Ask LH: How Can I Save All My Work Emails As A Personal Backup?

Ask LH: How Can I Save All My Work Emails As A Personal Backup?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m leaving my job and want to take my work emails with me. I’ve been burned at jobs before, and it became very useful to have an email paper trail behind me. How can I save all the emails so I can access them in the future, just in case I need them? Signed, Paranoid Worker Bee

Dear Paranoid,

A personal copy of your work emails can definitely come in handy both before and after you leave a job. You can refer to them later, for example, to document feedback you received or projects you worked on (perhaps for samples for your next employment gig). The tricky part is some employers limit what you can do in your email program, such as disabling the “Save as” function in Outlook, or what software you can install. There are, however, a number of ways to create backups of your work emails, so hopefully one of the following methods will work for you.

First let’s talk about Outlook, since it’s the most common office email program, and then we’ll discuss Gmail (Google Apps).

Outlook Options

Drag Emails from Outlook to a Folder


The easiest way to save multiple emails from Outlook is to select the ones you want to save and drag them to a folder in Windows Explorer (or Finder, if you’re on a Mac). This saves the emails as individual .msg files with the subject as the filename, complete with any attachments. The downside: While you can later open these in Outlook, you won’t be able to with another email client, since the .msg format is proprietary to Outlook. (If do you want to use a different program to read these, you’ll need to look into MSG converter or viewer software.) If you’re using Office 2011 on a Mac, however, dragging files will save them as .eml files, which can be opened in other email clients.

Export Everything to an Outlook PST File


For a full backup of everything, including subfolders, use Outlook’s export function. In Outlook 2010, this is under File > Options > Advanced. When you save your folders as a .pst file, it backs up your mail, calendar, contacts, tasks and notes. This .pst file can be opened on another computer — again only by Outlook.

Use the “Save as” Command in Outlook

To save individual emails in Outlook, go to File, and then “Save as” to save messages is more universal formats, such as text, RTF and HTML. Unfortunately, you’ll need to save any attachments individually as well. This is only ideal for saving a few messages at a time.

Use a Script or Third-Party Tool to Save Outlook Emails in Other Formats

Fortunately, others have tackled this problem of getting emails in batches out of Outlook. I used to use this VBS script to export selected folders from Outlook as individual .msgs. Unfortunately, I can’t credit the original source of the script, but I had modified it to save the emails with the sender’s name along with the date and subject for the filename. This script looks similar, but apparently you can change the format from MSG to something else.

There are also third-party utilities to accomplish the same with more advanced features, but they’re not all free.

Gmail Options

If your company uses Gmail (Google Apps), there are several solutions that might work for you.

Use a Desktop Email Client

You might be able to use an email client like Outlook or Thunderbird to either download your email via POP or just access it via IMAP. Then you can save the emails from the program. With Thunderbird, you can just highlight all the emails, right-click on them, and choose “Save as” to save them all as .eml files.

Use a Gmail Backup Service or Program


In addition to the Thunderbird option, we’ve previously highlighted several ways to backup Gmail, including using the service Backupify and backing up Gmail with the command-line tool Fetchmail.

More recently, I’ve found cross-platform Gmvault to be a robust tool for backing up Gmail; it lets you restore emails to another Gmail account.

Other Options


A couple of other options for both Gmail and Outlook (as well as other programs) include printing your emails to PDFs (most PDF tools enable printing to PDF from any program) and forwarding them to your personal email address, but there are downsides to these approaches too.

When you select multiple emails to print to PDF, you’ll have to click on the OK button for each one. The PDFs also won’t contain any file attachments, obviously, so you’ll have to save those separately. Still, this might be a good solution for only a few key emails. Bonus tip: If you’re using Gmail, the Gmail Print All for Chrome extension lets you print multiple emails in one shot.

Forwarding emails to your personal address is another idea. You can set up filters in both Gmail and Outlook to do this. However, you’ll only be forwarding emails you receive after you set up forwarding, so to save older emails, you’ll still need to use one of the solutions above.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Obviously this is a ‘How can I’ but people should also think about ‘should I’.

    Any emails on employer systems would be their IP, not yours. Now, most employers probably wouldn’t have any issues with you extracting personal emails but any work related ones? Potential there for legal consequences, particularly you move to a job with a competitor, for instance.

    I’m not on a high horse, I’ve done this myself. All I’m saying is you need to understand what you are doing.

      • Something tells me data protection and privacy laws not to mention laws about disclosure etc would make sure you are allowed to see – and keep for as long as you like – any information created by you, sent to you, or held about you, and that this isn’t in any way in violation of IP law or confidentiality agreements. What would matter in terms of those two aspects would be how you use the information and to whom else you show it.

  • I had this same issue when leaving an investment bank, however in the last few weeks they changed the policy so that any contractors lost their ability to send any attachments (including embedded images) externally. Yes USB access was locked long ago too.
    So after 5 years, I couldn’t take any portfolio work.

    • Yep I’ve worked in bank IT. Some very controlled environments (and for good reason).

      There is some pretty nifty DLP software floating around now too. You are crazy to try anything stupid these days.

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