I tend to be somewhat obsessively organized. My DVDs are in alphabetic order, and my book collection (other than the fiction, naturally), is in Dewey decimal order. Yes, I’m serious. Thank goodness Outlook PSTs allow me to easily organize my emails.

Another thing I keep meticulously in order are all the emails I receive or send in Outlook. More than once I’ve had a client ask for an explanation of why a certain line of text was used in a document, or to produce a copy of an approval to quote an executive, and the answers to those questions are in my collection of emails. As a small business owner with numerous clients and many different projects, it’s important that I can find what I’m looking for. But after all these years, this collection of emails with numerous attachments measures in many tens of gigabytes of data.

How Outlook Stores Your Data

When you first install Outlook, it creates a single default personal storage file (PST file) in which it stores your email inbox, outbox, sent box, and un-emptied trash. Whenever you create a new folder in your inbox, this is added to the PST file. Every time you open Outlook, it opens that PST file, and every time you close Outlook it must close it down. The problem with this is that, after a while, this single file becomes very bloated–causing your Outlook to labor vigorously opening the file as you wait impatiently to check your email. Worse, if anything goes wrong and causes a glitch or a crash while that file is in the process of being opened or closed, you could lose the whole thing.

Filing With PSTs

The solution to PST bloat is to divide your emails into multiple PST files. For example, I have one PST file for each of my major clients, each containing folders for each of the projects. I also have a separate PST file for personal emails, with folders for each of my friends and family members. Finally I have several “Archive” PSTs for those project folders that are long since finished yet I can’t bring myself to simply discard. Think of it this way: Outlook is your filing cabinet. The PST files are the drawers, and the folders within those PSTs are — well, they’re folders.

What’s wonderful about this system is that, even with the many projects I have going at any one time (there have been times when it has been well over 50 at a time), I can usually find everything I look for fairly easily. And those times when I can’t find what I’m after, at least in Outlook 2010, the search feature is pretty fast and easy to use.

Creating PSTs

Have I convinced you yet that you really should create multiple PSTs — even if only to keep your main PST from getting too bloated? Good! Here’s how to create them:
First, on the Home tab, choose New Items > More Items > Outlook Data File.

On the next screen, enter a meaningful name for your file. (By the way, it’s best to store this PST in the same place where Outlook defaults to store your others.)

That’s it! Once created, the PST will be a new main-level folder that will show up with your other PST folders in alphabetic order. If you would like to rename it, right-click on the folder name and choose Data File Properties. On the first screen that appears, click the Advanced button – then you can enter a new name for the PST.



PSTs and email accounts

When you set up additional email accounts, there is a place where you can specify what PST file to use. If you don’t indicate otherwise, it will create a new PST for each new account, named with the email address of that account. I have seven email accounts, yet I have all of them dump into my main inbox — that way I don’t have to switch back and forth between accounts every time I check email. If you decide later that you want to change the PST where those emails go, on the File tab, choose Account Settings.

Make sure the correct account is selected, then click the “Change Folder” button at the bottom of the window.

The moral of the story

Reduce the risk of heartache from a corrupted Outlook file by dividing your stored emails into multiple PSTs. You’ll be better organized, your Outlook will perform a bit better, and you’ll be more likely to be able to retrieve at least some of your data in the event of an Outlook crash. (The entire Outlook vs. Thunderbird vs. some other email client can wait for another day…)

(Check my entire series of posts about Outlook.)

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