Email Triage on the cheap

Iain Dunn

Keeping up with the number of emails I was receiving was becoming a chore. My solution was to categorise all incoming messages so I could focus on the the important messages and quickly scan and action the others.

While there are a number of email apps that have tools such as priority inboxes and sorting of Newsletters, Social Media messages etc, I have found they are too limited and/or inaccurate in general use. There are also services such as SaneBox or Google Inbox that will filter your mail but suffering from subscription fatigue and not wanting to “be the product” I chose not to use them.

I have tried all of the email clients available on OSX and IOS but keep coming back to Apple’s Mail, enhanced with Mailbutler, as being the most complete app available to manage email, though an interface update will not go astray. One of Mail’s advantages over the other apps is it’s robust Rule system.

My process to automatically categorising all incoming email is to utilise Mail Rules using Contact Groups to move incoming email into a Mailbox named after the Contact Group category I have created.

To assist the allocation of Senders to appropriate Contact Groups I utilise the following AppleScript which I have installed as a Service and assigned a Keyboard Shortcut which allows you to add the Sender to 1 or more groups.

tell application "Mail"
set theMessages to selection
set thePrompt to "Select the group(s) to which to add the sender of the selected message."
tell application "Contacts" to set theList to name of groups
set R to choose from list theList with prompt thePrompt with multiple selections allowed
if R is false then return
if theMessages is not {} then -- check empty list
set theSenderName to extract name from sender of item 1 of theMessages
set nameArray to my split(theSenderName, " ")
set theFirstName to item 1 of nameArray
set theLastName to last item of nameArray
set theEmail to extract address from sender of item 1 of theMessages
tell application "Contacts"
set thePerson to make new person with properties {first name:theFirstName, last name:theLastName}
make new email at end of emails of thePerson with properties {label:"Work", value:theEmail}

repeat with theGroupName in items of R
add (item 1 of thePerson) to group theGroupName
end repeat
save
set selected of group theGroupName to true
end tell
end if
end tell

on split(theString, theDelimiter)
set oldDelimiters to AppleScript's text item delimiters
set AppleScript's text item delimiters to theDelimiter
set theArray to every text item of theString
set AppleScript's text item delimiters to oldDelimiters
return theArray
end split

I then create a Mail Rule that will move incoming mail from members of the Group to the appropriate Mailbox, ie 📩 Promotions.

Example Rule that will move Categorised email out of your Inbox
Example Rule that will move Categorised email out of your Inbox

After creating Rules to capture your various categories a Catchall Rule is created to capture emails from Senders not in a Contact Group (Mail Rules are processed in order from top to the bottom of the list). These mail items are moved to a mailbox called ❓Triage, from which I will either add the Sender to a Contact Group or flag them as Junk (after utilising Mailbutler’s Unsubscribe service). Initially the process will take a little time but once up and running only a handful of new email generally needs processing on a schedule that suits you.

Catchall Rule used to process new Senders
Catchall Rule used to process new Senders

The result of using the above process is that the email in your Inbox that requires your immediate attention is limited to those that you have identified as having priority.

The remaining emails can be viewed in their respective Categories as prioritised by yourself. I find that having like emails in one folder I can typically just scan the Subject lines, reading messages of interest and bulk deleting the rest.

The above is the amount of email I have recieved over a few days. I find that I can scan and deal with them in a few minutes,  which is much more efficient than if I left them all in my Inbox.
The above is the amount of email I have recieved over a few days. I find that I can scan and deal with them in a few minutes, which is much more efficient than if I left them all in my Inbox.

You can use this process in conjunction with other email apps, just have Mail open automatically on log in and the Rules will fire allowing you to view the categorised email in the other app.

The above process allows you to get on top of your emails with a system tailored to your own needs, and best of all it is free.

Iain Dunn

Written by

Iain Dunn

Wannabe Geek from Perth, Western Australia

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