How to make more effective use of Mail on iPhone and iPad

Enterprise or consumer, most iPhone and iPad users want to get more from Apple's email app. Here's how.

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If you use an iPhone or iPad to get things done, you really should make sure Mail on your device is working with you, not against you.

Use VIP for important items, that's what it is for

The last thing anyone needs is constant notifications each time a new email lands in an account, which is why most of us disable them (Settings>Mail>Notifications). That’s fine, but some messages are urgent — which is where the VIP feature is helpful. I use it for important people such as close friends, family, work colleagues and for any business that may be in progress. That way, I get told when a new message appears from any of these people.

The simplest way to assign VIP status is to open an email from the contact, tap their email address in the "from" field to see their Contact card, and then tap Add to VIP in the options you see there. You should also ensure Notifications are active for VIP messages.

Monitor emails the easy way

When casting your eyes down your incoming email list, how many lines of text do you really need to see? How much scrolling action do you need to become completely up to date with incoming communications? Given that the first line or two of most emails tends to consist of formulaic greetings, you’ll need three lines at least to get the gist. That means you will see just a fraction of your mail when you first open the app and then you’ll need to scroll down the list.

What do you gain from this? Not a lot: just the chance to read those greeting messages.

Filter out the nonsense, open Settings>Mail>Preview and reduce the number of lines to None. Now you will see the sender and subject line of the message making it much easier to quickly scan and scroll through the list.  

Break the Thread

I have a shameful confession: I don’t really like threaded emails. You see, the trade-off with threaded messages is that you can easily stay abreast of a conversation, which is great. But the consequence of doing so is that sometimes it is easier to lose a specific message within the thread. It doesn’t need to be this way as you can enable and disable the Organize by Thread control in Settings>Mail>Threading.

Another feature that can help manage Threads is Collapse Read Messages, which you’ll find in the same place. Use this to make it a little easier to find unread items within a thread, or disable it to go through them sequentially.

Finally, use the self-explanatory Most Recent Messages on Top setting to make scanning the thread easier. 

I tend to use all three to navigate busy threads.

Make a signature move

Do you have different email accounts on your iPhone? Most people do.

But, do you use a signature at the end of the message or are you one of the millions (myself included) who through sheer inertia haven’t yet personalized the Sent from my iPad/iPhone message that ships in the box with every Apple device?

You can change this: Open Settings>Mail>Composing>Signature and you can create your own signature that will be appended on all future emails.

Better yet, tap the Per Account button and you’ll be able to change the signature for each of your email accounts. It's useful if you happen to share confidential emails for your business, but don’t want the same legal warning appended to your personal items.

Swipe right (or left)

Open up Settings>Mail>Message List>Swipe Options to personalize how swipe gestures work on your device.

I engage in lots of research so tend to keep some emails in project-related folders, which is why I changed one swipe gesture to the Move command, making it easier to shift emails around. The number of options available to you is pretty limited, however:

  • None,
  • Mark as Read,
  • Flag,
  • Move Message.

If you need a more powerful email management app, take a look at alternatives such as Boomerang, Airmail, Spark or even Outlook if you’re an Office 365 shop.

[Also read: WFH? Tips for better Wi-Fi network performance]

Quickly find your old draft emails

The fastest way to get back to a draft email you started working with, but were unable to finish:

  • Press and hold the Compose button.
  • You will see a list of all your previous saved draft emails.

Get alerts for important matters

Engaged in an email conversation and anxiously awaiting a response? In Mail, swipe left on the message, tap (more), scroll down and tap Notify Me and you’ll be notified when a response to that message comes. Turn off the alert by tapping more and choosing Stop Notifying.

Services provided by Siri

Siri can help you in many different ways, not just in Mail. For example, when you’re corresponding with someone in Mail, Siri recognizes possible reminders and makes suggestions for you to create them. (iOS 14 introduced some useful improvements to Reminders.) You can also use Siri to search — and use it to dictate emails when you tap the Dictate microphone and use Siri to search for specific messages. Finally, if you receive an appointment date, just tap it to create an item in Calendar.

Turn emails into PDF

If you need to collect important emails for some reason, perhaps for client records or internal reporting, you can easily save them as a PDF.

  • Open the email.
  • Tap the Reply arrow.
  • Select Print.
  • When the Printer Options window appears spread two fingers out on the page to open the larger preview.
  • That preview is a PDF, save it to Files using the Share button.

Other tips: if you use an Apple Watch here are productivity ideas for you. And iPad users may find a few new ideas here.

Please follow me on Twitter, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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