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apple mailThe constant flow of emails is no doubt the bane of many computer users. Emailing is among the fastest forms of communication, but you constantly have to deal with impertinent messages, spam, and online promotions.

If you’re looking for ways to get your emails under control, Apple’s Mail app features a way to set up rules for what happens to emails when they arrive. Setting up and maintaining some simple rules in Mail can significantly cut down on the amount of time you’re spending shifting through and deleting unwanted emails.

The following are suggested rules for controlling your mail.


However, it’s important that you customize or add rules that apply to the types of emails you receive on a regular basis. Also, see my article on smart mail folders Five Essential Smart Mailboxes For Apple Mail [Mac] Five Essential Smart Mailboxes For Apple Mail [Mac] Read More for suggested ways to get your emails under control.

Junk Mail

Apple’s Mail comes with some default settings for junk mail. Open the Mail’s Preferences and click on Junk Mail to review the current settings. I believe the default settings for Junk Mail look like this:

apple mail

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You can simply have junk mail moved to a Junk mailbox which provides a way to double-check those messages to see if they are indeed junk. Sometimes when you register on a website, the registration email notification might be considered junk mail when it first arrives in your mailbox, so you can check your junk mailbox to see if it was sent there.

If you want more control over your junk mail, you can select “Perform custom actions” (Click the “Advanced to configure” button), which will present you with a set of rules for what gets labeled junk.

apple mac mail

This is a good example of the type of rules you can configure to control what happens to your emails when they arrive in your box. So now let’s explore another rule that will automatically set designated email as read.

Mark As Read

Since I got tired of checking and deleting emails on both my desktop computer and mobile devices, I created what might be considered a pretty extreme rule. It marks all my daily incoming emails as read, unless the sender is in my Address Book. I also make sure that some VIP emails are never marked as read, for example mail from my editors at MUO.

The rule is set up like this:

apple mac mail

To set up this rule, click on Rules tab in Mail’s preferences. Click the Add Rules button. With the first condition, change “any” to all.

Next, click on the “Any Recipient” pop-up window and select “Date Received”. In the second set of drop-down conditions, select “Is Less Than,” and in the third, input “1” days old.

apple mac mail

Next, click the + button and select “Sender is not in my Address Book.” Now this assumes that your Address Book is maintained with the names and addresses of people, clients, and companies who are most important to you.

apple mail tips

You can also click the + button and add another condition; select “Sender is not in my Previous Recipients,” which means that messages from senders you have responded to before will not be marked as read.

For added measure, you can include specific addresses for which you do not want messages marked as read.

apple mail tips

Next, under Perform the following actions: select “Mark as Read” in the pop-up menu.

If you’re accustomed to checking and deleting daily mails, this rule may throw you a bit at first, because essentially all your emails will now be marked as read except the emails that you designated should not be.

However, you will still want to peruse daily emails though they are marked as read. Here’s how you do that. You can simply check your Inbox and see all incoming messages. You can also create a Smart Mailbox that will capture all your emails for the current day.

To set this up, select Mailbox > New Smart Mailbox in Mail’s menu bar. Set up the rule this way:

apple mail

For additional ideas on automating tasks on Mac computer, check out my free PDF, The MUO Guide to Mac Automation.

Also, let us know about other email rules you use to keep your mailbox under control.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

  1. Andrew
    April 2, 2011 at 12:21 am

    I have generated an extensive email Rules library over the last 4-years of being a Mac user. Are there any tools that will help me manage these rules more effectively than just manually searching through them? A good start would be the ability to use 'Sort By' on the the rule names to put them in alphabetical order. Do you know of a way to do that?
    Best Regards,

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