- Do you sometimes struggle to find the emails you really need in your packed mailbox?
- Have you ever lost information because it was in the personal mailbox of someone who left?
- Have you had to trawl through years' worth of emails in response to a Subject Access Request?
- Are you at risk of breaching Data Protection by holding emails about students or staff for longer than you should?
Poorly managed emails not only make it harder for you to find the information you need, they also risk the University being in breach of the Data Protection Act or losing important business information. It's absolutely vital to make sure you save your emails in the right place and delete them when no longer needed.
This page is filled with top tips and guidance. It's here to help you manage your emails in a way that is simple for you, increasing efficiency by getting rid of unnecessary emails, making sure business information is accessible by the right people, and keeping you and the University compliant with Data Protection legislation. It isn't here to make you clear your entire mailbox or delete emails that you still find useful.
Or try our Quick guide to managing your emails – this handy poster-style guidance provides useful tips on how to manage your emails, from first writing an email through to saving or deleting it. (It's also available in 3 different sizes, if you want to print it and pin it up in your office: A3, A4 double-sided, A4 one-sided.)
Why is it important?
We send and receive so many emails in a day. It's easy to forget how many you have when they fall off your screen and out of sight. But every email is a University record, and your emails are your responsibility (see the Records Management Policy). It's important because:
- Data protection: It's a legal requirement to only keep the minimum amount of personal data and only for so long as it is necessary. If there are old emails languishing in your mailbox with personal data, then you may be in breach of our Data Protection Policy or Retention Schedule, putting the University at risk of a fine. (The Retention Schedule may help with how long something is 'necessary'.)
- Every individual has the right to make a Subject Access Request or Data Erasure Request. To comply, you may have to go through all your emails for references to that individual, providing copies for the former or deleting unnecessary data for the latter. As there are strict time limits, if you haven't kept up with email management, this can be very time-consuming. (Remember, it's an offence to delete personal data about an individual once they have made a Subject Access Request until it's complete.)
- University business: Records need to be accessible by all the right people, potentially over long periods of time. There may be legislative or regulatory reasons, or it may just be the needs of the University in order to carry out its business. If you have business decisions, teaching information, student details, or any other kind of record in email format, you need to make sure you save it in the right place - eg Wisdom, SharePoint, L drive, or a shared mailbox. Anywhere that it is going to be preserved and accessible.
- Your efficiency and sanity: Even with a brilliant folder system, a mailbox packed full of email becomes difficult to manage. It's harder to find what you need, whether by scrolling manually or using the search function. By making sure everything old and irrelevant is deleted and everything necessary is moved to another system, you'll find that your mailbox becomes much more manageable for your day-to-day work and finding all that useful information you know you've got in there.
Email is an ever-growing problem. If we don't take control, the amount of email that we hold will only expand, most of it useless or with outdated personal information. If that happens, the University will need to take more extreme action, like automatically deleting all emails older than a certain age. So it's really worth taking action now.
Top Tips for managing your mailbox
Try out these tips to clean up your mailbox and manage your emails effectively:
Don't forget that you'll only see emails up to a year old in Outlook, unless you click the 'Click here to view more on Microsoft Exchange' link at the bottom of each folder. (If you have trouble with this, try IT Support's guidance to fix it.)
*Note: If you have already received a Subject Access Request, you must not delete any emails until it is complete.*
Tip #1: Delete your Deleted Items - now!
This is the most simple yet effective action you can take. In Outlook, go to your Deleted Items folder. How many emails you thought were gone are still hiding in there? Your Deleted Items folder won't be automatically deleted unless you do it yourself. Here are some options:
- Right now, right-click on the Deleted Items folder and select 'Empty Folder'. Done!
- You can automate the deletion of your Deleted Items every time you close Outlook by tweaking your settings - have a look at Microsoft's quick guide.
- If you would rather not automate it, set up a recurring task in Outlook to remind you to empty your Deleted Items regularly - eg at the end of every day, week or month. (To set up a task, on the Home tab, click 'New Items', then 'Task'.)
- You might like having some emails in your Deleted Items, in case you realise you did need it after all. You could try leaving a week or month's worth of emails in your Deleted Items when you clear it. (An easy way to do this is click on the most recent email you want to delete, then scroll to the bottom, and press Ctrl+Shift on your keyboard whilst clicking the earliest email - that will select everything in between as well.)
Even emails in your Deleted Items folder still count as records the University holds (eg for data protection purposes) - so, for example, if you are asked to search your emails as part of a Subject Access Request, you will have to provide any matching emails from Deleted Items too.
Do you have a shared mailbox too? Don't forget about the Deleted Items folder there as well.
Tip #2: Move or delete student and applicant emails
These are the emails that it is most important to manage well.
Do you supervise individual students and have email chains or folders with them?
- If the student left over 6 years ago and you would class the emails as 'feedback, guidance and support', delete them. (See Retention Schedule 1.11, 2.19, 3.1.11)
- If the student is still studying or left less than 6 years ago, consider whether those emails should be saved somewhere else, like the student file on Wisdom.
- If you keep them in your mailbox, mark them so you know when to delete them - eg flag the email with a custom date (right-click it, Follow Up, Custom, and tick the Reminder box) or rename the folder.
Do you receive emails from students or applicants about their application, progress, withdrawal, personal circumstances, references, etc?
- These emails should all be saved in Wisdom and then deleted from your mailbox.
- In Wisdom, the emails will then be deleted when retention period expires, so you don't need to worry about.
- There is an add-in for Outlook that makes this easy, including letting you upload in bulk for the same student (or for applicants for the same year of entry) - see the guide.
If you already make sure to save all your student/applicant emails in Wisdom, that's great! Make sure you also delete the emails from your mailbox when they have been uploaded. This is vital: records shouldn't be duplicated and emails like these can contain a lot of personal data.
If you want any advice about this, get in touch with Records Management.
Tip #3: Use other tools instead of email
It's much easier to manage your email if there's less of it in the first place. Before you send an email, think about whether that's really the best way to have this conversation. Email is great for lengthier conversations and for a written record of decisions (although it's often important to make sure you save those decisions in other systems, like Wisdom or SharePoint), but if you just need a quick chat with someone (equivalent to chatting in the office or a quick conversation in the corridor), then try calling or using Chat in Teams. Chat in Teams should be for informal conversations, and messages are automatically deleted after one year. (If you do end up discussing something important in Chat, it's easy to email it to yourself or copy and paste it somewhere else.)
Creating a Team is also a useful way to cut down on email. With a 'Team' for your office, department or project, you can collaborate on documents without having to email them back and forth, and you can have conversations in the 'channels'. A benefit of a Team is that everybody in your team can see the conversations and documents, so there is no danger of information being lost in individual mailboxes and it's really helpful when you have new starters.
There are lots of tips and guidance about using Teams available from Digital Skills.
Tip #4: Topdesk users, delete your imports
This is another simple yet effective action. If you use Topdesk as an operator, you might have 'import' folders: you receive an email, it is moved automatically or manually into an 'import' folder, and from there gets uploaded to Topdesk. The email in Topdesk is the 'master copy' and you no longer need the original email in Outlook - so delete it. Have a look at your folders that import to Topdesk - do you have lots of old emails in there? Delete them all!
It can be useful to keep some recently imported emails in Outlook as well as in Topdesk, just in case of glitches in the upload process, something odd with the formatting, or a problem with an attachment. A month's worth of imported emails should be enough to cover this, so set up a monthly task to remind you to delete everything older than one month from Outlook. (To set up a task, on the Home tab, click 'New Items', then 'Task'.)
Tip #5: Use search to find completed areas of work
Use the search function in Outlook to find subjects, projects and people that you know are now complete.
Check the Retention Schedule to see if you need to keep those subjects for a certain amount of time. If you do, it's probably best not to keep them in your mailbox - move them to Wisdom, SharePoint, a shared mailbox or somewhere else appropriate.
If it's all done and dusted with no requirement to retain, then delete. You might choose to keep a few summary emails for reference, but you're unlikely to need every email from every conversation about a piece of work from a few years ago.
Tip #6: Review your Sent Items
It's easy to forget about Sent Items. You might think you've got your Inbox perfectly arranged with a brilliant folder structure, but do you remember to file away the emails you send as well as the ones you receive?
If your Sent Items have been a bit neglected, try this approach:
- First, get rid of meeting invitations you have sent and responded to: go to Sent Items, click the 'sort' button at the top of the list (it probably says 'By date'), and choose 'Type'. Scroll to the bottom and you'll see the various kinds of calendar items. Select the top one to delete, scroll to the bottom, hold down Ctrl+Shift and click the last item, then press delete. (Deleting the items from your Sent Items won't affect the actual calendar items.)
- Next, move sent emails into the same folders as the related received emails: go to Sent Items, click on the View tab at the top, tick the box for 'Show as conversations', and click 'This folder' when prompted. You'll notice that emails that are part of a chain now have a little white triangle to the left of the sender name. Click this triangle to expand the chain - you'll see the other emails in the chain, included an italicised note about what folder the other emails are in. Select any email without a folder name (you can Ctrl+click to select multiple) and then drag them into the right folder (or right-click, Move, and select the folder).
- There is a setting in Outlook to make sent emails always save in the same folder as the email you're replying to - have a look at Microsoft's quick guide.
Tip #7: Categorise or flag for deletion dates
When you receive an email, chances are (we must hope) that it has valuable content and mustn't be deleted right away. It's part of an ongoing conversation or project; you need to refer back to it as part of a task; it has useful reference information. But by the time you don't need it anymore, you've forgotten about it; you'll never remember to go back and delete it. So how can you trigger deletion of old emails?
When you receive an email, try categorising it or using a flag that you'll be able to use in the future to find and delete it. For example, you could categorise all emails relating a certain module or project so that you can easily find them all when it's done. You can add a flag with a reminder date to emails so that Outlook will remind you in a month or year or any length of time to delete it when it's no longer needed.
Adding a category or flag is a really quick click when you receive an email, and it can save you an awful lot of time when you later have to review your emails.
If you're using a folder system, try adding a deletion date to the folder as another easy visual reminder.
Tip #8: Modules and courses
Are you a module or course leader? The things to note about wider module/course records are:
- The important discussions and decisions about the design and development of a module or course should be reflected in the Validation records (which are held centrally until 10 years after the module/course stops running)
- Final copies of specifications, handbooks, exam papers, reports, evaluation, and moderation records should be stored in Wisdom
- Teaching resources might be saved in Wisdom, Brightspace or other storage spaces
You probably have emails about these things. So long as the records mentioned above are where they're supposed to be, you only need your emails for as long as they're useful to you. Some things to consider:
- Create a folder for each module with a sub-folder for each academic year
- Separate out routine emails about the day-to-day running of the course from emails about its development - the former are probably valuable for a shorter period of time
- At the end of every academic year, set aside some time to review your module/course emails and delete those that you don't need anymore
- Is it possible to use a shared mailbox? If you're storing valuable information about your module or course in your personal mailbox, how would your successor access that information? If it wouldn't be valuable for a successor, are you sure you need it at all?
Tip #9: Delete old staff notices and other circulars
Staff notices can be really useful when we first receive them, but are they still useful a year later? Search Outlook for all emails from Staff Notices, IT Notices, and any other people you know send circulars. (Search eg "From:Staff Notices" in the search bar at the top of Outlook.) Maybe you're a member of a mailing list - do you need every past email in your inbox, or is there an online archive of past posts?
If you do find it useful to keep these emails, that's fine. Just be wary if they contain personal data, but that's less likely to be a problem in a circular.
Tip #10: Schedule regular reviews
Create a short, regular event in your calendar to remind you to review your emails. This could be weekly (eg first thing on a Monday to prepare for the week ahead, or last thing on a Friday to finish the week with a clear inbox), monthly (eg a half hour at the start of every month to keep things in good order), or even annually (eg take a day in the summer to have a really thorough sort out).
In a regular review, you're looking to make sure that everything of business value is saved in the most appropriate place (eg accessible to all the right people and available for the right amount of time) and everything that no longer has any value is deleted. For everything in between, those emails that are useful to you for reference but perhaps not to anyone else, make sure they still are useful to you and that they don't contain unnecessary or out of date personal information.
Go through all of the tips here and see what you can move or delete. The more regularly you do this, the easier it is.
Some extra tips:
- Keep only the last email in a chain, if it includes all the content (try using the Clean Up Conversation tool)
- If you want to keep an email for a reference purpose but it contains personal or sensitive information that you don't need, edit the email to remove it (so long as that information is no longer needed at all or is saved elsewhere).
Try scheduling specific tasks, such as:
Monthly or weekly tasks
- Clear your Deleted Items
- Clear your Topdesk import folders
- Delete Staff Notices and other circulars from a couple of months ago
- Check through your Sent box
- Delete 'feedback, guidance and support' emails for students who left over 6 years ago
- Delete general day-to-day module/course emails from the previous academic year
- Delete any emails or folders you've flagged for deletion after a certain time
- Search for completed projects or old areas of work and take appropriate action
Do you have any concerns or questions about these tips? Do you have an unanswered query about something in your own mailbox? Do you want more specialised advice about managing your emails? Get in touch with Records Management by emailing email@example.com (or leave a voicemail at 2963); we're here to help.
Top Tips for sending the best emails
It's important to send good emails, as well as managing the ones you receive. Only emailing when necessary, writing clear emails, using attachments properly, and treating personal data with care will all help to manage your emails by reducing the amount and improving the quality.
Tip #1: Writing the best email
Before you start to send an email, think carefully:
- Does it need to be an email, or could you call, use Chat in Teams, or have a conversation in a Teams channel?
- Do you need to 'Reply All' or just target one or a few people? Should you use BCC? (See Tip #2)
- Should you send from your own mailbox or from a shared mailbox? Use a shared mailbox if it's useful for your team to have access to the conversation, either for information or to be able to pick up replies.
When you write an email:
- Use a short and clear description in the subject line
- Don’t mix matters – start a new conversation for new subjects
- Use bullets or numbering to clearly identify your questions, requests and actions – it makes responding easier too
- Include dates for actions
- Proofread and avoid informal language to prevent misunderstandings
- Include your signature with your name, job title and contact details
- Make sure your email is accessible to all using this guide.
Tip #2: Use BCC and don't 'reply all'
Always double-check the recipients of your email before you send it. Some of the most common causes of a personal data breach are entering the wrong person or clicking 'Reply All' when you should only click 'Reply'. Never 'reply all' unnecessarily - only use that function if everyone needs to see your email.
If you need to send an email to a group of people, consider blind copying them (BCC) instead of putting everyone's email address in To or CC. This means that the recipients won't know who the other recipients are (or even if there are any), which has multiple benefits:
- The recipients won't be able to 'Reply All', creating unnecessary emails in multiple inboxes and increasing the risk of personal data being incorrectly shared
- It reduces duplication for Subject Access Requests - the name and email address of copied in individuals won't be sitting in every recipient's mailbox if you use BCC
- You won't be sharing names and email addresses with a group of people, which could become a data breach issue in some circumstances (eg students and externals).
You might already have the BCC option alongside the To and CC fields at the top of a new email, but if you don't, this is how to find it: click 'New email', go to the Options tab, and click the BCC button. You'll see the field appear below To and CC; click the button again to toggle it off.
Tip #3: Adding attachments
Avoid attaching an actual document to your emails wherever possible. If you want someone to refer to or collaborate on a document from OneDrive, SharePoint, Teams or Wisdom, send them a hyperlink to the document instead. In OneDrive, SharePoint and Teams, documents have sharing options for this purpose. Doing this means that you won't end up with multiple versions of the same document in multiple mailboxes; there will just be one copy that you can all see and collaborate on. Have a look at this guide for advice on sharing.
If you're still using K drive or L/M/shared drives rather than OneDrive, SharePoint or Teams, consider whether it's worth uploading the document to a shared space and then circulating a link, or whether you really do need to attach the actual document.
If you do attach a document directly and it contains personal or sensitive information, then password protect it (and send the password separately).
Tip #4: Be careful with sensitive data
If your email contains personal or sensitive data, take extra care:
- Don’t share personal data without the person’s consent
- Any personal data should be relevant, accurate and not excessive
- When forwarding or adding recipients, remove anything confidential or sensitive in the thread first
- Don’t share email addresses without permission - use Bcc
- Take a look at Data Protection's guidance, including advice on avoiding breaches
Tip #5: Check and double-check your recipients
One of the easiest and most common data breaches is to accidentally send an email to the wrong person. Always take a moment to double-check that you have entered the right email addresses before you press Send.
A common mistake is letting Outlook auto-complete the email address after you type a few letters, but you don't realise it's chosen the wrong person. A way to reduce this risk is to remove old email addresses for people that you no longer or irregularly email (click the cross next to it when it appears as you type). To remove the risk entirely, you can turn off auto-complete: In Outlook, go to File, Options, Mail, then scroll down to 'Send messages' and untick 'Use Autocomplete list to suggest names'. You can also empty the autocomplete list from here.
Another tip is to turn on a sending delay, which will hold your emails in the Outbox for a set amount of time before sending. If you realise your mistake immediately, you'll be able to stop the email from sending. Take a look at Microsoft's guidance on setting this up.
Extra training and guidance
Records Management, Data Protection and Information Security have produced full-text guidance outlining your email responsibilities and how you can meet them: Guidance on managing emails. (Don't forget the poster-style version of this guidance: Quick guide to managing your emails.)
There is also some email-related training available:
- Managing your emails so they don’t manage you – a discussion-based training course to explore effective strategies, offered by People and Organisational Development.
- Outlook: The Useful Bits – a training course on the functions of Outlook, offered by Digital Skills.
There may be local guidance for your own department, so take a look in your internal shared spaces or contact your Records Management Champions.
For any advice or assistance, contact Records Management at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voicemail on 2963.