The Effect of Office 365 Archive Policy on Tasks

The Issue

My company has created an archive policy that is applied to all mailboxes. This archive policy causes any items older than 180 days to be moved to the archive mailbox. This policy has worked well up until recently. One of our executives contacted the Service Desk because some of his tasks were missing. After some digging, we discovered that the tasks were not missing. Having been created more than 180 days before, they had been moved to the archive mailbox.

As you can imagine, the executive was not very happy with this situation. He needed the ability to create tasks that would last longer than 180 days. He was working on more than one plant construction project, and those run much longer than 180 days, especially considering the planning time prior to actual ground breaking. In his mind, a task should not be archived based on its creation date, but rather based on the last modified date. To make matters a bit more complex, this executive is a Mac user. He uses both Outlook 2011 on the Mac and Outlook 2010 on a virtual Windows desktop running under Parallels.

The Discovery Phase

As any good IT person does, I started with the search engines. Through Google and Bing, I started seeing hints of possible ways to solve this problem, but nothing substantial. When I didn’t make progress with the search engines, I decided to open a support case with Microsoft.

Within about 24 hours, I had my first response from a Microsoft SE. He recommended creating a retention tag in the Office 365 Exchange Control Panel called, “Personal never move to archive.” This tag would be associated with our existing archival policy and should allow a user to exclude any folder in their mailbox from the archival policy.

Rather than make changes to the archival policy that was already linked to all of our mailboxes, I created a copy of our archival policy with test in the name. I created the associated retention tag and applied the new policy to just my mailbox. I then went to my Outlook profile and attempted to apply the retention tag to the tasks folder. The option was not available. Just to be sure I was doing the right thing, I went to the Notes folder and was able to apply the retention tag there. I could also apply the tag to individual items in my inbox. I sent a reply to the Microsoft SE to let him know what I was seeing. Surely I was just doing something wrong.

The Microsoft SE replied that he had tested the tag in his test lab and was certain it would work, but that he would test it again. The next day, I got the bad news. He had confirmed my findings in his test lab. He also reached out to the product group and received confirmation from them as well. The tasks folder does not have the ability to accept personal tags like all of the other folders in a mailbox. The tasks folder is directly tied to the archive policy that is defined at the mailbox level. This all means that the tasks folder cannot be exempted from my current 180 day archival policy.


So, I was left trying to figure out the best path to take for my executive user. In his defense, he absolutely should be able to create tasks that last longer than 180 days. In fact, I can think of occasions where I might need tasks to last longer than 180 days.

One of my coworkers suggested the use of OneNote. The tasks could be created within OneNote and tracked outside Outlook completely. This might work, but the executive likes having everything inside the Outlook client. He also has an iPhone and and iPad and likes the synchronization of tasks and reminders to those devices. He could install OneNote on his i-devices, but now he has another place to look for items. Also, remembering that he is more than a part time Mac user, we need to remember that there is no OneNote client for the Mac. (Yet)

Another thought was to create a task list on his group’s Office 365 SharePoint site. This task list could then be linked to his Outlook client. That would allow the tasks to sync to Outlook and be available in that program as he wants. It would also keep the tasks outside of the influence of the Exchange archive policy. Awesome idea, but Outlook 2011 on Mac doesn’t currently allow you to link to SharePoint lists. Also, this task list would not appear on his i-devices without signing into SharePoint through the browser on the device.

A final consideration was to create a new archive policy that could be applied to users needing tasks for longer than 180 days. This archive policy could be set to a year or more. The problem here is the potential to fill up the mailbox. Also, at what point would a year archive policy become a problem because he needs some tasks to go on for over a year before being archived?

The Final Solution

So, the final solution? Yeah, we don’t actually have one yet. This is still an open issue that we are trying to work through. If you have any suggestions for me, please feel free to pass them along. I’ll be sure to give you credit for your assistance right here in this blog.

In the meantime, if we settle on a workable solution, I will update this post with that information.



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