Manage your e-mail initiated projects with MailTags 4 and Mail Act-On 3

Apple Mail is a nice email client, but it lacks features and functionality in the area of task management and message follow-up. Some people therefore prefer to switch to Microsoft’s Outlook, but with two plug-ins you can keep on using Mail and get the best task and message management available. The two plug-ins that make this happen are MailTags 4 and Mail Act-On 3.

Every once in a while, someone comes up with a good idea and has the skills to turn that into a good product. MailTags and Mail Act-On belong to that category. These are plug-ins that have been available for quite some time and with good reason: MailTags has been a great plug-in for task management that goes well beyond Mail’s built-in capabilities in that respect. Mail Act-On is a message manager without competition so far.

Tear off palettes

The two are complementary plug-ins. You can use each individually but together they form a hard to beat duo that will take on other attempts to develop mail clients with smart functionality any time. MailTags 4 was a much anticipated upgrade for Yosemite users, as was Mail Act-On 3.

New In MailTags 4 is the ability to work seamlessly with Gmail and its labels, the ability to have hosted keywords, access to Finder tags, drag-drop for adding keywords and tagging and an integrated system for monitoring awaited replies. Mail Act-On 3 has an updated interface, allows for delayed message sending, modifiable email templates for replying and easier to define Outbox Rules and “before delivery” actions.

MailTags 4 features

The Gmail Labels feature is an important one for people using Gmail intensely. I don’t even have Gmail’s labels set up, so I skipped this feature. I tried MailTags 4’s new “@waiting” monitoring system first. The way it works is really simple: you tag an outgoing message with the “@waiting” keyword and MailTags will show it as special mailbox in the Tickle Dates group.

In order to enjoy the feature, you therefore have to have this group listed in your mailboxes sidebar in the first place, as well as select the Awaiting Reply mailbox to be visible in the Preferences. That’s one way of being informed of “@waiting” messages waiting for a reply. The other way to keep an eye on these messages is combining the MailTags keyword with a Mail Act-On rule and a Smart Mailbox.

Awaiting replies

The MailTags method is easier and it also has the advantage of tagging the reply with an “@reply” keyword, so you can create a rule for that as well, e.g. sounding an alert whenever a message with the “@reply” keyword comes in. However, the combination with the Mail Act-On method gives you more flexibility. For example, you could set up a system of rules with different keyword combinations for different companies of which you must follow-up the replies to your messages as closely as possible.

Another important MailTags 4 novelty are hosted keywords. These are important because they allow for workgroup usage of MailTags’ management functionality. From within MailTags you export the keywords you want to make available to workgroup members, upload them to a publicly accessible server and hand out the URL to the people who need it. They enter the URL in MailTags’ Preferences and from that moment on they get access to those keywords as well. Those keywords are labelled so that it’s clear to everyone these specific keywords are shared.

Finder keywords — or Tags — can be accessed from within MailTags 4. In other words: Apple’s omission of Tags inside Mail is rectified by using MailTags 4 and you can list your email messages tagged with these keywords in the Finder, opening up further and deeper integration with third party applications like DEVONthink Pro, for example.

MailTags Finder keywords

MailTags 4’s Mailbox Lists make it easier than ever to integrate email with the management of tasks and projects. When you select these lists to be visible in MailTags’ Preferences, you can simply drag one or multiple messages to a Project or a Keyword and have these messages all tagged at once. The corresponding Project and/or Keyword mailbox will automatically reflect the number of messages dropped in it by counting up its message counter.

Mail Act-On 3 features

Mail Act-On’s interface has become more modern and in my opinion, easier to navigate, but the interface isn’t the most important new feature you’ll want to have it for.

The biggest thing since sliced bread that comes with Mail Act-On 3 is the ability in Apple Mail to deliver messages when you want it — postpone by any given time, at a certain date and time or immediate. Simultaneously you can set the message to abide by rules and specify which ones if you want. And finally, you can archive the outgoing message by default or to a specific location.

Mail Act-On postpone delivery

Now, there are other plug-ins that do the same thing, but Mail Act-On 3 is the only one that gets this right (SendLater is another good plug-in, but it does only this one thing, while Act-On 3 does a lot more). Mail Act-On 3 also lets you move and copy messages to any arbitrary mailbox or folder without having to define an outbox rule first as well — right from within the Mail Act-On interface.

Another new feature that I am really enthusiastic about is the ability to create templates, not the silly templates Apple wants you to use by default, but templates to quickly reply to messages while still giving you the ability to edit the result — or not. Mail Act-On 3’s template system works with tokens, the blue bubbles that contain variables based on message content, e.g. “First Name”, “Last Name”, “Original Subject”, etc.

Templates allow you to reply to a message using a shortcut, and still enable you to add or change content.

Templates

A very powerful new feature is the capability to get email parsed by rules before you send it. I can’t explain this but with an example: suppose you have multiple email accounts, but only one should be used for professional purposes. To make sure you don’t erroneously send a “pro” message using a “family” email account, you can set up an Outbox rule with a “before delivery” action that sets your outgoing email address to the “pro” one whenever the subject contains a word that you only use in professional correspondence.

Mail Act-On also lets you work with Gmail labels if you have MailTags 4 installed.

Integrating with GTD apps like OmniFocus 2 Pro

Very important in my opinion, is that with MailTags 4 and Mail Act-On 3 installed together, you can break out from Mail and integrate with for example OmniFocus Pro 2. The latter lets you remotely enter tasks via email by sending a message to the OmniSync Server. You’ll have to create an OmniSync email address first, then use that address in Mail to create your task entries.

Using MailTags 4 and Mail Act-On 3, you can simplify this task considerably. First, create an outbox rule that enters the Omnisync Server email addres as a BCC address in a “before delivery” action. Then create your Mail Act-On rules so that only those messages that you need to manage as tasks and projects will automatically be sent in BCC to the Server as well.

before delivery

You can do this with MailTags 4’s automatically “@reply” tagged messages and a Mail Act-On rule that forwards your “@reply” message to OmniFocus.

Conclusion

In fact, the possibilities to manage tasks and projects and integrate with external third party apps such as OmniFocus Pro 2 are endless. To me, the MailTags 4 and Mail Act-On 3 plug-ins are superior than any other system that tries to replace Apple Mail as a mail client breaking the integrations between Apple’s own apps in the process.

MailTags 4 and Mail Act-On 3 each cost approx. €26.75.

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