My MailTags 2.0 set up

I think I’ve finally hit my sweet spot with my mail set up. As I’ve previously written, since getting my MacBook and occasionally having to read my mail from a different computer/application, I switched to using a personal IMAP server for all of my mail.

Since switching to Apple Mail back August, the main reason I’ve continued to use it is because of MailTags. This is a very neat tagging plug-in that has helped me keep on top of my mail despite a failing memory and poor filing habits. To work best with IMAP, I’ve been using MailTags 2.0 beta which stores it’s tag information in the messages on the server.

While it has always been useful, it has had the occasional stability and performance problems (not helped by my less than adequate patience when dealing with mail in the first place). From what I can tell of the most recent beta, that seems to be a thing of the past. Performance is normal, I’m not seeing duplicated messages pop up after tagging any more, and there seems to be no more crashes or hangs.

I’ve been asked how exactly I use it, so I thought I’d write it down here.

Firstly, the most important part is to set up Mail Act-on – a free plug-in for Mail that happens to be a perfect compliment for MailTags. I have the following actions set up:

  • 0 – remove all MailTags
  • 1 – set top priority
  • 2 – set high priority
  • 3 – set normal priority
  • 4 – set low priority
  • 5 – set very low priority
  • w – set waiting for reply keyword
  • c – set commit to review keyword
  • p – set patch to review keyword
  • r – set reply keyword
  • v – set review keyword
  • t – set task keyword
  • … some more keywords and projects specific to my environment …
  • , – set deadline to today
  • . – set deadline to tomorrow
  • / – set deadline to a week from today

I have MailTags configured with the keywords I used above, and also colour coding for the deadlines (shades of yellow) and priorities (shades of red).

With this, as I go through unread mail, if there is something I intend to deal with in the near future I tag it with a priority, eg:


If the item has a specific deadline, I’ll tag it with one of those shortcuts (or open the panel to set a very specific date). I used to use this more often, but have found I constantly pushed things so I started using priorities instead and kept the deadlines for those things that really needed to be done on a given day.

I’ll also assign keywords to items as they come in, especially those that have no real priority like patches and commits but so that I can find them again later and deal with them in batches.

I also practice using the delete key on anything I won’t need to reference again or a conversation I don’t intend to follow. I still need to get better at this, especially on conversations that have ended.

I find there is no point in having folders of unread mail – I decide early if I’m going to read something and delete it if not. If I’m never reading something in a particular folder, then I unsubscribe from the list (except from that pesky SPAM one that I can’t seem to get out of… command-shift-J is my friend there).

So without having used any folders, that takes care of all my filing. To actually view these mails in their groups I have a number of smart folders:

  • Unread messages (Important) – a filter of all unread messages, excluding lists that I don’t consider a high priority. This is the stuff I want to monitor through the day
  • Unread messages (All) – all my unread messages. I still clear this out every day.
  • Due Issues – all the messages with a deadline attached
  • Prioritised Issues – all the messages with a priority attached
  • Recent messages – all messages in the last few hours (quickly get back to something you just received and navigated away from)
  • Flagged messages – things that don’t require action but not to lose track of, eg flight itineraries
  • Waiting for reply – all messages tagged with this keyword
  • To Reply to – all messages tagged with this keyword
  • … and more for each keyword/project …

I keep 3 maximised windows open in Mail – one sitting on due issues (sorted by date), one on prioritised issues (sorted by priority), and one on important unread messages (and I use this window to navigate around in if necessary). I can flick through them using command-`

This turns out to be a nice system. When I sit down to get through my todo list, I start with the due date window to make sure I know what to do today, and what might be coming tomorrow. Then I look at my priority list and start at the top. If I feel like skipping something there, I either reconsider and do it, or lower the priority if I feel its justified to skip it. I get as much of this done as time allows.

Once a week I go through the less important waiting for reply, etc folders. And then the other folders, like patches, are there for when I have a block of time I can reserve for just working through a bunch of related tasks (which is sadly rare in recent months).

So, that’s my system – seems to be working well for me. MailTags was definitely worth the small investment. Anyone else doing something similar with your own suggestions?

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