We've been talking a lot of about email recently. My good friend David Sparks wrote an awesome book all about Email, we recently discussed the topic on Mac Power Users and I've been writing about email quite a bit for Don McAllister's ScreenCastsOnline Monthly Magazine. One of the common topics is using rules to better organize email so I figured I'd take this opportunity to share a few of my favorite email rules
First, a primer on email rules. They are basically a series of if/then statements. If certain criteria are met, then the email will be acted on accordingly. Rules can either be configured through your email service provider, or on your Mac.
Server-side rules are preferable because they will run on your email before it hits your machine and thus your email will already arrive to you filtered across all your devices. However, they can be more limited in what they can do. An advantage of Gmail is that it has great support for rules, whereas iCloud is not as robust in their server-side rule selection.
You can also run rules in your mail application on your Mac. This tends to give you more options for configuration, but your Mac must be on and the mail application running for the rules to work. Then, if you have your email synced across your devices via IMAP or a similar protocol, once your rules have kicked in and a message is moved or filtered, that change should populate to all your devices. If you have a desktop machine that is on all the time, this is a great way to filter rules before they hit your mobile devices. If you don't have this luxury server-side rules are the way to go.
Because they're always available, I recommend setting up server-side rules to the extent possible, then supplementing as necessary with local rules on your Mac. Let's take a look at a couple of rules I have setup:
The Low Priority Inbox
As I shared in the previous article, I try to keep my inbox only for items that actually need my attention. I've created a couple of sub-folders for items that need to be reviewed, but perhaps not urgently. Therefore, I've created a Mailbox called "Review" outside of my general inbox where I divert certain types of traffic. Here are a couple of examples of things that go there:
My Mac is set to automatically backup with CrashPlan and therefore I receive regular reports of the progress. I want to review these, but not necessarily the moment they come in. The rule is simple:
If Subject Contains: "CrashPlan Backup Report"
Move Message to: Review
I do a lot of shopping on Amazon (too much, really). So I like to keep track of when Items have shipped. But, I use an App called Delivery Status Touch to track all my packages. That App has an accompanying web service that you can configure to add tracking information to your account by forwarding an email with a tracking number. So, this is a two part rule, it not only moves the message to my Review folder, but also forwards it to the email address connected to Delivery Status for tracking. Here's that rule:
If From Contains " firstname.lastname@example.org"
Move Message to Mailbox Review
Forward Message To: email@example.com
This one is easy to configure because Amazon always sends shipping confirmations from the same address. So does Apple so I've setup a similar rule. However, I've also setup a more generic form of this rule that will look at the subject of email messages for words "order has shipped" and forward the message accordingly.
Just Archive It
Some messages, I never need to see. So I've setup a series of rules to mark these messages as read and archive them. Archiving the message means that it's available should I ever need to find it in the future, but I'm not bothered by it. I've managed to get on a few email lists that I just can't seem to politely get off of. Perhaps they're from organizations I use to be a member of or people I know who insist on including me on mass mailings. In this case, I try to find something that all these emails have in common and craft a rule accordingly. Sometimes the subject is similar, sometimes the sender and the recipient is the same, or sometimes the message always includes another recipient I never receive mail from. I can use any of these criteria to craft a rule to automatically mark these messages as read and archive them. Or, if you really don't want to hear from this person, trash it.
I'm a member of a few mailing lists. Some are high volume, some are low volume. But in most cases these list messages don't need to be included in my inbox. So for theses lists I've created specialty mailboxes that I check regularly. Again, the key here is to find something unique about all these messages, perhaps a sender or a prefix in the subject line and craft the rule accordingly.
The Review Smart Mailbox
If you're going to filter your mail, then you need to be diligent about checking your filtered messages to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. For this, I've setup a Smart Mailbox in Apple Mail that looks at all the various mailboxes I use to filter messages. This combines all those unread messages into a single place I can quickly check and process. I've even dragged this smart mailbox to my menu bar in Mail.app for easy access.
Spending some time at the onset crafting email rules can pay great dividends when it comes to daily reading and processing of your email. However you do need to be careful to make sure your email is being filtered and delivered correctly. One stray email rule may be causing havoc and unintentionally diverting all you messages so keep an eye on your email after you setup rules to make sure things are flowing properly.
This article first appeared in the October, 2013 Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/