Mail Act-On: An intelligent 'assistant' for Mail

Jun 21, '05 01:28:00PM

Contributed by: robg

Mail Act-On icon The macosxhints Rating:
9 of 10
[Score: 9 out of 10]

Are you obsessive about maintaining a "clean" inbox in Mail.app? 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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