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Five essential Mail rules

Kirk McElhearn, | April 26, 2011
Overwhelmed by e-mail? Five essential Apple Mail rules can help you take control of your inbox. Learn how Mail can automatically forward, file, and highlight special messages and even trigger an alarm when certain correspondents write.

If you’re overwhelmed by your e-mail, Mail’s rules can help. Use these simple yet powerful tools to sift through your e-mail and apply changes to messages, filter messages into specific folders, forward them automatically, set off alarms, and more. Using e-mail rules is easy, and Mail’s interface lets you set up their conditions and actions with just a few clicks. Here are five essential e-mail rules that will help you take control of your correspondance.


1. Make messages stand out with color

One of the most practical rules I use changes the color of certain messages to make them stand out. I use this rule to highlight mail from specific friends, accounts, or clients.

First, to create a rule in Apple’s Mail, choose Mail -> Preferences, then click on the Rules icon. You'll see a list of your rules here. Mail goes through these one by one in the order you see them. You can change their order by dragging a rule up or down.

Click on Add Rule to display the dialog box where you set the rule’s conditions and determine its actions. (If you use smart playlists in iTunes, you’ll notice some similarities.)

In this example, I want all e-mails from and addresses to display in purple. In the first section of the rule, I set the pop-up menu to “Any” to make sure Mail applies the rule if any of the following conditions are met. In the first condition line I set the pop-up menus to “From” and “Contains” and then typed in a domain name. I clicked on the plus-sign (+) to add another line and then entered the next domain name there. (See the image below.)

Color important messages
This rule changes the color of messages from my Macworld colleagues. That way their messages stand out.

The second section of the rule contains the actions you want Mail to take on messages that meet the conditions. I used the pop-up menus to do a number of things. First, Mail will move messages that meet either of the conditions into my Inbox. Mail will change the text to purple and then mark the messages as flagged. Finally I ask Mail to “Stop Evaluating Rules.” I find that if you don’t add this final action, you sometimes get unpredictable results. Mail may do something different to a message because another, later, rule may act on it.

Click OK, and Mail will ask if you want to apply your rules to existing messages. In the future, you’ll find that messages from the domains you specify appear in the color you specified and get flagged. Use this rule with any domain, or even a single address, that you want to stand out in your message list.


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