Manually backing up mail in Outlook 2011

This shows you how to backup mail from Outlook 2011 on a Mac running 10.8 (Mountain Lion). I much prefer Apple’s built-in Mail client, but for mysterious reasons, Outlook for Mac works much more reliably with our work Exchange server.

Verify that you are running Outlook 2011 on OSX 10.8


Launch Outlook and verify that you are running this version of Outlook. While the tutorial may apply to other versions, the screens may look somewhat different. The whole process should take about 20 minutes, assuming you have a fair amount of mail. In my case, I’m backing up a little bit less than 2GB of mail.

Click on File>Export


In Outlook for Mac, click on File and Export.

Accept the defaults and click the right arrow


A window entitled “Export” will pop up. Accept the defaults and click the right arrow.

Accept the defaults on the next screen and click the right arrow


Do not choose “Yes, delete items after they are exported”. This would delete the items from your mailbox. You almost certainly don’t want that. Just click the right arrow.

Save the file in your Documents folder


By default, the file is called “Outlook for Mac Archive.olm”. You can change the name, but don’t change the “olm” file extension part. Note that if you already have a file of the same name in the directory, it will refuse to save over it when you click “Save”.

Wait for the export to complete


It may take some time for all of your mail to be exported. For example, it took about 10 minutes to export a fairly large (1.8GB) mailbox, along with calendar events, contacts, etc. on my MacBook Air.

Optional: Copy the file to a DVD or to a thumb drive


This step is entirely optional, but I backup the file to a DVD. Connect a USB DVD drive and insert a DVD-R disc. Drag the OLM file on to the disk burning icon and click on the icon to start the burning process.


1. Open Finder and navigate to “Documents”. Drag the file “Outlook for Mac Archive.olm” from Documents onto the “Untitled DVD” icon.
2. Once you’ve dragged the file on to the “Untitled DVD” icon, you’ll see an entry for the file in the list of files on the DVD.
3. Click the radioactive burn icon to start the disc burning process. I always change the name of the DVD to “Mail Archive” or similar in the window that pops up, but this is entirely optional.

Now you’ll need to wait for the file to be burned to the DVD. In my case, with 1.8GB of mail, this process took about 11 minutes with a 8X external DVD drive. It’s tempting to turn off the “verify” option to speed things up, but don’t do that. The whole purpose of this exercise is to have a back-up, so the few extra minutes spent verifying the copy seem well worth it to me.

Of course, you could also copy the file to a thumb drive. That’s a lot faster, but it just feels less secure to me. Once the process is complete, label the DVD with a Sharpie or similar permanent marker and put it in a case somewhere safe. If you ever need to restore from the OLM file, you will need to copy the file from the DVD to your Mac desktop first and then you will need to mark the file as writeable. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to import the file into Outlook Mac.

I try to make a backup like this once a year. It’s cheap insurance against losing a lot of valuable data.

Ta-Da! The final product


OK. That’s not very exciting, is it? Well, I now feel better prepared for the holidays knowing that my mail is backed up somewhere. Maybe this will encourage you to back up your mail.

Let me know if you have questions or comments and enjoy your holidays.


One thought on “Manually backing up mail in Outlook 2011

  1. Amanda says:

    Thanks for sharing the Backup tips.Its a good practice to backup the database on regular basic. So that, if the database gets corrupt then, we can restore the data from the updated backup files.But if we don’t have any updated backup then it may lead to severe data loss conditions.In such situation, we are left with no solution except repairing the corrupt database.

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