing lists you've gotten on. If you find that you aren't reading a particular bunch, then perhaps it is time to unsubscribe. Or if some of those lists are better read at a later time, a rule to auto file them into an appropriate folder will help keep them out of your day to day message reading. A useful tool to do so is outlined at LifeHacker, Even if you don't use the Mailstrom tool outlined, the process can be done manually, which is my preference due on the basis of security and confidentiality.


    For system administrators, finding who has the biggest mail is a worth while exercise, as those end users are the ones you want to make sure are running the above processes the most efficiently. All mail systems have some ability to report on usage and these are well worth finding out how to use.
    - I've written the process for GroupWise here, and will post links to others when I find them or have had them sent to me.
    - For users who are having challenges with sending big mail and/or are just chronic abusers of emailing large files, I've written up Dealing with sending large files.
    - Make sure you are periodically running the applicable maintenance on the email system. Most of these are basically a health check, clear out the trash, and possibly compress the datastores. I've written up the GroupWise ones here.

    Last updated 2015-07-24 Copyright © 1996-2022 Andy Konecny andyweb @