mailtags & …

For a very long time my way of organising bits and pieces was, for short things in a hurry creating a new folder and sticking the information in its name, or for longer a note in TextEdit, or dragging bits of text or links or whatever to the desktop, to end up being dealt with later, or accumulating in folders called ‘detritus’ and ‘blllrrrblllrrr…’. Somewhat adequate, but not particularly. And as I quite enjoy the interplay between iCal and Mail (and my phone), I’ve always wanted something a little more… ummm… useful.

Actually, iCal and Mail don’t really talk to each other much, even in 10.5, and iCal has a revolting and clumsy interface design for viewing or editing Events and To Dos. And the To Dos are rather useless, better to keep them in the calendar to remind me of things needing doing.

But mostly useful enough that I manage with organising life and projects with these.

Except for my colourful messages. I can’t remember when I started using MailTags and MailActOn, but it’s been long enough I’d cry if it vanished. For several reasons it’s indispensable for managing my emails. I have six addresses, for various reasons, some for mailing lists only, some for blog stuff only, one that I know I can access anywhere. And then I have a multitude of reasons for sending or receiving, that I do need to refer to, like all the emails relating to monadologie, that are also not from the ANAT mailing list. And an endless list of white email headers does not agree with my decidedly visual approach to my laptop world.

Oh and I like doing almost everything through the keyboard also.

With MailTags, I have a bunch of keywords for common things, like ‘reply’ for messages I need to uuhh… reply to, and ‘jobs’ for when I am looking for erotik cleaning work, then I have a bunch of projects, for each of the works I’ve made, and a few other on-going things that I can group together. And each of these has a different pretty colour. Except ‘reply’, which is a garish, demanding yellow.

If I was to view the raw source of a message I’d tagged, I’d see something like this at the end of the header:
X-Mailtags-Version: 2.0
X-Mailtags: {
"mailTagsProject" : ["project monadologie"],
"mailTagsKeyWords" : ["to archive"]}
X-Keywords: to_archive
X-Project: project monadologie

Which is ummm… not especially astounding, except it means I can search from anywhere via Spotlight and find everything for monadologie, including all my emails.

Which is nice.

But mostly I love MailTags because of what it does that Mail and iCal don’t really do so well together. So, I have a calendar in iCal called ‘monadologie’ and it’s a rather astronomical shade of dark, cold blue. And I have a MailTags Project and Mail Rule with the same name and the same colour.

When I receive an email for something ‘monadologie’-related I need to do, like a meeting, firstly I tag the email, control-m, and it turns a delightful deep blue. This is done in the background by earlier creating a new Mail Rule in Preferences, that sets the colour and then tags for the message, and is controlled by MailActOn. Besides turning to arctic white of Mail’s inbox into something hallucinatory, I can find individual messages and create separate groups of messages just by looking at their colour (or sorting by Keyword or Project…).

If you like reading XML formatted Apple .plists, then in Mail’s MessageRules.plist this creates an entry which looks like this (minus sundry empty tags):

<string>project monadologie</string>

<string>Act-On: m | project monadologie</string>

Which looks a lot like the stuff in the message above. What it means is, I’ve created a Rule in Mail Preferences Rules pane with Description ‘Act-On: m | project monadologie’, which Performs the Following Actions ‘Set Color’ of ‘Background’ to ‘dark cold blue’ and Set MailTags Project’ to ‘project monadologie’. I’ve also (actually before I created this rule), created a Project in the MailTags pane called ‘project monadologie’ and because I’m obsessive, given it the same colour.

When I’m viewing a message and press the MailActOn Menu Key ‘ ` ‘ it brings up the MailActOn Menu and I tag the message by pressing ‘m’ (which is the ‘Act-on: m’ part of the above rule. Everything to the right of the ‘|’ is the name of the Project or Keyword in MailTags), or select it from the menu. Or I use command-m which does the same without bringing up the menu.

Now I have a more useful email. It relates to the project visually across my computer, it can be found in searches in Mail or Spotlight or in the Finder, I can make a Smart Mailbox for emails with those tags, and keep track of replies and priorities without having to sift through or rely on the inbox.

Then I add a New Event in iCal. I click (because I haven’t found a keyboard shortcut) ‘New Event’ in the MailTags pane and up pops a window where I enter a bunch of relevant stuff from the email, save it and a new Event in iCal is created with a link to the email, and a note in the MailTags panel allowing me to edit or view the calendar entry.

If I were to look at the raw source of my message again, it would now look like this:
X-Mailtags-Version: 2.0
X-Keywords: to_archive
X-Project: project monadologie
X-Mailtags: {
"mailTagsICalEvents" : [{
"location" : "berlin",
"uuid" : "26E471BE-2722-470A-8294-479666921995",
"notes" : "Lie about my age",
"title" : "Daniel Audition",
"endDate" : "@2009-01-17 21:00:00 +0100@",
"iCalReferences" : {
"B34ED321-81A0-4710-BF44-4E3AF50D5224" : "D4471F6C-3F26-4593-AA0A-7FF510F31AC4"},
"alarms" : [{
"triggerInterval" : -5,
"type" : "soundAlarm"}],
"calendar" : "monadologie",
"startDate" : "@2009-01-17 20:00:00 +0100@"}],
"mailTagsProject" : ["project monadologie"],
"mailTagsKeyWords" : ["to archive"]}

All of which you don’t need to know, except when I sync iCal with my phone, I now have all the information from my Mail message in a calendar event, in this case with an alarm, without having to leave Mail.

Then if I want to I can have a smart mailbox with the criteria set to include only mails with the tag ‘reply’, or search for emails with extra ‘Keywords’ and ‘Projects’ items now in the search toolbar. Or do other fun stuff. Like make new tasks in Things using all MailTags and AppleScript.

Mostly it’s about tagging my email with useful information that allows me to deal with things both within Mail and across my computer, in iCal or Spotlight or wherever I happen to need to group arbitrary files and folders together under a common project or task or search. And it does this without needing to physically assign a folder or location for them. For someone who uses the keyboard to get around, it’s a joy. I can archive messages to folders and tag them on the way without drag-and-drop, and find them again, irrespective of where they’ve ended up. I can quickly get through a queue of new mail, filtering it into my abstract collection of projects and keywords so I know what I need to do with it. And I get to look at an inbox full of pretty colours.

It would be nice if there were more keyboard shortcuts, say for making a New Event. Also it would be handy if it automatically populated a new event with relevant information from the email. I suppose I could write an AppleScript for that also, though. And admittedly I don’t really use this to its fullest ability either.

Well, this post was really supposed to be about Things as well, but I’ve realised in writing it properly deserves its own post, just as MailTags has suddenly got its own.