Volume 8 Issue 9
|Are You Always Searching Through Your Email? Try Saved Searches!|
If you have lots of email, whether you use a regular email program (Outlook, Apple Mail, Thunderbird, Eudora, etc.) or you use webmail (email on a web site like gmail.com, rcn.com, etc.), you have probably used your email program's Search or Find function to try to locate important messages or sets of related messages.
If you have found searching your email to be useful, over time you have probably wished for a way to keep some of those searches and perform them again, without having to start each one over from scratch.
Here's the good news: In many email programs, if there is a way to search for messages, there may also be a way to save your search criteria and re-use it! Each email program is different, so yours may call them "Smart Folders," "Smart Mailboxes," "Saved Searches," "Search Folders," or "Mail Views." To keep this discussion simple, I will use the term "Smart Folder."
Making a Smart Folder
When you search your email, many email programs have some sort of "Save" button right next to the search results that lets you store your search criteria as a Smart Folder and give it a name to use it again later. There may also be a function where you make a new Smart Folder by choosing a name and criteria without doing a search first.
Does my email program let me make a Smart Folder or Save a Search?
In a quick survey of email programs and webmail systems, I found that:
A regular email folder (or mailbox) is a container where your email messages are actually stored. There are two types:
You can do all the same things with those messages (open, reply to, forward, delete, etc.) that you can do with a message in a regular folder because, even though they're displayed in the Smart Folder, those messages are actually each located in a regular folder. They are not copies; they are the originals. No messages are "stored in" a Smart Folder.
Deleting a Smart Folder simply forgets about that Saved Search and doesn't delete any messages, whereas deleting a regular folder will delete all the messages stored in it, along with any subfolders.
I recommend deleting a Smart Folder when it's no longer useful to you. That will reduce your clutter, and depending on which email software you're using it may also make the program a little more efficient.
That's it. You now know the most important things about email Smart Folders. You can stop here if that's all you want, or read on for my more detailed advice.
Why would I make a Smart Folder?
Here are some examples of useful Smart Folders you might create:
A Smart Folder performs a search and displays any messages that match its search criteria.
A Rule (or Filter) combines search criteria with actions to perform, and doesn't display a list of messages. If you have created some Rules to manage your email, when new messages arrive (or if you "apply" your Rules to messages you've already received), if any of those messages matches a Rule's criteria, that Rule performs one or more actions on that message, like moving it to a different folder. Some email programs also let you create Rules that examine and act on messages you send.
What else should I know about Smart Folders?
Once created, you can usually edit both a Smart Folder's name and search criteria.
I recommend naming your Smart Folders according to what they find, e.g., "Smith messages" or "Unread messages in the past week."
In general there are two types of searches:
Email programs let you specify multiple criteria in different ways. Some have you make a list of criteria and then let you choose whether "All" or "Any" of those criteria must be true for a message to be found by the search. Others are more free-form, letting you mix and match criteria in more flexible ways.
When specifying multiple criteria for a particular search, it's important to understand whether your criteria should be joined with "and" vs. "or" (sometimes phrased as "matching All of these conditions" vs. "matching Any"). For example:
Searching email can be tricky:
Depending on your email program, if you want to see both sides of your conversations with a specific person, you may need to make a make a Smart Folder that specifies two criteria: "From" the given address and "To" that address as well.
Two separate searches may display some of the same messages. For example, if John sent you a message about an estimate, then separate searches for "From: John" and "Subject: Estimate" will both display that same message in their separate results.
Depending on which email software you're using, a Smart Folder may also search your Drafts, Junk (or Spam or Bulk), and Trash (or Deleted Items) folders, or it may ignore those folders.
I use webmail but I don't see a Smart Folder or Save This Search function. How do I do this?
When you do a search of the messages in your webmail, say, for "smith," does the address at the top of your browser change to include the word "smith," i.e., does it become something like "http://...smith..."? If so (and this is true of gmail.com), then you can make Favorites (or Bookmarks) in your web browser to "capture" those search criteria (not their results). The downside of this method is that these Favorites will only be listed in that browser on that computer.
If you want to save multiple searches this way, you could go further and make a folder of Favorites (or Bookmarks) in your browser with a name like "Email Saved Searches" to organize them.
However, if the web address does not change like that, the only other technique I can suggest is to look for a function resembling "Save this search" somewhere in your webmail system's interface.
If you use Gmail's webmail (gmail.com), where the web address does change when you search, an improvement on this technique is to use the "Quick Links" function, which lets you save a list of Favorite links in your Gmail account. To install Quick Links:
Apple Mail Tip
If you use Apple Mail, sometimes Smart Mailboxes display out-of-date search results. Selecting a Smart Mailbox, pulling down the Mailbox menu and clicking Refresh can help.
Other "Smart" functions in other programs
Many other programs can save searches through their data for later use, separate from their regular containers that actually store that data. For example:
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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.