It’s not feasible for many of us to ditch email altogether. But at least we can get our inboxes to deal with the bulk of our emails for us.
If you’re a Mac user who uses Apple Mail, you’ll need to set up the right rules (otherwise known as filters) to streamline your experience.
We have six useful rules to help you get started, but first we’ll walk you through the basics of creating rules in your Mac’s native email client.
How to Create a Rule in Apple Mail
Hit the shortcut Cmd + Comma to bring up the Mail preferences section or jump to it via Mail > Preferences. Now switch to the Rules tab and click on the Add Rule button to start creating rules. There’s not much to it. First you select a condition listed below the If dropdown menu.
Next, you tell Mail to perform a certain action when it finds emails that match the criterion you have added. You’ll see the available actions listed in the Perform the following actions dropdown menu.
To wrap up, enter a suitable name for the rule and hit the OK button. At this point, Mail will ask you if you want to apply the new rule to existing messages that match the condition you have specified. (It does that automatically for new messages.) If your answer is yes, click on the Apply button. Keep in mind that this won’t work on archived emails.
Want to create multiple conditions to filter emails?
Click the + button next to the default condition to get started. If you go this route, you can also specify if you want the rule to work only when messages match any of the conditions or all of them. That’s what the any dropdown menu next to If is for.
You can also get Mail to perform multiple actions on the emails it has filtered. Let’s say you want move those emails to one mailbox and copy them to another. Then click on the + button next to the default action to start setting up multiple actions to follow conditions.
It’s easy to go overboard with rules. Keep their count low by using multiple conditions and actions instead of separate rules.
1. Identify Emails From People You Don’t Know
With this rule, you’ll find it easier to pinpoint the sources of emails that you have little to no interest in. It catches the bulk of those emails that drain your time and attention.
Select Sender is not in my contacts as your condition. It’s up to you whether you want to redirect the filtered emails to a separate folder, flag them, highlight them in a specific color, and so on. Select the appropriate response from the Perform the following actions dropdown menu.
Every week or so, skim through the emails you identify with this rule. You’ll want to unsubscribe from some of them, mark them as spam, or even set up new rules to auto delete them the next time.
It’s a good idea to duplicate the above rule and edit it to match this condition: Sender is not in my previous recipients. Use the Duplicate button in the Rules tab to get started.
On a side note, to reduce the amount of spam you get, consider creating an email account with a disposable email service. Give out that email address when you want to keep your actual email address private.
2. Delete Persistent Spam and Forwarded Emails
With this rule, you won’t feel like tearing your hair out anymore. It’s for mailers from websites that don’t honor unsubscribe requests and continue to drip feed your inbox.
Set From contains as your criterion, followed by the name of the sender responsible for the emails you want block. Choose Delete Message as the action you want Mail to perform.
Keep in mind that the Delete Message action deletes the message for good. If you would like to send it to Trash instead to keep it accessible later, select Move Message to mailbox Trash as your preferred action.
Note: If you want to replicate Gmail’s “block sender” function, use the Move Message action to shunt the emails to the Junk folder instead.
This rule is also useful to get rid of forwarded messages sent to, for example, family members in bulk. Of course, if you would rather not receive such messages, it’s best to let the sender know about it. If that isn’t possible or doesn’t work, let Mail filter out those messages and delete them for you.
While you can set up a separate rule for each sender whose emails you want to block, it’s not the cleanest way. It’s better to edit an existing rule to insert a new condition for every new sender. This works because the If dropdown menu is set to any, which means the rule works when any of the conditions get fulfilled.
If you want to put a blanket ban on forwards, replace the From contains condition with Subject begins with Fw:.
3. Mark Non-Work Emails as Read
The bulk of your personal email is most likely not time-sensitive. Until you’re ready to tackle those emails, keep them from drawing your attention by marking them as read with this next rule.
Set Account as your criterion and then select the account associated with your personal email. Next, set Mark as Read as the action to take.
You would rather mark all messages from all accounts as read as soon as they hit your inbox? In that case, select Every Message instead of Account from the If dropdown menu.
4. Use Domain Names to Catch Important Emails
You’ll probably want to know about every email that comes through from your bank, even if it’s a promotional mailer. The same goes for work-related emails. You can use a rule to ensure that you’ll never miss them.
For example, while I get many emails at email@example.com, the ones pertinent to my work always come from makeuseof.com. To pinpoint the latter, I can set up this condition: From contains @makeuseof.com.
I can then highlight the filtered emails by, say, changing the background color, playing a sound, or by redirecting them elsewhere.
Replace the @makeuseof.com bit above with the domain name of your company or your bank, and you can use the same filter with similar results.
5. Send the Most Important Work Emails to Slack
Not all emails need your immediate attention. Yes, even at work. If your team communicates via an app like Slack, you can pretty much ignore your inbox most of the time. To ensure that the super important emails, if any, don’t escape your notice, forward them to Slack with this next rule.
Set the condition to identify emails from your manager or other higher-up, or with a specific word/phrase in the subject. Now select Forward Message as your preferred action and type your “send to Slack” address in the field provided.
Where can you find your Slack forwarding address?
It’s hidden under [Your_Team_Name] > Preferences > Messages & Media. Scroll down to the Bring Emails into Slack section, and there it is. You’ll now be able to read the forwarded emails in Slackbot!
6. Collect Emails With PDFs
From bills and receipts to sign-up freebies, you receive useful documents as PDFs in your inbox. Catch those corresponding emails all in one place with this next rule.
Set the condition to match Attachment type is PDF and use the Move Message action to isolate emails containing PDFs. If you want to highlight emails in place instead of moving them to a separate folder, use the Set Color of Message action.
You can also filter emails with other types of attachments such as archives, presentations, and movies with a similar rule.
What Does “Stop Evaluating Rules” Do?
At the end of the Perform the following actions menu, you might have noticed this item: Stop evaluating rules. Wondering what it does? Well, it helps Mail identify the right course of action to take when rules are in conflict.
Take the default rule News From Apple, for example. If you create a new rule that has one or more similar conditions as this one, any actions you add to the new rule won’t get executed. That’s because the News From Apple rule has the Stop evaluating rules tagged on to it, which turns the follow-up actions ineffective.
Let’s illustrate with a second example.
Say you want to mark all incoming messages in a mailbox as read, except those from a particular email address called hello@my_inbox.com. You also want to flag messages from this address. In this scenario, here’s what the rules will look like:
- If From contains hello@my_inbox.com, Mark as Flagged Red and Stop evaluating rules
- If Every message, Mark as Read.
What happens if you leave out the Stop evaluating rules action from the first rule? Messages from hello@my_inbox.com will get flagged and also marked as read.
Now, if you swap the order of the rules while creating them, all messages will get marked as read. The ones from hello@my_inbox.com will get marked as both read and flagged. If you append the Stop evaluating rules action to the first rule here, the emails from hello@my_inbox.com will get marked as read, but won’t get flagged.
Let Apple Mail Do the Heavy Lifting for You
It’s not the cluttered inbox itself that’s the problem. It’s that you have to wade through it everyday to avoid losing the important messages and to swat the trivia that finds its way to you.
If you have rules in place, Mail highlights what needs your attention and hides or gets rid of the rest. Redirect the emails that matter to one or two safe locations and you’ll feel free to ignore the rest, maybe even forever!
Of course, rules are one way of sorting emails in Apple Mail, but you could try an alternative client for more options.