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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Date: 28th December 2010

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Organise email by threads

Email is one of those technologies that chnged the world and it is hard to imagine how we would all communicate with family, friends, customers and work colleagues withut it. It is also a major source of irritation to and the flipside is that we are drowing in a sea of messages as they flood into our inboxes every day. It's hard to sort the wheat from the chaff and messages can become lost in your inbox. One technique that will enable you to bring some order to the chaos is threads. Messages can be oganised by thread in Mail on the Apple Mac and this enables similar messages to be grouped together. This is beneficial in two ways. Firstly, you can see all the messages you have exchanged with someone in one group, and spam or junk mail is also grouped too. You can instantly see a conversation you have had with someone and also delete large groups of junk mail too. Here's how to do it.

Email threading is not a global settings and it is applied to inboxes independently of each other. So you can have threading turned on for one inbox and off for another as you prefer. The first thing to do then is to select the inbox that you want to apply this to. It's a view so nothing is actually changed apart from the way messages are listed on the screen and you can turn off threading at any time and return to the standard view.

After selecting the inbox, go to the View menu and select Organise by Threads. Message threads are highlighted with a blue background so you can instantly see them in the inbox. Now select View, Collapse All Threads. This works in the same way as displaying folders and folder contents in a Finder window. You get a little triangle in the left margin and clicking this expands or hides the contents of the thread. You may find it useful for reducing the clutter in the inbox.

Threads can be used even when threaded view is turned off. Turn it off in the View menu if it is on and then select a message in the inbox. If there are similar messages from the same person - a thread - then the other messages are highlighted in blue, which makes it easy to see the next message in the conversation. A really useful keyboard shortcut is Shift+Command+K and this selects all the messages in a thread. This means you can drag a whole conversation to another mailbox or the trash. You can quickly get rid of junk email this way because spammers tend to send multiple messages with similar contents. Just select one example, press Shift+Command+K and then Delete. They're gone!

Another useful function is to jump to the next message in a thread. If you get an email from someone and threading is turned off, you can still browse the messages in the thread by selecting View, Select, Next Message in this Thread. It's a pity there's not a keyboard shortcut for this. Or is there? Although it doesn't appear to be listed anywhere, you'll find that if you hold down the Option key and use the up and down arrow keys you will jumo to the next or previous message in the thread, even with threading turned off. This is really useful.

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