Create Smart Mailboxes to better organize email

Erik Eckel shares tips for how to make the most of the Smart Mailbox feature in Apple Mail.

Most users tap just a minor fraction of an application's potential. Rarely do we truly maximize the complete capabilities that office productivity tools, financial management programs, and CRMs provide. Apple's Mail, integrated within Mac OS X Lion, is yet another application Mac users frequently fail to fully leverage. Take just a few moments to learn how Smart Mailboxes work and you'll earn long-lasting dividends.

Understanding Smart Mailboxes

Apple's Smart Mailboxes don't duplicate mail, artificially inflate archive file sizes or otherwise slow performance. Instead, Smart Mailboxes are designed to display, in a single location, messages from other mailboxes. Just what messages are stored in the single location are dependent upon the values you provide when creating the Smart Mailbox.

Make a mistake? Need to update a Smart Mailbox setting? That's no trouble. Existing Smart Mailboxes can be edited as easily as they can be created.

Best of all, Smart Mailboxes are automatically updated whenever new messages are received that match the criteria specified for that Smart Mailbox.

Mac business users may wish to create a Smart Mailbox for a specific client, project, or vendor. Other Smart Mailboxes may come in handy for tracking specific products, senders, or keywords.

How to create a Smart Mailbox

Mac OS X Lion users can create a Smart Mailbox by following these steps:

  1. Open Mac Mail.
  2. Click Mailbox.
  3. Choose New Smart Mailbox.
  4. Navigate the provided pop-up menus and text fields to specify the criteria you wish to apply to the new Smart Mailbox.
  5. Select the respective checkboxes if you wish to include Trash and Sent Items in the new Smart Maibox.
  6. Click OK.

Note that the provided drop-down menu box lists numerous selections, including From, Any Recipient, Subject, Entire Message, priority value, attachment status, and more. You can add additional drop-down menu box options simply by clicking the + icon, which adds another line to enable adding additional selections and criteria.

Managing Smart Mailboxes

Once a Smart Mailbox is created, the Smart Mailbox appears within the left-side navigation menu within Mac Mail. Mailboxes are listed first, followed by Smart Mailboxes. Additional accounts, such as POP3, IMAP and MobileMe/iCloud accounts, appear below the Smart Mailboxes by default.

Edit a Smart Mailbox by following these steps:

  1. Open Mac Mail.
  2. Click Mailbox.
  3. Select Edit Smart Mailbox.
  4. Adjust the settings as required.
  5. Click OK.

You can also duplicate a Smart Mailbox. Duplicating a Smart Mailbox makes it easier to replicate an existing mailbox, particularly if the mailbox possesses many settings, only a few of which require adjustment to specify similar behavior for another project, product, or item.

Duplicate a Smart Mailbox by following these steps:

  1. Open Mac Mail.
  2. Click Mailbox.
  3. Click Duplicate Smart Mailbox.

The Duplicate Smart Mailbox will appear immediately. You can then begin editing its settings, should you need.

Keep in mind that deleting Smart Mailboxes does not delete the messages contained within the Smart Mailbox. Instead, the mailbox only points to those messages. So, if you accidentally create a duplicate mailbox, you can right-click the Smart Mailbox and choose delete, thereby eliminating the Smart Mailbox. The messages the Smart Mailbox contained, however, will remain within their original mail folder locations.


Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...


How come I cannot simply select an email address and add it to an existing Smart Mailbox? If you can do that, I certainly don't know how...


I can't figure out Apple. I'm assuming they are trying to get people to migrate to their computers from Windows but they surely make it difficult for people to do so. If using Outlook Express in Windows XP, need to export contacts to a CSV file [and it doesn't import too well in the Mac address book]. As for the mail, even worse. You need to install Thunderbird [or something else], export your mail from OE to Thunderbird and then import into Apple Mail. Is Apple lazy enough not to make things a bit simple. And for what Apple Mail can import? Thunderbird, Eudora [how many Windows users use that?] and a few other lesser known formats. No Outlook either [just Entourage - unsure if the file format is the same].


Something I can't live without in Thunderbird. Wish this were present not just in Mac Mail (which I don't use, since I don't have a Mac) but also in the iPad's email client (since I DO have one of them)....

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