How Can I Save All My Emails For A Personal Backup?

Having 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 gig.

There are a number of methods you can use to create backups of your work emails. We’ll walk through several options for Outlook and Gmail, but before we begin, know this: Your company owns your work email. To avoid any legal ramifications, check with your IT department or supervisor before you make archives of your email, lest you find yourself on the end of an unpleasant lawsuit.

How to back up your Outlook emails

Export everything to an Outlook .PST file

To back up all of your email, including your subfolders, use Outlook’s export function. In most recent versions of Outlook, you’ll find this under File > Open & Export > Import/Export > Export to a file.

Your backup will contain your mail, calendar, and contacts. You can then take this .PST file and open it on another computer—either in another version of Outlook, a different email program entirely, or certain third-party applications.

Drag emails from Outlook to a desktop folder

If you don’t want to save your entire archive, you can select individual messages 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.

You’ll be able to re-open these messages in Outlook on Windows, but not other email client as the .MSG format is proprietary to Outlook. (If you want to use a different program to read these, you’ll need to look into MSG converter or viewer software.) On your Mac, dragging messages to Finder will save them as .EML files, which you can then open in other email clients.

Use the “Save as” command in Outlook

To save individual emails in Outlook, the File > Save As command will let you save messages is more universal formats, such as text, RTF, and HTML. Unfortunately, you’ll need to save any attachments individually as well, and this is only ideal for saving a few messages at a time.


Back up your Gmail emails

Use Google Takeout

This is the easiest option for Gmail. You can download and export all of your Google data, including emails, for future reference or to use with another service. Go to Google Takeout and select the Google service(s) you want to include in your archive. You’ll also select a delivery method (adding your archive to your Dropbox or emailing a downloadable, for example) and export frequency (one-time or every few months for a year).

Screenshot: Emily Long

Emails are saved as .MBOX files. And we have an explainer on how to view them after your big data download.

Use a desktop email client

You can also try using 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 within the application. (With Thunderbird, you can just highlight all the emails, right-click on them, and choose “Save as” to save them all as .EML files.)

Other, more cumbersome options for backing up your email

More options for exporting your emails from both Gmail and Outlook (or other programs) include printing your emails to PDFs and forwarding them to your personal email address, but there are a few downsides to these approaches.

Screenshot: Emily Long

If you want to print multiple emails to PDFs, you’ll likely have to do each one individually in Outlook. The PDFs also won’t contain any file attachments, so you’ll have to save those separately. Still, this is a solid solution if you only have a few critical emails you’re looking to back up

If you’re using Gmail, there are a number of Chrome extensions (like the aptly named Save Emails to PDF) that allow you to export, download, or print your messages as PDFs, including multiple emails at a time.

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 you’ll still need to use one of the previous solutions to save older messages (unless you want to manually forward them all).

This piece was originally published in 2013 and updated in January 2020 with more information.


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