I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of email. So much so, that combing through the inbox can be a daunting experience–especially on a busy Monday or after a break. And sometimes I get email from particular contacts that need immediate attention. That’s where the ability to easily filter email comes in handy. To that end, you can always do a manual sort, via View | Sort By. Or, you can take advantage of the built-in rule feature, which allows you to have Apple Mail automatically act on certain conditions. Say, for example, you get email from a particular client (or your CEO) that needs to always get your immediate attention. For those rather important contacts, you might want to create a rule that will send a notification, bounce the notification in the dock, play a sound, set the color of the message, or send an auto-reply to the message. With Apple Mail, that ability is built right in.

I want to walk you through the steps of creating a rule in Apple Mail, to illustrate how simple and powerful this feature is. I’ll be demonstrating on macOS High Sierra with Mail 10.3.

Creating your first rule

Let’s first create a rule for an important client, to help you ensure them that you’re on the case. To do this, open up Apple Mail and click Mail | Preferences. In the resulting window, click on the Rules tab (Figure A).

Figure A

Click Add Rule. In the new window (Figure B), type a name (description) for the new rule. We’ll call this one Client Z (replace this with the name of the client or company).

Figure B

Let’s say we want to create a rule from only one person from Company Z (we’ll make up the domain companyz.com). To add this rule for only one person from that domain, leave the If drop-down as is (any), leave From as is, change contains to is equal to, and enter the email address for the client in the address section. Next click the first drop-down in the Perform the following actions section and select Reply to Message. Click on reply message text and type what you want the auto-reply to say in the resultant popup. The new rule should look like that in Figure C.

Figure C

Click OK and your new rule is set. You will then be asked if you want to apply the new rule to messages in the selected inbox. Click Don’t Apply (otherwise you’ll be sending a batch of auto-reply emails to that email address, which might not go over well).

It should be said that these rules will only apply if Apple Mail is open (this does not affect, in any way, your hosting provider setup).

Let’s expand that rule a bit. Say, for instance, every message coming in from companyz.com needs to be considered from a client (which means they all need your attention). You can set up that same rule to catch any address from that domain. The difference is actually simple. The options should be configured as such:

  • Any
  • From
  • Contains
  • companyz.com
  • Reply to Message

You’ll also need to click on reply message text and type the auto-reply message to be sent. Click OK to apply the rule and then click Don’t Apply (to avoid sending auto-replies to email currently in your inbox).

Creating rules with multiple actions

Say that auto-response email isn’t enough for a particular client. Maybe you need to play a sound, send a notification, and bounce the Mail Icon in the Dock. Here’s how you do that:

  • In the Perform the following actions section, click the + button.
  • Select Play sound from the first drop-down.
  • Click the sound drop-down and select which sound to play for this rule.
  • Click the + button to the right of the new action.
  • Select Send Notification in the first drop-down.
  • Click the + button to the right of the new action.
  • Select Bounce Icon in Dock

The new rule is finished (Figure D). Click OK and then Don’t Apply.

Figure D

Make ’em as complex as you need

What we’ve done is create a couple of fairly (relatively speaking) simple rules. With Apple Mail, you can create some fairly complex rules to help ensure those important emails never get lost or go without the necessary attention. See how far you can “bend” the rules in Apple Mail.