How to Make Smart Mailboxes Deliver [Mac]

The development of Smart Folders has help us Mac users get control of our files. Now you may not be aware of it but you can do the same with Apple Mail. The same search technology which drives Smart Folders drives mailboxes which can be sorted intelligently.

In this article, we organise your communications with Smart Mailboxes to help you ignore the clutter and focus in on your important correspondence.

Say, for example, you subscribe to the NASA email service which tells you when the International Space Station goes over your house at night. If you want to make sure you can find the last email that came from them, do the following:

Go to “Mailbox -> New Smart Mailbox”. Name the mailbox “Spot the Station.”

Where it says “Contains Messages that match” select “All” from the dropdown. Underneath select “From” and “contains” from the dropdowns and input the Spot The Station email address:

HQ-spotthestation@mail.nasa.gov

Input the Spot The Station email address.

Now press OK to store the Smart Mailbox to your list of mailboxes on the left hand side. Okay, now you can go to that mailbox and only messages from NASA STS will be in there. You can leave it like that to keep ALL the messages you receive from them, but there’s more you can do to make this smarter.

It’s not likely you will ever look at past emails from this service, only ones telling you about passes of the space station that will happen in the future. (Yes, it’s possible you might be making a graph of the trajectory based on the time, direction and angle they send you, but most people don’t need this old data.)

With this in mind, we can further filter the results in the Smart Mailbox by specifying only emails that arrived since yesterday.

If you saved the mailbox in the last step, open it again by right clicking on the Smart Mailbox and selecting “Edit Smart Mailbox . . .”

Add a new criteria underneath the first one using the “+” button, and select “date received” and “is in the last” from the drop down menus. Type “1” before the day.

Filter the results  by specifying only emails that arrived since yesterday.

This means that as the emails become 24 hours old they begin to drop off the list. It’s better not to select today only because sometimes you get two messages for a particular day if there’s more than one pass of the station, one yesterday and one today. This way you get to keep them both.

Be very specific and creative with your criteria and layer them up, adding more things that the search can use to narrow it down.

Another cool tip everyone should use is to make a Smart Mailbox which only contains mail you haven’t seen. This reduces clutter and encourages you to act on your incoming mail only. Simply make a new Smart Mailbox called “Unread” and select “Message is unread” from the dropdown.

Make a Smart Mailbox which only contains mail you haven’t seen.

Now as you read emails, they will disappear the next time you open Mail. You should also add another criteria with the “+” key and set “Message is in mailbox” and “Inbox” from the dropdowns. This way you don’t get unread messages from the elsewhere like Spam or Trash.

Now you can also flag each email that needs attention by using a Red Flag, which you will find on “Message -> Flag -> Red”, or by pressing “Command + Shift + L”. Then you will see all important messages you have to attend to later in a new mailbox called “Flagged.”

Flag each email that needs attention by using a Red Flag.

Equally you could flag emails with Green before they disappear with “Message -> Flag -> Green” and make a new Smart Mailbox with the title “Non Urgent – do this week.”

Another final Smart Mailbox that everyone will find useful is “Recently Looked At.” You know those times when you got an email in the last couple of days and you can’t recall where it was? We can solve that by checking for emails you read recently, even if they weren’t only recently delivered. You see how cool that is?

Make a new Smart Mailbox and call it “Recently Looked At.”

Make a new Smart Mailbox and call it 'Recently Looked At.'

Set the dropdown to “Date last viewed” and the next one to “is in the last” and type in 2 days. This way any emails you skimmed in the last couple of days are held here for you to find.

This is handy if you finally found an old email from someone important, then closed the window and then couldn’t find it again. This way you will always be able to get it back.

Smart Mailboxes in Apple Mail.

Have you got any cool uses for Smart Mailboxes? Let us know your Smart Mailbox searches in the comments below.

Image credit: mailboxes