OS X Lion: Organizing Messages in Apple Mail

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Here was the sequence of events: I downloaded Lion, and ten minutes post-installation, I decided that I hated clicking on the “Show/Hide Mailbox List” button in Mail just to move a message around. My world then shattered. Lion wasn’t perfect. I tore down the altar I had made to Jonathan Ive, spent three days in isolation to atone for the sin of disliking an interface change, and came back a battered, world-weary penitent. OK, so some of that didn’t happen. But I did decide to avoid clicking that infernal little button, and in the meantime, I found some neat ways to clean up the Mail interface, use shortcuts, and implement keystrokes to make organizing my messages a little more streamlined.

So let’s get familiar with Lion’s Mail interface first, just to explain the terms I’ll be using below. When you aren’t currently composing a message, the window you look at to see your incoming mail and pretty much everything else is called the Message Viewer (as it was in Snow Leopard).

 

The oh-so-familiar Message Viewer.

 

When you click on the Show/Hide button that’s on the left side of your Message Viewer window (indicated by the arrow above), what you’re, um, showing and hiding is the Mailbox List. This is where you’ll find all of the mailboxes you’ve created and the ones that you have by default, like Trash and Inbox. When you select a mailbox from that list, its contents display in the Message Viewer.

 

This is part of my Mailbox List.


The problem as I see it is that the view without the Mailbox List is just nicer to work with, but it’s also less convenient when you need to file things. Granted, Apple’s provided us with a keyboard shortcut for showing and hiding that list (it’s Command-Shift-M), but I’d still rather see it as little as possible. Maybe I like having more screen real estate for my actual messages. Maybe I prefer the iPad look. Maybe I’m actually insane. Who knows?

So here’s the first thing you can do to clean things up. With the Mailbox List hidden, you can click and drag an e-mail and hold it slightly to the left (where the List would normally be), and the panel will obediently slide open for you to put the message in a mailbox and close automatically when you’re done. OK, Apple. That’s pretty neat. I’m already starting to forgive you.

 

See my little message getting dragged there? See the Mailbox List sliding open? OK, maybe you’ll just have to try this.

 

Another way to make things easier is to add your existing mailboxes to your toolbar. You do this by dragging them from your Mailbox List to the area below your toolbar buttons. You’ll note that the mailboxes that have subfolders (or submailboxes, if you prefer) show a drop-down arrow to indicate that’s so.

After you’ve put your stuff in the toolbar, you can drag messages right to those mailboxes and drop ‘em on in.

Also, Mail automatically assigns a keyboard shortcut to any mailbox that you’ve put in your toolbar, which you can see by choosing Mailbox > Go To Favorite Mailbox. As shown in my screenshot below, it uses Command-[ascending number] depending on the order you’ve placed things in the toolbar. Move them around, and the shortcuts change. Add new ones, and the shortcuts append to the list automatically. Aaaand a little bit more Apple forgiveness creeps in.

If you don’t like dragging messages to the toolbar, another good option is the Mailbox > Move To Favorite Mailbox menu item, which comes equipped with useful keyboard shortcuts, as well. Command-Control-[number] will pop your e-mail into the associated toolbar mailbox. Just make sure you’ve selected a message before you try that, or you know what? Goose egg. 

But what if you’re one of those strange folks who has 87,000 mailboxes, each organized by date, name, or whether the moon was in the seventh house when you received the messages within it? Adding all of those mailboxes into your toolbar isn’t going to be pretty. So here’s what I suggest: If you choose View > Customize Toolbar, one of the buttons you can drag in from there is called “Move.” Doing so will give you instant access from your toolbar to all of your mailboxes, without ever having to hide or show the wretched Mailbox List. You’ll simply select any messages you’d like to move, click on that button after you’ve added it to your toolbar, and then navigate to the mailbox where you’d like to store the messages. If you’re so inclined, there’s also an option for this within the menus; it’s under Message > Move To.

Here’s what you’re looking to put onto your toolbar.

 

And here’s what it looks like after you do.

 

So now that I have configured Lion’s Mail program to handle organization exactly the way I want it to, I’m happy. Cheerful, even. Why, I might even pull out the old Jony Ive pictures, just for the heck of it. 

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Comments

Lee Dronick

Thanks Melissa.

Melissa Holt

No, Sir Harry. Thank YOU for reading!

Kathy

I love the new Mail .... but not being able to easily file my messages was my only gripe about it. Now, thanks to your awesome tips, that is no longer an issue. Thank you!!!!

Scott

You can also right click a message and use the context menu to file a message.

Melissa Holt

Thank you!!!!

You’re welcome, Kathy. smile

And thanks to Scott for the excellent addendum!

Lee Dronick

I will have a few more comments in a day or two.

You all have a great weekend.

Victor Raskin

Melissa, have you also figured out what happened to .../Library/Mail/Mailboxes? I often have to move mailboxes among computers, and this is where I copied them from and into. Thanks, smart lady!

Melissa Holt

Hey Victor,

As I’m sure you’re aware, Apple has hidden the ~/Library folder in Lion. In case you’re not aware, you can still access that from the Finder easily by heading to the “Go” menu and holding down the Option key while you’ve got that menu open (which will make ~/Library show up as a choice).

Once you go there, the Mail folder will show up. Looks as if my machine is storing my mbox files in ~/Library/Mail/V2 (and then in folders based on the account name).

Hope that’s helpful!

?Melissa

Victor Raskin

Thanks, Melissa. Next Lion mail question: why is Entire message dimmed in my mail search? Is it related to the fact that my Spotlight only searches the Web. Is the volume not yet indexed some 4 days after the update? Thanks again, V.

Melissa Holt

Hey Victor,

I’d try reindexing the drive. Sounds like Spotlight isn’t working at all. To do so, check out the suggestion on this thread. If that doesn’t work, let me know!

Privacy gives error

Many thanks for your response, Melissa—right on target again. Unfortunately, the Privacy tab in the Spotlight Preferences Pane does not let me add anything saying that it cannnot do either that or delete because of an unknown error. Re-install Lyon, do you think? Or could it be that it is not done indexing after 3 days or so. Probably related to that, the Entire message item in the Mail search is dimmed.

Melissa Holt

Have you tried restarting recently?

I’d also try the suggestions on this thread, especially the Terminal tip. Let me know if that works.

Scott

you can tell if the OS is indexing, ar least prior to lion, by the appearance of a dot in the spotlight magnifying glass.

Scott

You can also try the mailbox menu rebuild command to see if you have a corrupted mailbox. It will rebuild the messages in a mailbox to only include the ones that are actually there. 

From mail help:

“Rebuild mailboxes
In some cases, you might need to rebuild a mailbox to update the list of messages in the mailbox. For example, you might need to do this if messages appear to be missing or garbled, or if you can?t find all relevant messages when you search using Entire Message. Rebuilding a mailbox can take a while depending on how many messages are in the mailbox.

Select a mailbox, and then choose Mailbox > Rebuild.
When you rebuild mailboxes for Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) and Exchange accounts, locally cached messages and attachments are discarded, and the messages and attachments are downloaded again from the server to your computer. Your mailbox appears empty until the download is complete.”

Scott

also found a writeup about greyed out emails with respect to deleted messages here:

http://superuser.com/questions/17188/greyed-out-emails-in-mail-app

Kunal

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for the article. Helped me in making the decision to install OS X Lion as I was primarily worried about the Mail application. However, there are some other gripes and would be great if you could help me with it.

1. There was a 3-finger gesture in Snow Leopard which you could use in Finder, Safari, Firefox, etc. for going back and forth between your previously viewed windows. In OS X Lion, its missing and now I have to take the cursor to the Back and Forward buttons and click to do the same. Has this action been assigned to another gesture in Lion?

2. Is there an option to ensure that the scroll bars do not vanish?

Thanks in advance.

Regards,
Kunal

Lee Dronick

1. There was a 3-finger gesture in Snow Leopard which you could use in Finder, Safari, Firefox, etc. for going back and forth between your previously viewed windows. In OS X Lion, its missing and now I have to take the cursor to the Back and Forward buttons and click to do the same. Has this action been assigned to another gesture in Lion?

Two fingers swiped right or left on a trackpad moves between windows.

2. Is there an option to ensure that the scroll bars do not vanish?

Yes, in the System Settings, in the General pane

Kunal

Dear Sir Harry,

Thanks for the reply.

1. Two fingers swiped right or left on a trackpad moves between windows.

This happens only in Safari, not in Firefox and Finder. Is there a way it can also happen in Finder and Firefox?

Thanks,
Kunal

Lee Dronick

@Kunal

I think that you will need to wait until Firefox is upgraded before it can take full advantage of Lion.

I never thought to try the two finger swipe in the Finder. You are right it doesn’t work there. Send feedback to Apple.

Melissa Holt

Hey Kunal,

In addition to the excellent suggestions already posted, I’d add that if you go to System Preferences > Trackpad > More Gestures, you can set the default “swipe between pages” back to three fingers. I did so, and I’m not having an issue using it in Finder or in Firefox. Interestingly, though, when I switch it to a two-finger swipe, it no longer works in those programs.

I like using three fingers for that anyway. smile I’ve swapped my “full-screen apps” gesture to four fingers to accommodate this, too.

But I’d suggest following Sir Harry’s advice and submitting a bug report.

?Melissa

Kunal

Hey Melissa,

Thanks, did that and am back with the good old 3-finger swiping between windows in Finder & Firefox.

Now I’m having issues maintaining connectivity on my WiFi, it drops connections frequently. One more irritating thing I found out is that if the computer is idle and the display goes to sleep, touching your trackpad no longer brings the display back to life. You have to press the start button.

The issues keep on coming I guess smile

I’d be submitting a feedback to Apple. Thanks for your help again Melissa and Sir Harry.

Cheers,
Kunal

Simon

Great tips Melissa thanks! The only real gripe I have now is the setting to make unread messages BOLD only seems to work in ‘classic’ mode. That blue dot just does not cut it for me.

Any suggestions?

Thanks,

Simon.

Melissa Holt

Hey Simon,

Making unread messages bold isn’t working for me either, and I see a lot of folks complaining about it online. Apparently, it’s by design?someone on Apple’s Support Communities reported that the help feature on that preference tab says, “Display unread messages in bold font in classic layout, to help you distinguish them from messages you have read,” which I verified as true. So apparently, Apple only sees that as necessary in classic. :(

If you haven’t done so, I’d suggest you submit a feature request to Apple about this.

?Melissa

vivojack

I have a question.  Has anyone figured out how to change the background color of emails in your inbox?  Emails from Apple come in with a blue background and I think it would be very helpful to change the color for other emails as I often miss those little flags when looking for an email I marked as important.  I know I can filter by flagged but sometimes I am looking for ones already flagged and new ones that I need to flag at the same time. Thoughts?

Lee Dronick

I have a question.? Has anyone figured out how to change the background color of emails in your inbox?? Emails from Apple come in with a blue background and I think it would be very helpful to change the color for other emails as I often miss those little flags when looking for an email I marked as important.?

Two ways that I know of:

1. Set a Mail rule to change the color

2. Select the message and then choose Color from the Tool Bar and select the color you want. Note - This is assuming that you have Color on the Tool Bar, I don’t remember if it is in the default set or not. If not go to View and then Customize Tool Bar

Now this will not change the background of the message, just its listing in the inbox

vivojack

@Sir Harry Thank you!  I previously had colors open and then closed them without trying them for some reason…

A different question, does anyone know how to force contacts to sync with gmail?  I set it up to sync but since the initial download it seems to actually sync quite rarely.  Thanks again!

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