One of the more intriguing features of Apple Mail is smart mailboxes, which collate your mail according to a predetermined set of rules. You mail doesn’t actually get moved to these smart mailboxes, it just appears as though it is.

RELATED: How to Set Up Rules in Apple Mail

Smart mailboxes are kind of like rules (aka filters), but instead of messages being flagged, copied, or moved based on a filter’s criteria, they remain in your inbox and only appear as if they’ve been moved. Smart mailboxes are a great way of organizing mail pertaining to a certain project or conversation without actually affecting it in any way.

Today we’re going to give you the ins and outs of smart mailboxes, including how to set up and edit them so you’ll be a smart mailbox pro in no time.

Creating Your First Smart Mailbox

To begin, click the “Mailbox” menu and then “New Smart Mailbox…”.

Go ahead and give your smart mailbox an appropriate name. In our example, we’re going to create a smart mailbox to gather all work correspondence in one place. Remember, these e-mails won’t be moved from the inbox, they’ll simply appear as if they are.

Next, it’s time to build our rule, which works much like it does with actual Mail rules. For this rule to work correctly, the messages must match “any” of the condition set forth. This particular rule is easy, all we are doing is creating a mailbox where messages “from” work people can be found. In this way, we don’t have to search through our inbox for these message or move them.

This rule isn’t too complicated. Further, messages won’t be affected such as they can be with rules. For example, messages won’t be flagged, colored, or anything to change the message’s appearance, they’ll simply be gathered according to criteria stipulated in the smart mailbox rule.

When you’re done, you can find your smart mailbox in the sidebar, in the section labeled “Smart Mailboxes”. As you can see from the following screenshot, any work-related e-mails appear in our newly-created smart mailbox.

Let’s create another simple smart mailbox so you get the idea. In this example, we’re going to create a smart mailbox in which messages have been both replied to and flagged. This means that each message must meet all the requirements to be part of the mailbox.

It’s as simple as that. These messages are now “herded” into a single mailbox without leaving the inbox.

So, you can set up smart mailboxes for all types of purposes, whether it’s for work, personal, or something else, and they won’t be altered in any way. This is a good, non-destructive way of organizing your e-mail, thus allow you to rest assured you can find specific messages quickly and easily.

The Difference Between Smart Mailbox and Smart Mailbox Folders

You may have noticed in the first screenshot, there are two new smart mailbox options: New Smart Mailbox and New Smart Mailbox Folder. What’s the difference?

Basically, if you have a lot of smart mailboxes of varied purposes, you can create a folder in which to compile similar smart mailboxes in one place. For example, if you have a few work-related smart mailboxes, you can create a folder in which to place them. That way you have a single place to check them, rather than having to scroll through a list of other unrelated ones.

If you don’t quite have the hang of creating rules for Smart Mailboxes, then we encourage you to read up on creating Mail rules to get an idea of what’s involved. This way, you’ll at least have a better idea of the basics but you probably won’t have too much trouble achieving the results you desire with a little trial and error.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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