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Saddled up and ready to go: making the most out of file attachments

Despite the emergence of cloud storage, temporary hosting and document-sharing platforms , sending files via email is still the most practical option. Count on users to make it as impractical as we can.

Text, graphics, audio, video – by now your inbox is a multimedia database via all the file attachments you’ve collected. But this database isn’t structured around those care packages, but rather around the envelopes they arrive in. All sorts of problems arise from this, both immediate and future.

Services like WeTransfer have become popular, for their larger filesize restrictions and ease of sharing across platforms. These solutions, however, present themselves merely temporary and are far from ideal when critical files are necessary at a later date.
We now try to list some of the more annoying pains involving email attachments, and provide safeguards to help dealing with them.

Immediate pains

Organization – Try to have a folder exclusively for downloaded email attachments. It's tempting to simply save them to their proper place already, but this paves the way for simply forgetting where it's been put by the time you need to use it. Having these files sit in limbo waiting for their assignment makes sure they all do get reviewed.

Versions – When you're collaborating on the elaboration of a certain document, or whether you're going through a review process with a colleague, you've probably already found yourself in a back-and-forth of the same file, updated with each round trip. When everything goes smoothly the latest version is the only file you'll need, but sometimes something gets lost in an older version and backtracking progress can be a time-consuming hassle. There's two safeguards you can put in place to prevent this. One is to annex a short version indicator to the document's filename – which makes sure none of you are simply replacing the older file on disk, for having the same filename. Another safeguard is to try to succintly describe the changes made since the last annexed file, even if at the time you and your correspondents are well aware of what they are.

Future pains

Naming – Filenames should be the first thing you take into account when dealing with attachments. They should be as descriptive to your correspondent as they are to you. Beware of using acronyms or generic terms such as “balance.xls” - all too often does a downloaded file not get used right away, and such nondescript filenames tend to get overlooked and/or resist being found. A filename of the “Insurancebalance2014.xls” variety announces its contents before it's even opened.

Unrelated email – This last one seems simple enough, but it gets overlooked all too often. It's common for a document to be annexed to an email that is completely unrelated to that file, simply for commodity. This makes it a nightmare to retrieve the document, and can easily be solved even if you have to write a separate, shell email for the file. If that proves a cumbersome option, try adding a hint at the email's subject line, e.g. “Items from the last meeting + september reports”.

Most email clients and web-based readers will still give you a hard time extracting files form your archives, but with these few safeguards in place you can expect a swifter mechanic.