Gaining control of your Apple Mail – Part 1

I am indebted to Rishabh R Dassani (at Dazne and on Twitter @dazne) for this idea.

1. Decide what to call your GTD flags

Mail gives you 7 flags and by default these are named after their colours as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 17.01.23.png

Decide what GTD contexts you want to use for each of the 7 flags.

The GTD flags I use are:

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 17.13.15.png

2. Rename the flags

Take 7 emails in your Inbox and give each one a different coloured flag. It doesn’t matter which emails – you just need all 7 flags in use to rename them.

To do this click on the right-pointing triangle against the Flagged mailbox and you should see each of the 7 flags listed in the sidebar under Flagged.

Click on the Red flag subfolder twice and type in the new name Action. Do the same with the Orange subfolder and rename it to Agendas.

Then do the same with the Yellow flag and the Green flag. Rename these flags’ subfolders to Waiting For and Calendar.

Then change the Blue and Purple flags to Read and Someday/Maybe.

Finally change the Grey flag and rename this flag’s subfolder to File

So now, if you move your mouse over the down arrow next to the Flag box on the toolbar you should see this:

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 16.35.32.png

You can now clear the flags on the 7 emails you have used (or you can change them to the appropriate flag).

3. Clarify what needs to happen to your emails by marking them with the correct flag

As each email comes into your Inbox, mark it with the appropriate flag.

Do the same with all the existing emails in your Inbox.

4. Set up Smart Mailboxes as Next Action lists for each flag

Using the Mailbox menu scroll down and select New Smart Mailbox and set up Smart Mailboxes for each of your GTD contexts as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 17.24.34.png

The default name of Smart Mailbox 1 has been replaced by Action and the condition has been set to Message has flag and the Action flag.

Do this for all your GTD contexts.

Make sure your Smart Mailboxes are visible – click Show – and you should see something similar to this:

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 17.29.42.png

Note that I have started each Mailbox name with an @ symbol as I wanted them to stand out from the other Smart Mailboxes I have set up.

You will need to order them by dragging them up or down – they don’t order themselves!

5. Action your emails

Process each email according to the context.

Change the flag to File when done or delete the email if you don’t need it.

Now if someone knows an easy way to print off the list of emails in a Smart Mailbox, then please let me know!






4 thoughts on “Gaining control of your Apple Mail – Part 1”

  1. Hi i like the idea but where do you put your emails. Is the idea not to get them out of in. You have just flagged them and therefore it appears they remain in your inbox? Would it be possible to add your full process here to better understand how you use the flags in context with processing / moving / storing the emails please. Thanks.

    1. If you read the Part 2 article, you’ll see that I have two more Smart Mailboxes, one for Flagged emails and one for those not yet flagged.

      I only look at the @Not Flagged Smart Mailbox as my “virtual inbox”.

      You’re right in that the actual email is still in the Inbox. I would like to periodically archive all flagged emails but Apple Mail’s Rules don’t have a means for doing that. I’m looking at Applescript to do that but so far no success.

      So I just move them manually from the Inbox to Archive at the moment using the @Flagged Smart Mailbox as the ones to be moved.


  2. I am curious as to why you create the smart mailbox folders to show what you have flagged a particular colour. Why not just use the “Flagged” folder in the left hand side Mailboxes to see what messages are flagged that colour?

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