Find e-mail easily with flags

If you’ve ever struggled to find something important in your mailbox—or simply lost track of messages you intended to deal with later—you’ll appreciate that Apple’s Mail ( ) and Microsoft’s Entourage ( ) can flag messages, or mark them with small flag icons so they stand out in lists. Flagging messages is especially useful with e-mail accounts that store messages on a server (IMAP, MobileMe, and Exchange). When you flag a message in such an account, the change is stored on the server, so when you log in to your account from another computer, the flag still appears. (You can also set and view flags in most Web-based e-mail interfaces, including MobileMe and Gmail, which uses stars for the same purpose.)

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Using Flags: To flag a message in OS X 10.5’s Mail, select it and choose Message -> Mark -> As Flagged (or press command-shift-L); to remove the flag, choose Message -> Mark -> As Unflagged (or press command-shift-L again). If you have the preview pane (View: Preview Pane) set to Below List or None, the flag appears next to the message in the main list view; if you don’t see the Flags column, choose View: Columns: Flags to display it.

In Entourage 2008, you flag a message by marking it as a To Do item. Simply click on the small flag icon next to your message in the message list. Alternatively, select a message and choose Edit -> To Do -> No Due Date (or press control-5). To remove a flag, select a message and choose Edit -> To Do -> Clear To Do Flag (or press command-option-’ [apostrophe]). As in Mail, the flag appears in the message list; if that column isn’t visible, choose View: Columns: To Do Flag Status.

Finding Flags: Although flags help messages stand out in a list, you may need extra help finding them if you have lots of messages in a mailbox. To group all of a Mail mailbox’s flagged messages, click on the flag column’s header in the message list. In Entourage, choose View: Arrange By -> To Do Flag Status. To display only flagged messages in Entourage, choose View -> Flagged Only.

Flagging Tidbits: If you have too many flagged messages, the flags lose value. So although you could use flags to mean anything, I recommend reserving them for a single role: telling you that a message needs further attention this week, for instance. At the end of the week, or when you’ve taken the action the message requires, be sure to remove the flag so remaining flagged messages will stand out as they should.

]Senior Contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and author of numerous e-books about OS X.]

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