How to Create Smart Mailboxes in Mac Mail

Mac Mail is a really handy email client. One of the really neat features of the Mail application are Smart Mailboxes. Let’s take a look at what smart mailboxes can do to enhance your productivity.

Using smart mailboxes you can create virtual folders to help organize your mail. This feature allows you to sort your email based on a set or rules that you define. So you can create a smart folder to collect all your unread mails, one to collect all the mails from your boss or from a certain project. You can setup the rules based on a number of criteria. To get started let’s create two smart folders in Mail. The first folder will contain all of today’s emails, while the second will contain all emails from your boss.

Head over to Mac Mail and click on the “+” (plus) button at the bottom left corner of the application’s window. You will get a drop down menu like in the screenshot below. Pick the New Smart Mailbox… option.

A window like the one in the image below will pop up. This is where all the magic happens. This is where you configure the name of the Smart folder you want to create and set all the rules by which you want to filter the mails that get here. Take a quick look at the list of the options by clicking on the drop down menu at the left of the third row, like in the image below:

As you can see there are many options to create the filter – you can create complex rules. But for this exercise we will create two simple smart folders. Let’s first create a smart folder to show us today’s incoming mails.

Enter a name like Today’s Mail in the Smart Mailbox Name: field. Change the From pop-up to Date Received, and leave the second pop-up set to is today which gets set by default. Then click OK. That’s it, your first smart mailbox is set up. Click on it to test it out. It might take a few seconds to get the data.

Now let’s create a second smart mailbox that will contain all the mails sent from your boss. Open the Smart Mailbox configuration panel like we did for the first smart mailbox. Enter a name like My Bosses Mails in the Smart Mailbox Name: field. Leave the From, and enter your bosses email id in the text box next to it. Then click OK. Now your second smart mailbox is good to go.

The two smart mailboxes we just created are very simple. You can try using more complex rule sets if you need. This should get you started with using the smart mailbox feature. You can decide how much you want to tweak it. It will undoubtedly make your email life a lot easier.

Comments [15]

  1. Hi,

    This was really helpful. I am new to iMAC and still finding my way around. I did notice that the email is still in the "Inbox". If I delete it it also deletes it from the Smart Mailbox. Is there anyway to have it in the smart mailbox only?

  2. Ditto for me. I'd like to have mail go to the smart boxes ONLY, so my inbox is not cluttered. Does anyone know how to do this?

  3. I'm not great with technology and I've set up a smart mailbox but can't access my emails…!

  4. Just switched to Mac after years of windows. Still discovering new stuff every day and your website really helps with some great tips and well explained info.

  5. This is in reply to the first to posts asking how to effect only the mail in the smart mailbox and not the primary. The short answer what your wanting to do is not what smart mailboxes are all about. What you are looking for is to create normal mailboxes and the create Rules (in Preferences) similarly to what one does for smart mailboxes which automatically moves the original message to the new mailbox.

    Smart mailboxes are similar in nature to smart folders in iTunes or in Finder. They don't actually effect the underlying data, but are a temporary organizational tool for the original data to view the data based on particular data.

    Take the first example for "Today's Mail". When its tomorrow this mailbox won't show you yesterday's email. Yesterday's email didn't get deleted (or moved), it is still where it always was, in the original Inbox. But based on the criterial for "Today's Email" that email is no longer displayed in that folder.

    However, Rules will allow to to set up mailboxes that can physically move (or copy if you prefer) the mail from your Inbox to a different mailbox.

  6. I'm happy to make the switch from pc to mac, but feel like the smart mail box set up cost me unnecessary time and headache because as a pc (outlook) user I am accustomed to setting up "rules" that automatically redirect my mail into folders…which means they are moved, not duplicated and it seemed intuitive that smart mail boxes would work the same way to avoid clutter.

    If I hadn't been able to find this thread, I might still be looking for a solution. Yet the response indicating smart mail was set up as a primary and secondary account system is really neither satisfactory or straight forward enough to be helpful. I will set up the work around alluded to by the OP, but my guess is a lot of ppl find this frustrating and recommend Apple look at tweaking this feature.

  7. Hi! I'm trying to create smart boxes but I find my self with lots of duplications and triplications of the same email. For instance I did the 'My Boss' Mail Box' and I get the same email from Mail box Al Mail, Sent Mail and starred. It's obviously the same email with identical time and date.

    Thanks Geny

  8. Tal, thanks for answering the question I actually had as well! I was interested in how to make mail "skip" my inbox and go directly to a folder I can look at later. Thanks!


  9. This tutorial was very helpful. Can I move things into a Smart Mailbox (without a rule) . . . kind of like dragging into the mailbox?

  10. This tutorial was very good at showing how to start creating smart mailboxes. But when I create a mailbox with upwards of 10 rules, why does the smart mailbox just stop filtering the mail and show every email I have in my inbox? Thanks!

  11. One can also create a plain folder, and have a rule that moves the email from the Inbox to that folder. That would be for emails that you do not want living in your Inbox. Rules can be made in Mail-Preferences-Rules. Smartboxes work like Filters in Outlook–it is a quick way to look at particular emails in your Inbox.

  12. I somehow accidentally made a smart mailbox. Now all my mails in those files are gone! Does anyone know how to undo this and put it back to regular mailbox?

  13. I’ve been using Macs for about 30 years. I’m retiring an older one that runs Tiger, which didn’t have smart mailboxes. Got a new Mac Mini and set up a couple smart mailboxes. I’m deleting them this morning. Contrary to the name, they’re really pretty dumb. Tal is right. You can accomplish the same thing without duplicating messages by just creating a target mailbox and using rules in the preferences settings to direct mail to the appropriate box.

  14. I created a smart mail box to hold all my mail for 2013. That is what I thought it for. It was empty when I went to check. How do I retreive my 2013 mail now.

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