OS X Lion: Using Flags in Mail

| TMO Quick Tip

Snow Leopard’s Mail had the ability to flag messages. Oh, yes. There was one flag, by gum, and we used it and didn’t complain. Right before we walked to school, which was uphill in the snow both ways. Luckily, Lion’s improved version of Mail offers us the chance to flag our messages pretty much any way we want, and I’m going to tell you whippersnappers all about it in this tip.

So in Mail’s toolbar, you should see an icon that looks like, wella flag. If you have a message selected, you can click on that icon to automatically flag that e-mail with your currently selected color, or if you prefer, you can choose the drop-down arrow next to the flag to use a different color. (If you don’t see the flag icon on your toolbar, add it by going to View > Customize Toolbar and dragging it out to where you’d like it to live.)

Mail flags

Flagging messages is very helpful. Categorize certain e-mails as urgent or color-code them for future reference, and Lion’s Mail program makes messages very easy to find after you’ve done so. First, you’ll note that you have a new “Flagged” Smart Mailbox in your Mailbox List after you flag something for the first time; use that to view messages you’ve previously marked. You can tell how many items you have associated with each color by the indicators next to the categories.

Here’s the weird thing, though. If you’ve only used one color for flagging, you won’t see the drop-down arrow by your Flagged mailbox as shown above. Sad trombone.

This is not good, since editing the names in the Mailbox List is the only way to rename your color categories! And let’s be honest here—“red” and “orange” are not great names to sort e-mails by. So flag a couple of messages with different colors, and then you’ll be allowed to click the drop-down arrow and double-click the category names to change them.

Another quick way to find the e-mails you’ve marked is from the toolbar. As soon as you flag your first message, a new shortcut to your special, shiny mailbox will appear in your toolbar for easy access.

You can also do searches by flag name using Lion’s much-improved Mail searching (which I’ve already written a full tip about). 

Or search to see all messages that are flagged if you prefer that to using your Mailbox List.

To remove a flag, select the message, click on the drop-down arrow next to the flag icon on your toolbar, and then choose “Clear Flag” (as in my first screenshot above). You can accomplish the same thing by right- or Control-clicking the message in question and selecting the option from the contextual menu. 

For one final, useful way to flag to your heart’s content, you can have Mail automatically apply them as messages arrive. To do so, go to Mail > Preferences and click on the “Rules” tab. Choose “Add Rule,” and you can then define all sorts of ways for your mail to be handled, including flagging specific senders, subjects, or keywords.

Have I told you more than you ever wanted to know about flags? Well, now you can go out in the world and proclaim yourself to be a flag expert. People might look at you oddly, but they do anyway, right? No? Just me? Well, just me and Lady Gaga, anyway.

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Comments

furbies

Melissa, you have way too much time on your hands.

Such beautiful screen grabs. wink

On topic:
I have Lion on my laptop MBP but I’m not yet ready to migrate my Mac Pro from 10.6.8 just yet….

davebarnes

Flagit! was much better.
It allowed you to change the color of the text in the list of messages and made the flag more noticeable without being obnoxious.

Lee Dronick

Thanks Melissa,

I have been, and prefer, using Rules to change the color of an email instead of flagging it. This is mostly because I have more options for the color, I can use the color picker. However, flagging it in the inbox is handy for those emails that are not “ruled.”

Whipersnapper! I will be 61 years old in December and am slowing turning into Abe Simpson.

furbies

Thanks Melissa,

I have been, and prefer, using Rules to change the color of an email instead of flagging it. This is mostly because I have more options for the color, I can use the color picker. However, flagging it in the inbox is handy for those emails that are not ?ruled.?

Whipersnapper! I will be 61 years old in December and am slowing turning into Abe Simpson.

Sir Harold

Would you care to elucidate on your rules tip ?

DrD

You missed out one of the best bit about these flags, they work with exchange accounts as well. Using a coloured flag in mac mail shows up in my work based exchange account as a coloured category ‘none’ - interesting stating that it was coloured by Outlook 2003. Even better, I can assign categories at work with the corresponding colours in exchange and have them sort into the correct flags in Mac mail at home- all very useful.

Lee Dronick

Would you care to elucidate on your rules tip ?

Yes, yes of course.

It is similar to the steps you gave for Mark as Flagged. In the Perform the following actions pull down menu chose

    Set Color of Message

You then get a new pull down menu in the middle of the line where you can choose to set the background color or the color of the text.

To the right is a pull down menu where you choose the color your want. Mail offers seven colors or you can select Other

If you choose Other you get the standard floating color picking menu where you can use a number of methods of selecting the color you want, Crayon, Sliders, Spectrum, and so on.

Generally I use a pastel color background because it can be hard to read the text on a dark/bright background. However, if you do want something like a primary color you choose to change the color of the text instead of the background, you can not change both.

Note that changing the background or text only changes it in in the Inbox, not the the actual message.

Sorry that I can’t include screenshots, but readers can get in the rules and explore.

ARS

One feature which is missing that if one uses IMAP, then you have to set the color of the flags separately on each Mail.app client. There should be an easy way to sync color of flags.

Melissa Holt

Melissa, you have way too much time on your hands.

Such beautiful screen grabs.

Hey furbies,

Everyone I know would agree with you. smile

Thanks for the compliment, but I really can’t take much credit. Snapz Pro X is the genius here (it automagically adds nice touches like drop shadows). I highly recommend it!

?Melissa

Melissa Holt

Whipersnapper! I will be 61 years old in December and am slowing turning into Abe Simpson.

I stand by my right to call you a whippersnapper, birthdays notwithstanding. smile

Melissa Holt

You missed out one of the best bit about these flags, they work with exchange accounts as well. Using a coloured flag in mac mail shows up in my work based exchange account as a coloured category ?none? - interesting stating that it was coloured by Outlook 2003. Even better, I can assign categories at work with the corresponding colours in exchange and have them sort into the correct flags in Mac mail at home- all very useful.

That’s a great point, DrD, and one I wouldn’t have thought of, so I’m glad you’re here!

KRG

Unfortunately flagged reminders include messages in the Trash and there is NO way to remove them until Trash is emptied.

This needs to be fixed. In Snow Leopard one could flag a message as a reminder, then un-flag it or just delete it to remove it from a Smart Mailbox. Now with Lion just deleting a message does NOT remove it from the Reminders Flagged messages, a real shortcoming IMHO.

Lee Dronick

Well!

Did anyone try creating a rule to change the background color of a message?

Lee Dronick

One feature which is missing that if one uses IMAP, then you have to set the color of the flags separately on each Mail.app client. There should be an easy way to sync color of flags.

You can synch Mail rules via MobileMe. I don’t know if that will continue with iCloud. Yes, it would be nice if IMAP could synch flags.

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