Even though email may be declining in popularity, giving way to more instant means of online communication, it’s still vital component to most people’s professional repertoire. But untamed, email can quickly get out of hand, which is why it is important to use rules and filters.

Apple Mail’s rules let you prioritize what’s important while weeding out what isn’t. A good rules scheme will quickly reduce email clutter while giving you a chance to respond to priority messages in a more timely fashion.

Apple Mail makes setting up rules a snap, allowing you to painlessly file, flag, and notify you of new messages so you won’t be constantly looking for that important message from your boss or colleague.

To set up rules, you first need to open up Apple Mail’s preference, which is done by selecting the Mail menu and then “Preferences” or using the Command+, keyboard combination.

In the preferences, we click on the last tab on the right, “Rules” and then click “Add Rule”.

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For this example, we’ll set up a rule to route an email from a specific sender to a specific mailbox. Before we do this, however, we need to make sure that the mailbox is already set up. If it is not, then we can click on the “Mailbox” menu and select “New Mailbox…” from the menu selections. Now, choose where you want your new mailbox to reside and give it an appropriate name. (In my case, I’m calling it “Lowell”, where all mail from my boss will go.)

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Back in our rules preferences, we’ll build our new rule, which will be very simple. The sender in question–my boss–has two e-mail addresses that they commonly use, so we’ll include both into our rule to make sure that any mail that comes from either address is routed to our new mailbox.

In order to add another e-mail address, we need to click the “+” sign, this will add an additional field for another e-mail address.

With this new rule, any mail that comes from either e-mail address will be moved to the specific mailbox. This means it will skip the inbox so we need to make sure we check that mailbox frequently to make sure we don’t miss anything.

Unfortunately, you can’t use Boolean with Mail rules, so every part of the rule you set up will need have its own item. It would be easy to use the “OR” operator in our rule when specifying either e-mail address, but we can’t–each one needs to have its own line.

If we wanted to make sure that any messages from this sender stay in the inbox but are still filed to the new mailbox, we could change the rule so they are copied instead of moved.

That’s just a simple example, so let’s try something a little more complex. Say we want to set up a rule that will flag specific messages, route them to a special mailbox, and forward a copy to another e-mail address. Here is how we would do that:

So, with this rule, the message will be copied to our Important mailbox folder, the background will be shaded in red, and it will be forwarded to a separate e-mail account. We could go on adding criteria to our rule, but you’re probably getting the idea.

These are kind of fun, so let’s try one more and make it little longer. In this rule, there’s all kinds of stuff happening.

First, if the subject or content of our message contains the words “roller derby” then the message will be moved to a special folder. Upon receipt of this message, Mail will notify us by playing a sound, send us a notification, and bounce the icon in the Dock. Finally, it will change the background to pink and mark it with a green flag.

That sounds like a lot for particular type of message, but if you really want to know when something arrives, you can certainly make sure Mail alerts you.

Before we end, take a look at our Rules preferences one more time because there are some pretty valuable functions that you may want to use.

Whenever a rule is “Active” there will a check mark in the box next to it. If you want to turn a rule off, thus making it inactive, then you just need to uncheck it. This will not remove the rule, so if you want to keep it and merely suspend its use for a time, then deactivate it.

The “Edit” function is so you can go back and amend any rule when needed. Alternatively, you can just double-click on any rule you want to change.

The “Duplicate” button may come in handy from time to time when you want to replicate a rule one more times, with just some minor changes, but don’t want to create it several times over.

Finally, if you need to delete a rule, then click the “Remove” button, or just select the rule and hit the “Delete” button on your keyboard.

If you have several e-mail accounts, then setting up rules is definitely a great way to round up all your various messages into nice, neat places so nothing gets missed or lost in the shuffle. You don’t need to be an expert to use them either. Mail makes it really easy to set up even a few simple rules so you can find important messages in just a few clicks. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll probably be creating even more complex rules that go beyond what we’ve shown you here today.