Email Organization: Ideas?

So I’m trying to come up with a system to organize my email and so far this is what I have:

  • One email (provided by FastMail) for personal communication with people I care about (e.g. friends, family, private organizations). This email I never type into any website and only give out in person.
  • One email (provided by FastMail) for non-personal communication that’s still important to me (e.g. services I pay for, public forums, apartment building mailing list).
  • One email (currently on Google but thinking about using a FastMail alias that gets filtered) that I use for newsletters and online services which I don’t want to be receiving emails from but that require an email to sign up (e.g. Massdrop, Plex, GOG).

My question is: what does everyone else do to organize their emails? Do you guys make folders and have tons of mail rules to filter stuff into those folders? Do you take advantage of the “+” feature of email addresses (e.g. I’m unsatisfied with my current state of email organization, but I have no idea what I would/should do to change it up. Any suggestions?


I’ve been using fastmail aliases & folder rules for years for managing list subscriptions etc. For a while I used aliases to handle the distinction between 1 & 2 above but haven’t for several years.

I combine these with smart folders in some cases - so I have one alias that I use for academic mailing lists, then a smart folder that filters those messages for calls for papers.

I’ve also been moving from from email to RSS subscriptions whenever possible, to avoid the overhead of keeping unread messages, and have created some custom searches in Alfred to search various list archives online.

I’m using Apple Mail VIPs instead to segregate senders I want to focus on - which works for me bc they also work with a non-FM account I have for work. This breaks my general principle of using server-side rules whenever possible but b/c they are on all my devices it’s ok.

Also - I use specific folders extensively for project-related email. General reference email and stuff I might need but don’t plan to look at again gets dumped in a few generic folders.

I’m a strong opponent of using email as a filing system. I use one primary email address for everything. I have server side rules to sort my mail into various folders so I don’t see the routine newsletters unless I want to. Once read an email gets replied to if needed, filed into my action folder, it trashed. I strive for inbox zero.

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I use Apple Mail. I don’t have “tons” of rules, but I do have several project folders that use Inbox Rules and Mail Act-On to assign keyword, colorize backgrounds, and move messages to their folders. Generally though I let cull the mail periodically during the day, but otherwise let mailboxes grow. If I need something I’ll search for it.

I use one email address and dump everything into one big archive. Search is good enough these days I don’t usually have much trouble finding what I need.


I have a work address and a personal address each with an Inbox, an Archive, and a Trash. I use search for locating emails i may need. I try to get anything that I’ll actually need for reference out of email and into the file system so that if i accidentally delete an email it’s not the end of the world. I need to go back through and track down some license keys atm, but for the most part that’s what I try to do.

I use Apple Mail. I continue to try the others but always come back to Apple Mail. It is not perfect but, in general, it does what I need it to do. I used to have a complex set of rules and folders. Now I go for simplicity.

I essentially use a 2 flags, 2 folders, and 1 rule.
Flags - work, pending.
Folders - Archive, Review.
Rule - Offers - if from is “somebodytryingtosellmesomething_dot_com”, move to folder “Review” - I have about 20 vendors listed.

I process email as it comes in – and review 1-3 X daily.

I flag all work-related stuff “work” and file in “Archive”. These always remain flagged.

Other stuff I need to do soon or need to reference soon, I flag “pending” and file in “Archive”. Every few days I review emails flagged “pending” and if done, I remove the flag.

All other emails get moved to “Review”. Every few weeks I take a look at the Review folder and delete.

I agree with @ChrisUpchurch — I can find everything I need with “search”…

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I’m really anal about what newsletters I’m willing to receive. This was one of the first things I had to do to get my email under control at all. I currently get one from my coffee supplier because their weekly coupon codes used to be the determining factor in when and what I bought. I’m probably going to ditch that though because of a change in their business and because they’ve started sending me useless stuff beyond that. There’s a few infrequent ones I get (like Omni, I just realized), but I can’t think of any others right now.

Amazon’s whole bean light roast has been pretty good for me as a daily coffee. I’m about halfway up the coffee fussiness scale so ymmv depending where you land.

Not to derail this thread, but

I roast my own right now, cheapest way to get the freshest beans possible. I’m a much sloppier roaster than any other home-roaster I know, but on the triple axis of quality, time investment, and money spent, it works out the best for me.

I buy my beans through Bodhi Leaf who has been the cheapest green coffee source the last time I looked. Their newsletter used to have one great coupon code a week, but now the shipping discount they have around the clock for orders over a certain amount saves me WAY more than any of their temporary coupon codes will (and I can use only one). They’re also sending me coupons for their roasted coffee (which I’m not interested in), so it might be time to axe that newsletter too.

Of course there are reasons to be getting more newsletters, and reasons to be doing them in a separate account at that, but I’m a fan of minimizing the mass itself as the strategy before even thinking about processing tweaks.

To answer the OP a bit more, I’m split between 4-5 email accounts between work and personal emails (Katie has talked about why she stopped doing this, but I’m managing pretty well). It worked pretty well in Apple Mail to combine the inboxes, but I’m doing even better since I moved to Airmail last year. I have labels for receipts and any other financial things I need to mind. I’m not using any folders right now, just archiving. Anything that needs to get saved beyond a label gets made into an Airmail URL that will probably be part of a Bear note. I do wish Airmail’s Bear action worked more like it’s OF action and copied the text sometimes (and vice versa, I sometimes wish it didn’t copy the text to the OF note).

I use separate apps for home mail (ends up in one account) and work email(s) (several distinct accounts)

For personal mail I use the Zoho app on iOS and Mac mail on the desktop and laptop. Work emails are on outlook on both iOS and Mac.

In terms of folders they are:

Both zoho and Microsoft filter important and other email so there are really two inboxes

Triage is relatively simple process - if In doubt delete! I have the purge rules set at 6 months, so if I delete something I shouldn’t I can recover it for a while before it gets permanently deleted.

Confirmation of orders and similar things (no action needed on my part for the time being) get put in waiting.

If it can be dealt with in a minute or two then I do it (and delete/archive) Otherwise it gets a flag ‘need to do something with this’. Once triage is completed all the flagged items get moved to “doing”.

The mail clients make it easy to find flagged items. When I take the appropriate action I remove the flag and either delete the original, archive it or shift to waiting.

Occasionally I will forward an item to OmniFocus - it might end up as needing a bit of thought and several actions over a bit of time. Unless it is going to be worth

Doing is reviewed every day, while waiting may be reviewed every two or three.

All notifications are turned off. Email is checked and processed when I want to do it and not when I am focussed on something else.

Several email addresses & aliases, but all ending up in one (FastMail) inbox.

I’m in the “Pile, don’t file” camp; all mails (no matter what address/alias) end up in one archive folder. Search is good enough to find what I need.

Sounds like SaneBox could help. It could auto-sort a lot of your load there.

I have too many email addresses right now. Sure, the one I use for most things, one that’s from my website (less than a year old now), and a couple that we’re more for professional use (before the website) that I don’t really use much…and I still have an AOL account and MSN account from back in the day…

Okay, maybe I need to organize/ minimalise my email.

I’m using Airmail to manage things, but I am also of the “one big archive” mentality. In general, I’ve found search to turn up what I need most of the time, but I’m strongly thinking about Mail Tags as an extra layer.

I heard a stat that the average office worker in America spends 6.3 hours a day on email…sounds very fiddly to me. Hearing the OP describe your current email status…sounds very fiddly to me.

How important is this current setup to you? If it is important to have all of these buckets of email, then figuring out good organizing is important. Maybe this current setup isn’t adding value to your life…then it may time for a radical rethink. That’s up to you of course. For me, I spent a lot of time hyper-managing my email organization and very rarely needed that level of organization. It became too much effort for very little return, so I changed it!

Recently I went kinda crazy with email and have been doing something different.

I have somewhere in realm of 5 emails accounts and 10 alisss that I manage.
They all have a variety of mail rules setup to pre-tag mail, then I apply inbox zero principles to manage the day-to-day. I archive the vast majority immediately, do quick reply’s (anything less then 1 paragraph) and send to omnifocus anything needing a long form reply to batch later.

That had been working for me as a system for the last 5 years or so, however I have noted that my archive just keeps growing and my way thoughts on email have been evolving. I don’t use a system like Evernote because I don’t like the idea of an everything bucket, but for myself that is what email had become. I have invoices, personal and business communications, spam and todo actions all mixed up in this growing pile.

So for the last month I have been experimenting, pulling items out of email, starting with invoices, now when I get an invoice I PDF the mail and download the attachments, then delete the initial mail. I then have been dumping those files in an S3 bucket and providing enough meta data so that I can import them into some finance software I am writing.

As for the rest I am looking into a CRM system or spinning up my own to store the conversational email, tasks and todos get sent straight to omnifocus, spam and the like deleted straight away.

With the end goal being to completely empty my email archive and to use email just as a working set of currently active conversations, thus making it a focused tool again rather then an everything bucket.

I’m currently getting email from 17 different accounts I have a number of rules that sort some of the things into specific folders. My main folders outside the inbox are ones for each of 2 organizations where I am an officer. Those correspond to 4 different e-mail accounts. Things get put there only after I’ve reviewed them from my main inbox. I have my main reference folder where nearly everything else I keep goes. One folder for Misc ads and news where all the various messages from Amazon, Tractor Supply or other shopping places and newsletters goes sorted by rules. An Action Support folder for messages that relate to projects or actions I am working on, An Order Info folder for on-line orders that have not yet been delivered, and Order Rcvd folder for orders once they have arrived. a Waiting for folder that rarely has anything in it, I usually use Action Support for that and am considering deleting it. I also have one for alerts from my Web sites from the security stuff Ihave installed. Finally I have one active list that I keep separate from everythign else and 1 folder where I put all teh software license key e-mails so I can find them easily.

Then in the sort of archive section I was on a bunch of lists and had folders for each main list. They are all now defunct but I haven’t moved the messages into anyplace else yet. I really need todecide if I can delete them.

I’m trying to implement some sort of out of mail app archiving, testing both MailSteward and using DEVONThink to do that with the idea that eventually I will be able to delete all the old messages. The problem is I still have to reference e-mail that are 20-25 years old often enough to not want to get rid of them entirely. Most of the old reference things are to look up animal management or genetics answers I wrote to questions years ago so IC an update nad rework to answer current questions. I’m considering collecitng all those into some sort of other document, probably Scrivener, and then deleting the e-mails or turning them into blog posts and then just sending links to them when I get the questions again.

PS I use SpamSieve to filter spam but I still have to check the folder daily as even it can’t catch all spam and still has many false indications as spam for messages that are really good.

I had an issue recently with my mail at work and my solution to it might be helpful. We’re in self hosted exchange at work and our mailboxes are limited to 4gb. I keep my mailbox clean enough that i wouldn’t hit that limit for a long time but I wanted to plan ahead and make sure it wouldn’t be an issue in the future.

Since I’m using a 3 mailbox system to manage my email all I really needed to do was find a way to deal with the archive because that’s the only mailbox that was growing. I take care of clearing out the inbox, the trash takes care of itself.

Turns out I can drag emails straight out of the archive folder into a folder in my file system, which meant I didn’t have to deal with an “On My Computer” folder in Outlook.

The emails are searchable through the Finder so I can find emails when i need them. I added my new archive folder to my work Box Sync folder and now all of my emails are in a work-policy-compliant cloud storage with file version history and everything.

I believe this is possible in Mail as well. My next step is to automate the process. I’ll have to see what kind of options Automator and Apple Script present.

Would appreciate some confirmation on the following idea - not sure if this will work as I imagine…

My “work-work” emails all arrive courtesy of MS Outlook, and I have the apps installed on all my devices that I need to access the work emails from.

I then have about 7 GMAIIL accounts. These are my ‘personal’/side-project emails.
All of GMAIL is accessed via, either on my MBP, Mac Mini at home, or my iOS devices (iPad and iPhone)…

Plan >>

About 90% of my incoming GMAIL mail is non-crucial (news of the day; newsletters; etc etc.), whilst only about 10% would be emails from VIPs – or mails I actually want to read.

I’m therefore thinking that I can use my Mac Mini, which is always on at home, to run smart-rules on all incoming mail, and shovel those 90% of mails into specific sub-folders.
This will therefore leave – in theory, once the rules have been properly set-up – my Inboxes relatively free of clutter – and (again, in theory) leave the 10% behind for quick access/review?

Query >>

What happens over on iOS and my MBP?

1.) Am I correct in presuming that the Mac Mini will “override” whatever is happening in on my MBP, and that once the sync has pulled through, my MBP (which will not have the same rules as the Mini) will then have emails/folders/groups etc. that mirror whatever the Mini has set-up?
In other words, does the Mini then become the canonical “version-master” of my emails?

2.) iOS >> I have read iOS doesn’t necessarily “see” what the on macOS has set-up?
Can someone please clarify what this means?
Will my iOS devices have mirrors of the mail folders as well, and will it also then mirror the Mac Mini, or are things a bit more complicated than that?

Any suggestions/information i.r.o. the above, would be greatly appreciated!

Given that Gmail has really good server-side mail rules, why not use those rather than the Mac mini?

That never really occured to me to try. Guess I’m feeling the Mini is a bit under-utilised, and do with some work! :wink:

What would the benefits be of going via the Google side of things, as opposed to running them off the Mini?

I have email folders for archive, someday and one for “waiting.” Waiting is something I can’t answer until someone answers me. The someday folder has stuff I might want to look at (but usually don’t).