Using Mail's rules, smart mailboxes, and VIPs

The two-condition rule: I cited this rule when discussing how to end the annoyance from everyone in your company hitting the Reply All button when they should instead click Reply. It requires two conditions.

Here’s the scenario: Some division in your company is clueless about when you should and shouldn’t use Reply All. This leads to your receiving one “Welcome Aboard” message followed by umpteen “Me Too!” replies that you care nothing about. But you’d like to filter these things out without missing any important messages directed to you.

In this case, you first configure the very top pop-up menu that appears in the ‘If x of the following conditions are met’ statement. The x, in this case can be either any or all. If you choose any, only one of the conditions has to be met for the following action to be imposed. With all, every condition must be met for the rule to function.

For this rule to work, you must have all conditions met. You then follow that up with two conditions: From Contains bozorepliers (where bozorepliers is the offending division’s domain name) and To Does not contain me (where me is your email address). Create the first condition and then click the Plus button to its right to create another.

Hate inconsiderate reply-allers? Use a rule like this.

For this rule to execute, not only does the message have to be from the offending domain, but it also can’t be addressed to you personally. (You set it up this way as a fail-safe measure so that messages sent from the domain that demand your specific attention aren’t lost among all the cruft.)

Finally, create a new folder for messages from these people and then design an action that moves any of their mail not addressed to you to this folder.

The multiple-action rule: You can also create rules that have multiple actions.

For example, you could create one that reads: If From Contains theboss (where theboss is your supervisor’s email address), Set Color of Message of Text to Red, Play Sound Sosumi, Send Notification, and Bounce Icon in the Dock. This rule would make your manager’s messages impossible to ignore (see the image at the top of the page). And as with the multiple-condition rule, you add more actions by clicking the Plus button in the actions area.

Rules-like features

Mail includes a couple of features that mimic some of the power of rules. The first is smart mailboxes, and the second is the VIP mailbox.

Smart mailboxes: A smart mailbox is like a rule that has just one action—gathering together matching messages in a specific mailbox. Let’s make one.

Choose Mailbox > New Smart Mailbox (or click the Plus button at the bottom-left corner and choose Smart Mailbox from the menu). Name the mailbox Apple and configure the condition to read From Contains apple. If you’d like to include messages in Mail’s Trash, enable that option. Click OK, and a new ‘Apple’ mailbox appears beneath the Smart Mailboxes heading in the Mailboxes pane. If you select it, you’ll see all those messages from Apple that advertise one thing or another or inform you that your Apple ID was used to sign in to such and such a service.

View all your Apple-generated mail in a smart mailbox.

How is this different from a similarly configured rule? Smart mailboxes don’t move messages as a rule can. Rather, they present a list of messages that match the mailbox’s conditions. The original messages stay right where they are.

While this arrangement is useful enough on its own, having a list of related messages gathered together in a single mailbox has additional advantages. For example, if you Control-click (right-click) this smart mailbox, you can choose to archive all the messages in it (meaning, make a copy of all these messages and their attachments). Once you’ve made that archive, you can then delete the original messages from the Mail app, secure in the knowledge that you have a backup. (I’ll have more information on backing up and restoring your messages in a future column.)

The VIP mailbox: With Mountain Lion, Apple introduced the VIP mailbox. It’s very much like a smart mailbox, though you configure it differently. The idea behind it is that you can designate certain people you correspond with as very important persons. When you receive a message from such a person, it appears in the VIP mailbox. (Just as with a smart mailbox, the original message remains in the mailbox it was originally delivered to—your inbox, for example.) The purpose of this mailbox is to call out those messages you really want to pay attention to.

You have two ways to bestow VIP status on a contact. The first is to open a message, move the pointer to the sender’s name, and click the star icon that appears to the left of that name. Alternatively, you can place the pointer over any email address at the top of a message (the address will turn blue), click the downward-pointing triangle, and choose Add to VIPs.

One way to add a VIP

So, is this simply a smart mailbox for people who don’t know how to use smart mailboxes? Not entirely. Where VIPs have a leg up on smart mailboxes is in your ability to use VIP status in a rule. If you return to the Rules preference, create a new rule, and then click the first condition pop-up menu, you’ll see that Sender Is VIP is one of the conditions. For example, you could use this condition to create additional alerts—a sound, a bouncing dock icon, or a notification—when you receive a message from a person you consider important enough to merit VIP status.

Rules, smart mailboxes, and the VIP mailbox can be helpful tools for sorting out your email automatically. Take the time to explore each one, and you’ll unclutter your inbox in impressive ways.

Next week: Junk mail and spam

recommended for you

Dealing with junk mail

Read more »

Subscribe to the MacWeek Newsletter