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How to Handle Email Attachments Efficiently

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Moving Files

Is your Downloads folder a big pile of unorganized files? Are you constantly searching for files in emails? Attachments are an integral part of email, but many people don’t handle them very efficiently.

If this is you, you probably spend more time trying to find things when you need them than you do actually working with the files you receive. This problem is compounded when you don’t have an organized file management system for storing attachments.

In this post, we share our strategy for automating the downloading and filing of attachments so they are always right were they should be when you need them. It’s a wish that one of our beta customers of Escape Your Email (our new upcoming course) wanted to have so we built it for him. Now you can have it for free.

 

The Problem with Email Attachments

Anyone who deals with email attachments on a regular basis knows how difficult they can be to manage efficiently. Here are a couple of the major pain points in dealing with attachments:

  1. Email providers don’t like large files. As a general rule, the maximum file size that can be sent via email is around 10 MB. The size limit varies between email providers, but it’s important to keep them small enough that they can be sent AND received. Even if your sending server supports larger files, it doesn’t mean it will send successfully. If the recipient’s email server doesn’t support the size of the file, then they won’t be able to receive the file. While 10 MB may have been several floppy disks worth of data back in the day, it’s easy to reach this limit quickly (think of high-resolution photos and videos).
  2. Attachments are easy to lose track of.  Ever receive a file from someone that you try to find later and you can’t remember which email it was attached to? This is a common problem as not everyone will use best practices when writing their subject lines or naming their attachments. Sometimes these files won’t show up in search results if you don’t know exactly what to look for.
  3. Attachments increase the size of your email database exponentially. Having a large email database can cause your local email client to slow down to crawl if you never take the time to go through it and purge things. For example, you may be familiar with the spinning beach ball of death causing your system to freeze. But if you use Apple Mail and have a large email database, you probably see this fairly often. Apple Mail just can’t handle large email databases very well (in reality, few programs can).

Attachments also suffer from all the other typical file management woes once they are downloaded to your computer:

  1. Poorly defined storage systems cause indecision about where files belong. If you don’t take the time to clearly identify where certain files should go, it can be difficult to know where to put things. And each time you go to store a file and you aren’t sure where it should go, it creates more friction in your workflow and greater distrust in your system.
  2. Catch-all folders end up with a lot of unsorted (and sometimes unneeded) files. One of these catch-all folders is the default folder for storing email attachments. The typical workflow for attachments is to download them to your downloads folder and then let them sit there. This causes your downloads folder to fill up quickly. It will also make it virtually impossible to find what you need when you need it.
  3. Duplicate files eat up unnecessary disk space. Many people store files in their downloads folder until they can put them where they belong later. But if this is you, chances are you will likely forget at some point. Usually, you don’t realize it until you go to the folder that should contain the file you’re looking for and it’s not there. At that point, you might go back to your email client and look for the message to download the file again rather than comb through your downloads folder trying to find it.

Solving the Attachments Problem Once and for All

As we outlined earlier, there are really two major areas that we need help with traditionally when it comes to handling email attachments:

  • Receiving attachments via email
  • Organizing the files on your computer once you’ve downloaded them

Fortunately, there are a couple awesome utilities to help you solve both of these problems more efficiently. For sending and receiving attachments via email, we recommend Sanebox. For organizing files on your computer after you’ve downloaded them, we recommend Hazel. But when you use them together, you can automate just about every aspect of email attachment management and achieve real email bliss.

Part 1: Sanebox

sanebox

You might be familiar with Sanebox’s ability to filter out unwanted or unimportant messages, but that’s not all it does. The Sanebox service also allows you to download email attachments automatically to cloud storage locations like Dropbox or Box. When you have this service enabled, your email database won’t be weighed down by large file attachments because Sanebox will automatically download the file and replace the attachment in the email with a link to the original file.

To set this up:

  • log in to your Sanebox account at sanebox.com
  • click on “Folders & Features”
  • click on “SaneAttachments”
  • select the service you want to use

saneattachments

That’s it! Now your email attachments will be downloaded and stored automatically. This will make your email database a lot smaller and your email client a lot faster.

Part 2: Hazel

hazel

This part is a little more complicated, but only from a mindset perspective. Using a tool like Hazel requires you develop a systems mindset to identify the regular actions you take on files so that you can automate them. Once you do, Hazel can save you a ton of time.

Hazel is a Mac utility that allows you to take automatic actions on files when they meet certain criteria. For example, let’s say I get my electric bill via email from a company called EnergyCorp and my account number (which is included in my monthly statement) is 12345678. I can set up Hazel to watch my downloads folder for a file which contains the word “EnergyCorp” and also has my account number “12345678.” When Hazel sees a file that matches that criteria, I can tell Hazel to automatically rename the file and move it to the folder on my computer that contains all my monthly statements.

Hazel

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Hazel can do. We actually have a couple examples that we show you how to set up in our Escape Your Email course.

Want to Know More?

Handling attachments is just one of the pain points that we tackle in our new email course, Escape Your Email. We’ve been working hard on a new course specifically designed to alleviate the pain points surrounding email and help you deal with your email more efficiently so that you can handle all of your email in 30 minutes a day or less. We dive deep into specific solutions to email problems so that you can finally escape your email and stop living out of your inbox. The course is very comprehensive and the best course we’ve ever put together. We’re putting the finishing touches on it right now, but if you want to be notified when it’s ready to go just let us know where to send the updates:

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3 Comments

Posted by Mark  | October 8, 2016 at 10:03PM | Reply

Hi Mike,
Thanks for this post. I know you’re a mac guy, but do you have any suggestions to replace Hazel for windows users?
I have used FileJuggler but never been entirely satisfied.
Cheers!

Posted by Chris Laarman  | October 9, 2016 at 10:11AM | Reply

Yes, but I have often thanked my e-mail storage for retrieving files (including license keys) that I could not find in my file storage.

By the way, having one’s e-mail on-line (using IMAP) shines in this respect over downloading it (using POP3).
Likewise, it’s also useful to store one’s data files in some detached place (cloud, NAS, memory cards), rather than on one computer.
Coming to think of it, copying all files from the Downloads folders on my Macs to some Uploads folder in the cloud might be a useful first use for my copy of Hazel.

A word regarding that “EnergyCorp” example:
I have different approaches to attached bills and to notifications that bills are available at some on-line location.
Besides, many recurring payments may not have a matching frequency of billing, at least not here in the Netherlands (where many landlords, utilities and them some tend to have one’s one-time permission to collect their dues automatically). My energy dues get billed yearly, when my actual usage is put against these automated advances. And my landlord sends specifications when the amount due changes. I can’t remember a proper rent bill for over thirty years.

Posted by Linda Maye Adams  | October 26, 2016 at 6:44AM | Reply

What tips are there beyond “Have these tools?” What if you can’t get any of these tools?

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