Why you should never work directly from email attachments

This article pertains mainly to the use of the Outlook email application, but the practices described are solid whatever your email client.

We told you so. It doesn’t give us pleasure to say that, but we told you so. In last week’s Musing we told you not to work directly from email attachments. Why? Because your changes won’t be made to the attachment itself, when you open your attachment again your changes will be lost! You’ll be in temporary-copy limbo…

We’ve stopped counting the number of calls we’ve taken from people who’ve done just this. Conservatively, we’d say that in an average week, six hours are lost because of this. That’s nearly a day of time for another avoidable scenario. So why exactly does this happen? When you open the attachment, a copy gets created in your Temporary Internet Files folder. The emphasis here is temporary. It is this copy you are working from when you make changes. Now anything you change will indeed be saved in this copy, but this folder clears itself down regularly. Should you close Outlook, or if this folder hits its size limit, it turns into a race against time as there’s a good change the file will be lost as the space is recovered.

Now that said, Office 2007 and Office 2010 are better as they prompt you where to save the attachment regardless of you clicking “Save” or “Save As” or even the “X” window toggle. We know a lot of you aren’t rocking these versions of Office, or worse still you work in a mixed environment where one day you may be working with Office 2007, then the next Office 2003. So it pays to get into the habit of saving the attachment to a sensible location before amending it. Now should you forget, you can try to find the attachment by following the following steps:
Select Control Panel from the Start menu.
Open Internet Options (If you cannot see Internet Options, try clicking Classic View).
Go to the General tab.
Click Settings under Temporary Internet Files.
Now click View Files… under Temporary Internet Files folder.
Look for the edited copy of the attachment in the Temporary Internet Files folder, the Content.IE5 sub-folder or a folder beneath the Content.IE5 folder.

That’s it for this Monday. Hopefully you’ll follow our advice!