Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Command Performance: Off-Filter

As our first installment in this new series, in which we talk about a single command in a single app that we love, let me tell you about my love of the Filter button in Mail.

Look, filtering email isn’t anything new: many of us have probably been doing it for years in Gmail, Apple Mail, Outlook, Eudora, and so on. But Apple Mail’s Filter button, which appears in both the iOS and macOS versions of the app, is one of the few features of the last couple years that has entirely changed how I manage my email. And perhaps, if you haven’t yet given it a try, you might find it handy as well.

Firstly, a confession: I’m absolutely an email hoarder of the worst kind. My main mail account is approaching 100,000 messages, and I don’t put any of them in folders. Any. Of. Them. I’m the kind of monster that keeps Inbox Zero adherents up at night with the cold sweats.

One way I manage my email—and my to-do lists—is via flags. I used to flag all my significant email, including things I needed to reply to later or things I needed to be able to find quickly. These days, the support for multiple flags in Mail means I can categorize those flags: green for people who send in suggestions for my nerdy quiz podcast Inconceivable!, for example, or orange for Six Colors-related messages. I used to rely on Mail’s Smart Mailboxes to find those emails later; more recently, I’d started to use Mail’s built-in Flagged mailbox, which on the Mac also offers sub-folders for individual colors. (Although on macOS Catalina, I have found the Flagged mailbox notoriously unreliable.)

But when it comes to just glancing at my Inbox and seeing what things are still in my “need to get done” queue, I rely on that little button that Apple introduced back in iOS 10: it’s at the bottom left of your mailbox on an iPhone or iPad, and at the top right on the Mac. Select it and it’ll immediately only show you the messages that match the currently selected criteria, displayed at the top of the message list on the Mac or the bottom on iOS; I keep mine on “Unread or Flagged” so I can see only the most important emails, but it also lets you filter for messages where you’re in the To or Cc lines, messages with attachments, or those from your VIPs.

If you need to see all the messages in your Inbox, just click or tap the Filter button again. It’s a simple and effective feature that works great for me, because it means I don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about categorizing my messages or how I’ll ever find them again: it’s just “flag it and forget it.” Despite all the other methods of communication we have now, email has remained one that we simply can’t get rid of, and I applaud any tool to help us manage it better, especially one that allows users to configure it to their own needs.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at or reach him by email at His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]

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