How to Customize Flags in OS X Mail

OS X Mail with title

With the newest update to OS X’s Mail application that came with Mavericks, you have the ability to customize flags so you can organize your flagged emails even more easily than before.

Here’s how to make sorting your email a breeze.

Colored Flags

Flags in OS X Mail can now be color-coded so you can always assign the correct email to the correct flag. You can choose from the following colors:

OS X Mail flag drop-down menu with colored flag icons

1. To assign a colored flag to an email, just select the email, and then click the down arrow next to the red flag in your tool bar.

2. You should see the drop-down pictured above. Click on the flag color you want to apply. You should now see that flag next to the message.

Email messages flagged with different colors

3. The sidebar in Mail has an item that shows all flagged messages. If you click on it you’ll see every message that has a flag, regardless of the color.

OS X Mail sidebar showing Flagged folder

If you click the arrow to the left of the Flagged item, you’ll see a count of how many messages you have flagged in each specific color. This is perfect if you get emails for different projects coming to one email address.

Flagged folder with number of messages flagged in different colors

While this is pretty useful, you still have to remember what each color means. To fix this problem and make the flags even more useful, Apple added a feature that allows you to change the names of the flags themselves.

Renaming Flags

Each colored flag you use in OS X Mail can be renamed to anything you want. You can use this to denote different email accounts so your to-do lists stay separate. Or you can organize emails coming from a variety of sources to a single account, too.

1. To rename a flag, you first need to have that color assigned to an email. This will allow the flag color to appear in the sidebar as seen in the screenshots above.

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2. Once the colored flag is showing in the sidebar, right-click the flag and select Rename Mailbox.
3. Type in the name you want for that flag and click somewhere else in Mail to complete.

Context drop-down menu with Rename Mailbox selected

Once you’ve renamed your flags, you can see what each color actually means instead of just a color name.

Renamed flags in sidebar

Using Rules with Flags

Now that you have your flags named, you can start using rules in Mail to automatically send new messages to the proper flag.

1. Click on the Mail menu in the OS X menu bar and click Preferences.

2. Click on the Rules tab, then Add Rule.

Rules window in OS X Mail

3. Give the rule a meaningful name that you’ll remember later, and then set the conditions.

If all your work email comes from a single domain, set up your rule as it looks below. You can change the conditions for whatever your specific email needs are.

For example, if you want to give all invoices a red flag, name the red flag “Invoices.” Then search the subject line of new emails for the word “Invoice.”

Naming rule in OS X Mail Rules window

4. Set the action to “Mark as Flagged” and choose the color you want. You can always change the name of a flag later, so don’t worry about being stuck with a color and a name.

When you’re all done you will have more meaningful flags and your important messages will make more sense.

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