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Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail Pick of the Week
Mail Act-On icon The macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]
Are you obsessive about maintaining a "clean" inbox in I know I am; when I see waiting messages, I get nervous that I'm not doing something I should be doing! Enter Mail Act-On, a free (open source) plug-in for Mail. What is it? It's probably best described as an assistant for Mail. It works in conjunction with, but not in place of, Mail's built-in Rules mechanism. After installing the plug-in, you really won't notice anything new at all, other than its entry in the Preferences.

The first thing you need to do is decide how you want to use Mail Act-On. The Tips Page has some good ideas to get you started. In my case, I set up a new folder ("Actionable Mail") with four sub-folders: Urgent, Waiting for Detail, Response Required, and To be Filed. I named each of these with a numeric prefix, which helps sort them in the order I want, and ties into the Mail Act-On interface, as you'll see. After creating the folders, the next step is to create some new rules. Mail Act-On works by using a special prefix for rules, which you can set in its preferences. In my case, I left the settings at the default, which means I need to name my Rules as follows:
Act-On: | keystroke
Any rule named in this manner (keystroke is replaced by the key you'd like to use for that rule) will be handled by Act-On, not the built-in Rules engine. So I created new rules that simply transferred messages into the appropriate folder, and replaced keystroke with the keys I wanted to use (1 through 4). You can even create multiple rules with the same identifier, and they'll all be applied to the chosen messages.

You set Act-On rules to act on every message, and then specify the actions you wish those rules to take (just like with a normal rule). But the key to how Act-On works is that it does not run automatically with your rules on all incoming mail. Instead, the rules are activated when you hit the Act-On menu key, which is set to ` by default. . You access these rules after choosing a message (or messages) and then hitting the Act-On menu key. When you do, you'll see a pop-up bezel listing any Act-On rules you've created, as seen at left. Press the appropriate key, or click the action you wish taken, and it will be applied to all selected messages. Even faster than the bezel, though, is to simply press Control and the assigned keystroke. The action is immediately applied and a small floating bezel shows you exactly what was just done.

Mail Act-On probably isn't for everyone; it took me a bit of time to change my behavior to get the most out of it. But now that I've done so, I've found it a great timesaver. I can quickly code incoming emails which don't match any of my existing filters, and know that they've been placed in the appropriate action folder.
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Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail | 12 comments | Create New Account
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Outbox Rules
Authored by: my_breath_smells on Jun 21, '05 02:47:27PM
Will this allow me to create rules that will run on mail that I'm sending?

I'm desperately in need of something to check for words such as "attached", "included", and "here" to make sure that an attachment has been included (as I often forget).

I also need to check the recipient list to make sure that I'm sending the email from the appropriate account. I often end up sending work email from my personal account.

Thusfar no one has complained but its something that I would like to avoid.

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Outbox Rules
Authored by: deleted_user11 on Jun 21, '05 03:15:24PM
for possible solutions for selecting the account for outgoing mail, see this hint.

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Outbox Rules
Authored by: willcodeforfoo on Aug 15, '06 05:53:11PM
Check out this Attachment Scanner plugin: it does exactly as you describe.

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Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail
Authored by: neilio on Jun 21, '05 03:03:14PM

You can trigger a Mail-on rule without having to invoke the Mail-on bezel first by adding the "control" key to the assigned keystroke.

Slumming at

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as rob already said.
Authored by: nick on Jun 21, '05 03:21:16PM

"Even faster than the bezel, though, is to simply press Control and the assigned keystroke. The action is immediately applied and a small floating bezel shows you exactly what was just done. "

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Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail
Authored by: amit_kr on Jun 21, '05 04:56:04PM

I must be missing something basic here. If I set up a rule that gets evaluated when I press the corresponding Ctrl key, won't that rule also get evaluated when I get new mail?

For example, if I have a rule that says 'Turn the background of the message Red', and have it evaluated for 'All Messages', all the new mail I get will get marked Red. Right?

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Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail
Authored by: jzp on Jun 21, '05 05:22:37PM

You're right - this is slightly confusing.

The plug-in prevents Act-On rules from being run normally unless you have pressed the key. It also adds a special 'stop rule' between the Act-On rules (which should be at the end of the rules list) and any existing rules you have. This ensures that they don't get executed if the plugin is not loaded.

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Authored by: sjonke on Jun 22, '05 09:32:04AM

I installed it, created a rule which I set to key 1 that just marks a message flagged. I have it set to apply to all rules, which I presume I have to set. I open a message, hit the ` key and the bezel comes up and lists my key 1 rule, I press 1, it says the message is flagged, but it hasn't been flagged. I did one time, and so far only one time, have it actually flag a message, but that is it. Anyone else seeing this? Running 10.4.1.

--- What?

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Authored by: deleted_user12 on Jun 22, '05 05:20:19PM

I checked, it works in my case, but I was able to duplicate your problem.

Problem could be: your mail is also on a network server -> try to refresh it (go to another folder and then return). Or try on a local folder from On my Mac - it should work there.

Messages I had stored on my local folders appeared instantly with the flag. Others (from the .Mac account e.g.) didn't until I refreshed the pane.

If not, then there's another problem involved.

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Authored by: sjonke on Jun 23, '05 04:43:39PM

You are correct sir. That seems to be the problem. When you try to use it on a .Mac message, the flag doesn't show up until you switch to another mailbox and back again. Presumably this would be the case on any IMAP server mail, but I can't test that. I've reported this issue to the author.

--- What?

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Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail
Authored by: smorr on Jun 28, '05 12:21:32PM
Just so people know, there is a new version out today:

Version 1.3.1

  • Added better notification of rules applied. Now correctly reports the rule applied when multiple rules exist for a single keystroke. Also reports number of messages each rule affected.
  • Added welcome dialog for new users which will create 2 sample rules if desired. (Users updating Mail Act-On will not see this welcome)
  • Version number now shows in preference pane
  • Resolved issue where mail would freeze on start up for some users
  • Plugged memory leak when notification windows were displayed.
  • Added FAQ.
Can be found at

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Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail
Authored by: luomat on Jun 29, '05 08:45:40AM
Here's what I want to do... if anyone can tell me how I will be most appreciative. When I REPLY to a message, (either when I click REPLY or when I press SEND), I want to move the message that I replied to from my INBOX to "old-messages"

Note: I am using IMAP, if that matters.

Anyone have something that will automate that?

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