Automatic Email Message Filing in Mail.app

Since posting about interleaved email replies, I have gotten a good amount of emails from people asking if I could share some more email tips and tricks to help them out. So why not throw a few more out there for people. Today’s tip is about two Mail.app plugins that I leverage from Indev Software called MailTags and Mail Act-On.

I can’t remember when I started using these plugins, but it had to be sometime in 2007-ish. I believe that I found them from the once epic Hawk Wings blog. 1

MailTags plays a very small role in this tip, but it is an important one. This tip is all about eliminating the mouse and I bet more than a few of you will like this. I currently have six active email accounts in Mail and each account is IMAP and shares a similar folder hierarchy. Each account has at least two folders in it: Archive and Follow-Up.

I practice inbox zero so once I read an email I want it to go to one of these two folders 99% of the time. For a while now I was just using Mail Act-On keyboard shortcuts to file a message away — then I realized there was a better way.

Mail now files my emails for me once I respond to them and can put them in either folder depending on where they should be.

This is actually not complicated to set up, it is only a bit tedious if you use a ton of email accounts and a filing system with more than one folder, like mine.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You need to install Mail Act-on at the very least, but for folder sorting you need MailTags as well.
  2. Once those plugins are installed you need to configure the ‘Keywords’ section of MailTags (done in the preferences). This is where you want to add any keywords to use so that your rules can file the email in the appropriate place. For my setup I only added one keyword: @Followup which I will use to designate an email going into a Follow-Up folder. Screen shot 2011-01-20 at 9.13.51 AM.png
  3. Now flip over to the ‘Rules’ pane and click on the Act-On Rules tab. This is where you need to set up the move rule properties. Basically you need to create a new rule that applies to every message and moves the message to whichever mailbox you want it to go in. So for sake of example I want every message that this rule is applied to, moved into the Archive folder. Don’t worry about setting an Act-On Key and be sure to give this a descriptive name if you are going to set up more than one account. Now you need to set up a rule for each mailbox you want to move emails to, all set up just like this. In my case that means 12 rules in total.Screen shot 2011-01-20 at 9.14.34 AM.png
  4. Now we get to the good bit, switch over the to ‘Outbox Rules’ tab and click ‘Add Rule’. We are going to make our first rule for filing here. You are going to want to make sure that the rule is set to ‘all’ for which conditions need to be met. This forces Mail to make sure all, not just one, of the conditions are met. Then you set the first rule to a ‘From’ ‘Contains’ ‘your email address’ — note that it needn’t be your full email address if you want to catch both me.com and mac.com emails in one swoop just use the stuff before the @ symbol (unless you use the same bit for all your email accounts). The second condition should be set to: ‘Has No MailTags’. This rule is my archive conditions rule. Now set the action to: ‘Apply Act-On Rule’ ‘Name of your archive rule’ ‘Prior Messages’. That is it, but it is very important that you apply this to ‘prior messages’ and not the default ‘current messages’. If your email has any MailTags applied nothing will happen.Screen shot 2011-01-20 at 9.16.27 AM.png
  5. Repeat this step for all your other email accounts that you want auto archiving on.
  6. To make an email move to a particular folder based on your MailTags don’t set the ‘Has No MailTags’ condition and instead set it to: ‘MailTags Keyword’ ‘Contains’ ‘name of your keyword’. Then just select the folder you want those emails moved to just like above.Screen shot 2011-01-20 at 9.16.35 AM.png

Some Notes

You will want to play with this and test it a bit. Please don’t think you need to set the MailTag keyword to the email you want moved, you set that on the email that you are sending and the action happens on the email you are responding to.

The rules go in order from top to bottom. That means put the most used email accounts towards the top of the list to speed everything up. Which means that, yes, this slows down the sending process a bit as your computer must run all these rules.

If you only use one email account, then you need not worry about the ‘From’ condition and just apply this to every email message instead.

Also: these rules only work when done in Mail.app, so your iPhone and iPad won’t be auto-filing just yet.

You can do a lot more with these Outbox rules and I will be talking a bit more about that soon. If you are still a bit confused about this, the developer has a great video tutorial on his site which can be found here.

Why

It doesn’t take long to file away emails with Mail Act-On keyboard triggers, or even using just your mouse. So the question is: why should you set this up? The answer is two fold:

  1. It is faster to have this auto file for you, helping to speed up the reply process when you get a lot of email.
  2. Knowing once I send a reply I won’t see the email again (hopefully) means that I take my time to make sure that I complete all actions for that email in that moment. Meaning instead of sending a frivolous email that states: let me look into that. I instead just find the information I need before I even reply.

You never know unless you try and both of these plugins have a generous 30 day trial period so there really is no harm in giving this a go. Good luck!

[This part of an ongoing series on dealing with email, to see more posts look here.]

  1. It is still a great site, but rarely updated.
Originally posted for members on: January 20, 2011
Follow along on RSS, App.net, or Twitter.
~I would appreciate it if you considered becoming a member.~