How To + Software & Apps

File Email on macOS – Quickly and Effectively

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File Email Mac

If you get a lot of email, managing it can be time-consuming. This leads to some people never removing messages from their inboxes at all, or just having one massive archive. But relying entirely on search can be a bad idea when trying to find an email-shaped needle in a haystack comprising tens of thousands of messages.

Fortunately, Mail for macOS offers plentiful options for rapidly filing email, making messages far easier to find later.

Drag and drop to mailboxes

Go to Mailbox > New Mailbox to create a new mailbox. In the sheet, define where you want the mailbox to be located: On My Mac if you only want the archive locally; or online if you use an email service that supports IMAP.

New Mailbox

The mailbox will appear as a folder in the Mailbox List sidebar (which is toggled using Shift+Command+M). You can drag mail from your inbox (or another selected mailbox) to your new mailbox.

Select the mailbox prior to starting a search to limit results to that mailbox alone. If viewing one mailbox but wanting to search in another, use the construction ‘term in mailbox name’ (such as ‘Sierra in Intego’), and select the relevant mailbox name from the results list.

Sierra in Intego

Use the Favorites Bar

A faster way to file email is to use the Favorites Bar. Turn it on using View > Show Favorites Bar, if it’s not already visible. Then drag mailboxes to it from the Mailbox List. Said mailboxes can be rearranged via drag and drop. Should you later want to remove one, drag it off of the bar.

Favorites Bar shortcuts are drag aware, so you can drag emails to them for filing. But also they have pre-assigned keyboard shortcuts. Go to Mailbox > Move to Favorite Mailbox and you’ll see you can file emails by using Control+Command and a number.

Favorite Mailbox

Use the Help menu and Move to

The previous tip isn’t helpful if you’ve dozens of mailboxes, nor if you’ve nested ones, which don’t work well in the Favorites Bar. (Only the most recently selected mailbox within a nested list is available for drag and move actions.) An alternate option – perhaps surprisingly – is the Help menu.

Click it and type a mailbox name. If the mailbox isn’t stored on the Favorites Bar, the first item in the results list will be a ‘Move to’ action. This makes it possible to rapidly file email to any mailbox using just the keyboard: open the Help menu using Shift+Command+/ (i.e. Command+?), type enough characters of the mailbox’s name to have it show in the results, use the down cursor key to select it, and tap Enter to confirm.

Message Help menu

That might sound like a lot of effort, but when the shortcut’s burned into your muscle memory, it’s much faster than dragging things about with the mouse cursor.

Keyboard shortcuts

An alternative to the Help menu is to define keyboard shortcuts in System Preferences. Open Shortcuts in the Keyboard pane, and select App Shortcuts. Click + for a new shortcut, choose Mail as the Application, and type your mailbox’s name exactly in the Menu Title field. Define a keyboard shortcut, taking care to not clash with existing ones. (Ctrl and a memorable letter is a good bet.)

Keyboard Shortcuts

Although these shortcuts are dynamically assigned to mailboxes in both Move to and also Copy to sub-menus within the Messages menu, Mail is smart enough to only perform the move action when a shortcut is triggered. This potentially enables you to file any selected email or emails by pressing just two keys.

Note that occasionally you may find the shortcut temporarily fails. If so, selecting a different mailbox and returning to where you were before typically fixes the problem.

Should you like this newfound power but hanker for more, third-party Mail plug-in Mail Act-On includes powerful filing features that can be triggered using keyboard shortcuts. The app costs $30 and there’s a 30-day free trial.

Are you new to Mac?

Want to get the most out of your new MacBook, iMac or other Apple computer? Whether this is your first laptop or you’ve just switched from Windows, there are a few things you should know about your new Mac, like basic keyboard shortcuts or how to use the various features macOS has to offer. Learn more about what your Mac computer can do for you at the Intego New Mac User Center: Get started now!

About Craig Grannell

Craig Grannell is a technology writer, mostly specialising in Macs, iOS, apps, and games. He’s been immersed in all things Apple for over 20 years, and enamoured with computers since getting his hands on a VIC-20 as a kid. He also has a Korg Gadget addiction. Send help. Or alternatively, visit his website,, and follow him on Twitter at @craiggrannell. View all posts by Craig Grannell →