Have you ever wondered how to set up a smart sorting system for Apple Mail that allows you to keep an eye on the emails that really matter? Well, then you are in a similar situation as I was. The approach that I present here works perfectly for me, and it is surprising how a few tweaks in your mailbox can make such a big difference!

If you have too many unnecessary e-mails, it is easy to find a solution: sign off the mailing lists you don’t need. And that’s what I regularly do, but there are still too many important mailing lists I feel I should stay on that keep my inbox crowded. Seeing all the unread e-mails in my inbox creates a feeling of being behind, while most e-mails actually do not require immediate action (or any action at all). My system has two steps that allow me to keep an empty inbox.

As a first step, I have a sorting system that automatically distinguishes between “important” and “unimportant” e-mails for you was the solution for me! I know that there are programs out there that help you here (for instance Mailbutler or Spark), but I wanted to stick with Apple’s genuine mailing program to minimize the number of programs that have access to all my contacts and e-mails. I rely on Apple’s “Smart Mailboxes,” and within a day or two after starting to use the method, my mailbox was empty! All the important e-mails got to my “Inbox,” the other e-mails are sorted into sub-folders that I regularly check (every second day), but where I know that they do not require any quick response from my side.

And here is how it works:

  1. Set up smart mailboxes. The purpose can vary – here, I created a fake one containing travel newsletters. Just add all the e-mail addresses step-by-step related to this smart mailbox using the following selection criteria: “From” and “contains” and add the e-mail address of the sender you want to sort into this mailbox.


  1. Once you have created all the smart mailboxes that you need, make another one called “Inbox” – and here comes the trick: we do negative sorting here! We add all the e-mails that do not match any of the following criteria. Put differently, this mailbox only includes e-mails that were not already sorted in any of the other (listed) mailboxes.


  1. To make sure that I only see “unread” e-mails, I filter by “unread” e-mails in Apple Mail by clicking on this little button:


The next step involves time blocking: I schedule e-mail times to check my inbox. It does not always work perfectly but having two time slots a day to check my e-mails forces me to decide efficiently.

If I can answer an e-mail immediately, I do it. If not, I “snooze” the e-mail. Here, a snooze function would come handy. Unfortunately, Apple does not (yet) provide it. But here’s my workaround: If it requires some action at a later date, I put it in my calendar. Let’s say I receive an e-mail with an upcoming deadline, I make use of Apple’s built-in tool to add this date to your calendar. To be reminded of it ahead of time, I set the alert in the calendar.

This way, I remove all e-mails from my inbox and don’t have “unread” e-mails as open “to-dos” left in my inbox 🥳